The article is written by Ansruta Debnath, a law student of National Law University Odisha. This article enumerates the types of evidence that are required to prove cruelty as given under Section 498A IPC.
This article has been published by Sneha Mahawar.
Section 498A is an important provision in the Indian Penal Code, 1860 that punishes cruelty against a woman by her husband or his relatives. Because cruelty is subjective, there are various requirements for successfully proving it in a Court of law. When successfully proven, relief may be provided to the woman, who more often than not in these cases are victims of domestic violence. Sometimes, intense cruelty can even lead to the woman committing suicide. In such cases, it is the duty of the prosecution to ensure that the wheels of justice are driven in the right direction, and the people who have committed such crimes are adequately punished by law.
What is Section 498A IPC
Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 talks about the subjection of a woman to cruelty by her husband and or his relatives. This offence is cognizable, non-bailable, non-compoundable and triable by a Magistrate of the first class.
Cruelty has been described in this statute to be any wilful conduct that has the capacity to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb, the physical or mental health of the woman. This Section also includes harassment of a woman with respect to coercing her or any other person related to her to give up any property or personal security. Harassment of a woman for her failure to meet that unlawful demand of giving up property is also cruelty.
As is clear from the substance of this Section, it is often invoked in cases of domestic violence. This was specified in the case of B.S. Joshi v. the State of Haryana (2003) cautioned against taking a hyper-technical view of this Section. That being said, the increasing misuse of this Section to settle personal scores also warrants due attention. Courts must carefully decide whether a case of cruelty is substantial enough and has enough evidence to necessitate prosecution or not.
The distinction between Section 498A IPC and 304B IPC
Section 304B punishes the cruelty and harassment perpetrated by a husband or his relatives on a woman, the wife when such cruelty (which can be in connection to dowry) leads to the death of the woman by bodily injuries, burns (or any other method which deviates from the normal circumstances). Further, the death must take place within seven years of marriage and the same is called “dowry death”
The distinction between these two Sections was clarified in Shanti v. the State of Haryana (1991) and Keshab Chandra Panda v. State (1994). It was stated that these two sections are not mutually exclusive. While cruelty defined in Section 498A is the same as cruelty under Section 304B, under Section 498A, cruelty itself is punishable. But, under section 304B, dowry death as a result of cruelty is punishable. Further, Section 304B calls for a time frame of seven years, something which is not present in Section 498A. Moreover, a person charged under Section 340B can also be convicted under Section 498A without the charge being there if such a case is made out.
Evidence required to prove Section 498A IPC
From a plain reading of Section 498A, the ingredients of cruelty thus must be an overt, wilful act that might lead to a woman committing suicide or cause grave injury to her physical or mental health of herself. Further, continuous harassment of a woman also constitutes cruelty. The types of evidence that can successfully establish a strong prosecution case and aid in the conviction of the accused have been enumerated below. Although these categories are overlapping, they need individual discussion because of the different requirements of their admissibility in courts.
Oral statements in courts under oath help in the examination of witnesses and the parties involved and reduction of fabrication of evidence. According to Section 59 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, oral statements which are a form of oral evidence can be used to prove material facts of a crime (other than the contents of documents or electronic records). Further, it has also been mandated in the Evidence Act that oral evidence must be direct (Section 60) with respect to witnesses seeing, hearing or perceiving a crime. For example, with respect to Section 498A, eyewitnesses that saw the husband assaulting his wife or neighbours hearing a wife being continuously disparaged by the husband for years can give testimonies which will be considered as oral evidence.
Any type of evidence that directly points to a crime being committed is direct evidence. It may be oral or documentary. For example, the diary of a wife which chronicles the continuous harassment she is facing which finally leads her to commit suicide can be considered as direct evidence.
This type of evidence requires support from other evidence to establish a crime. For example, a wife committing suicide is indirect evidence of cruelty. Evidence that proves that she suffered physical or mental trauma at the hands of her husband or his relatives and that the same drove her to commit suicide must be proven.
A very important type of evidence that helps in proving cases of cruelty under Section 498A is medical evidence. They can be oral or documentary. Thus, medical reports of the wife seeking care from a professional with respect to injuries sustained either physically or mentally all come under this category. Of course, such evidence will be indirect and the burden of proof is on the prosecution to successfully establish a link between such injuries and wilful, cruel conduct of the husband and his relatives. It is important to note, however, that in case of conflict between direct evidence of eyewitnesses and medical evidence, it was said in Prem v. Daula (1997) that eyewitness evidence, if unimpeachable, should be preferred and medical evidence cannot nullify evidence of eyewitnesses.
Section 45 of the Indian Evidence Act allows the court to seek expert opinions in matters including and not restricted to science. Thus, medical professionals like doctors can be called on to give oral evidence in court. Such evidence will be part of the oral medical evidence and when it corroborates with oral evidence of eyewitnesses to acts of cruelty, it further helps the case of the prosecution.
Electronic records that point to cruelty are admissible in the courts, as given in Section 65B of the Evidence Act. For example, a video recording of the act of cruelty on a woman by her husband is an electronic form of direct evidence.
Presumption under the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 – Section 113A
Section 113A talks about the presumption as to abetment of suicide by a married woman. It states that in cases when a wife commits suicide within seven years of the marriage and it can be proven that the woman was subjected to cruelty, within the meaning of Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, by her husband or the husband’s relatives, then there will be a presumption that the husband or his relatives abetted that suicide.
In State Of M.P. v. Geetabai (1996), the Court held that for this presumption to be invoked, the prosecution must first prove that cruelty took place against the deceased by the accused. On the other hand, when the woman commits suicide after more than seven years of marriage, this presumption will not be invoked, despite their being cruelty committed against her within the meaning of Section 498A. In such cases, the prosecution must additionally prove that the cruelty the woman was subjected to abetted her suicide. This principle was reiterated in State of Punjab v. Iqbal Singh (1991).
Other relevant case laws
- In Girdhar Shankar Tawade v. the State of Maharashtra (2002), the Supreme Court held that Section 498A makes it clear that there must be a series of events or acts in order to be harassment under this Section. Moreover, there must be some cogent evidence to bring home the charge under this Section.
- In Rupali Devi v. the State of Uttar Pradesh (2019), the case involved the wife leaving the matrimonial home after suffering from intense physical abuse and going to her parental home. The Court observed that after leaving the matrimonial home, the physical abuse and thus, physical cruelty stopped. But, that did not necessarily imply that mental cruelty stopped. Mental cruelty that is borne out of physical cruelty or abusive and humiliating verbal exchanges would continue in the parental home even though there may not be any overt act of physical cruelty at such a place.
- Reshma Rakesh Kadam v. Rakesh Vijay Kadam (2013), a case of Section 498A was dismissed on the grounds that the prosecution was unable to prove mental cruelty over the wife by her husband and his mother. Instead, the defendant was able to successfully establish that the husband was actually being subjected to cruelty by the wife.
From the above discussion, what can be concluded is that for proving cruelty, direct evidence has the most value. One single act of cruelty cannot ensure successful conviction under Section 498A. Instead, a series of acts that can be shown to have continuous detrimental effects, both mental and physical, on the woman can ensure a conviction.
- Indian Penal Code, 1860
- Indian Evidence Act, 1872
- Unlocking Evidence: Evidence in 498a – Shonee Kapoor
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