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This article written by Saumya Sinha, a student of RGNUL, is a good read on the practical aspects of the implementation of the provision on cruelty inserted by an amendment in the IPC, and penetrates into the veil created by S.498A.

Section 498A of Indian Penal Code, 1860 was inserted by the Criminal Law (Second Amendment) Act, 1983. Before the insertion of this section, such cases of cruelty were dealt with by general provisions such as assault, grievous hurt, etc. This section has opened the doors of justice for women who suffer cruelty at the hands of her husband or relatives. The offence under this section is cognizable, non-bailable and non-compoundable offence. The explanation to the section also defines the meaning of cruelty.

  • It means any wilful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) of the woman; or
  • Harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is an account of failure by her or any other person related to her to meet such demand.[1]
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The explanation defines the limits of the meaning of cruelty so as the section is not misused for frivolous cases by the women. However, the precautions taken by the legislator has not stopped the filing of false cases by women and though the section has helped a number of women facing cruelty, it has also been misused by a number of them. It is in this light that this article brings forth the view of the Supreme Court on the misuse of Section 498A, IPC.

Arnesh Kumar v. State of Bihar

Facts

The wife alleged that dowry was demanded from her and that she was driven out of the matrimonial home on non-fulfilment of such demands. The husband applied for anticipatory bail which failed. Therefore, by special leave petition, the husband approached the Supreme Court.

Decision

In this case, the Court observed that the fact that Section 498A, IPC is a cognizable and non-bailable offence, it is more often than not is used as a weapon rather than shield by disgruntled wives. It results in harassing the husband and his relatives by getting them arrested under this Section and it is more disturbing to see bedridden grandfathers and grandmothers being arrested without a prima facie case. Thus, the Court laid down certain guidelines which the police officer must follow while arresting under Section 498A, IPC or Section 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 and that such arrest must be based on a reasonable satisfaction with respect to genuineness of the allegation. Moreover, even the Magistrates must be careful enough not to authorise detention casually and mechanically.

Manju Ram Kalita v. State of Assam (2009) 13 SCC 330

Facts

The wife alleged physical and mental cruelty at the hands of the husband and accused him under Section 498A, IPC. The husband, however, denied all the charges.

Cases referred

The Court referred to the case of S. Hanumantha Rao v. S. Ramani [2] for the meaning of mental cruelty. The Court also referred to other cases for gauging the scope of cruelty such as Mohd. Hoshan v. State of A.P[3], Raj Rani v. State[4], Sushil Kumar Sharma v. Union of India[5], etc.

Decision

The Court held that “Cruelty” for the purpose of Section 498-A IPC is to be established in the context of Section 498-A IPC as it may be different from other statutory provisions. It should be determined by considering the conduct of the man, weighing the gravity or seriousness of his acts and to find out as to whether it is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide, etc. It is to be established that the woman has been subjected to cruelty continuously or at least in close proximity of time of lodging the complaint. The Court further held that petty quarrels cannot be termed as “cruelty” to attract the provisions of Section 498-A IPC.

Bibi Parwana Khatoon v. State of Bihar (2017) 6 SCC 792

Facts

Similar to previous cases, the facts of this case are that the wife was killed by setting her up on fire by her husband and her relatives. The sister-in-law and brother-in-law of the deceased wife challenged the conviction in the Supreme Court.

Decision

The Court brought under notice the facts that the appellants in the case did not even reside at the place of mishap. There was no evidence to prove their charge beyond reasonable doubt. Therefore, the Court acquitted them and held that the Court must guard against false implication of the relatives.

Rajesh Kumar & Ors v. Sate of U.P. (2017 SCC OnLine SC 821)

Facts

In the present case, the husband, along with other relatives, was accused for causing cruelty to the wife in lieu of demand for dowry. However, the other relatives demanded that there should be certain guidelines to prevent over-implication. Thus, in most of the cases the relatives of the husband are also being dragged into Courts in cases of Section 498A. However, it is not necessary that they have been party to the offence. Thus, a question with respect to the need for directions to prevent misuse of Section 498A, IPC was raised in the appeal.

Cases and Reports referred

The cases such a Sushil Kumar Sharma v. Union of India[6], Preeti Gupta v. State of Jharkhand[7], Ramgopal v. State of Madhya Pradesh[8] and Savitri Devi v. Ramesh Chand[9] were referred wherein the misuse of Section 498A and the need to adopt measures for prevention of such misuse has been acknowledged. The division bench also referred 243rd Law Commission Report and 140th report of the Rajya Sabha Committee.

Decision

The Supreme Court laid down comprehensive directions to prevent the misuse of the provision of Section 498A, IPC.

Family Welfare Committee

  • The constitution of one or more Family Welfare Committees in every district which shall preferably consist of three members. Such a constitution is to be made by the District Legal Services Authorities.
  • The members may be volunteers/social workers/retired persons/wives of working officers/other citizens or anyone who may be found suitable and willing.
  • Frequent review of constitution and working of such committees in addition to the yearly review which is a minimum requirement. Such review shall be done by the District and Session Judge of the district who is also ex-officio chairman of the District Legal Services Authority.
  • The Committee members will not be called as witnesses.
  • Every complaint has to be referred to the Committee and the committee has to submit the report to the authority who referred to such complaint. The report may be then considered by the Investigating Officer or the Magistrate on its own merit.
  • The work of the committee includes looking into every complaint under Section 498A received by the police or the Magistrate.
  • No arrest should normally be effected till report of the committee is received.

Investigating Officer

  • Investigating Officers to be designated within a month from the delivery of judgment to investigate the complaints under Section 498A and other connected offences.
  • Such designated officer may be required to undergo training for such duration (not less than one week) as may be considered appropriate. The training may be completed within four months from the date of delivery of the judgment.

Settlement

  • In cases where a settlement is reached, the District and the Sessions Judge to dispose of the proceedings. Such disposal also includes the closing of the criminal case if the dispute primarily relates to matrimonial discord. The District and Sessions Judge may also nominate any other senior Judicial Officer to do the same.

Bail Matters

  • Cases where a bail application is filed with at least one clear day’s notice to the Public Prosecutor or the complainant, the same may be decided on the same day.
  • Recovery of disputed dowry items may not by itself be a ground for denial of bail if maintenance or other rights of wife or minor children can otherwise be protected.
  • Further, in dealing with bail matters, certain things such as individual roles, the prima facie truth of the allegations, the requirement of further arrest or custody and interest of justice must be carefully weighed.

Issuance of Red Corner Notice

  • In respect of persons ordinarily residing out of India, impounding of passports or issuance of Red Corner Notice should not be a routine.

Clubbing of cases

  • It will be open to the District Judge or a designated senior judicial officer nominated by the District Judge to club all connected cases between the parties arising out of matrimonial disputes so that a holistic view is taken by the Court to whom all such cases are entrusted.

Personal appearance

  • Personal appearance of all family members and particularly outstation members may not be required.
  • Further, the trial court ought to grant exemption from the personal appearance or permit appearance by video conferencing without adversely affecting the progress of the trial.

However, the Court further said that these directions will not apply to the offences involving tangible physical injuries or death. The Court also said that the National Legal Services Authority may submit a report after a trial of 6 months of such arrangement and latest by March 31, 2018, for any change in the directions issued or for any further directions.

Social Action Forum for Manav Adhikar v. Union of India

Facts

The petition was filed under Article 32 of the Constitution. The petitioners contended that it is not untrue that there are a number of women suffering from violence at the hands of husband and his relatives and that the accusation that Section 498A is being misused is not supported from any concrete date on such misuse. It was further argued that the social purpose behind Section 498-A IPC is being lost as the rigour of the said provision has been diluted and the offence has practically been made bailable by reason of various qualifications and restrictions prescribed by various decisions of this Court including Rajesh Sharma v. State of U.P.

Cases referred

The Court referred to the principles stated in Joginder Kumar v. State of U.P.[10], D.K. Basu v. State of W.B.[11], Lalita Kumari v. Government of Uttar Pradesh[12] and Arnesh Kumar v. State of Bihar[13] and directed that the investigating officers be careful and be guided by the same.

Decision

After referring to the directions, the Court concluded that the direction with respect to Family Welfare Committees and their duties are not in accordance with any provision of Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. The offence of cruelty is non-bailable and cognizable offence but due to the direction making it impossible to arrest before the report of such committee has made this ineffective. Thus the directions given in Rajesh Sharma case has been modified by Court as further explained.

  • The direction with respect to constitution and duties of Family Welfare Committee has been declared impermissible.  
  • Further, direction pertaining to the settlement has been modified to include that it if a settlement is arrived at, the parties can approach the High Court under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. The High Court, keeping in view the law laid down in Gian Singh v. State of Punjab[14], shall dispose of the same.

 

[1] Section 498A, IPC

[2] 1999) 3 SCC 620

[3] (2002) 7 SCC 414

[4] (2000) 10 SCC 662

[5] (2005) 6 SCC 281

[6] (2005) 6 SCC 281

[7] (2010) 7 SCC 667

[8] (2010) 13 SCC 540

[9] ILR (2003) I Delhi 484

[10] (1994) 4 SCC 260

[11] (1997) 1 SCC 416

[12] (2014) 2 SCC 1

[13] (2014) 8 SCC 273

[14] (2012) 10 SCC 303

 

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9 COMMENTS

  1. Mr. Anand I am also one of the victim of sec 498a and it is false though the case first hearing is on 27th June. You can contact me directly at [email protected] with your contact number I can surely tell my story.

  2. So we all spoke about / identified that there is an issue with this law. What next? can we bring it to notice of law ministry and ask for amendment

    Punitive measures on finding false cases will deter wife and her family not to misuse 498A for extorting money.
    This will bring down no. of pending cases and ease unnecessary pressure on Law machinery.
    Women are empowered both socially and financially to live a life of their choice and do not have to depend on husband’s income alone. Just acknowledging that there is a lacuna in the law and not doing anything about it has created imbalance in men’s life. Courts will have to take cognizance of the fact that men too cry and feel pain and keeping a blanket rule that it is husband’s responsibility to keep feeding a wife who can look after herself will give power to wives to have free lunch at husband cost. There have been several laws that needed careful perusal and amendment with changing societal needs. Ministry and law machinery should step forward for an amendment for a brighter tomorrow.

  3. Not only 498a other laws are also misused in India. The law has loopholes, yes, but it’s a choice between the devil and the deep sea. 498a can only be invoked by wife/daughter-in-law or her relative. Most cases where Sec 498A is invoked turn out to be false (as repeatedly accepted by High Courts and Supreme Court in India) as they are mere blackmail attempts by the wife (or her close relatives) when faced with a strained marriage. In most cases 498a complaint is followed by the demand of huge amount of money (extortion) to settle the case out of the court.

  4. Agreeing with Jasveen Kaur. While law is strict on abuse towards women there shall be adequate actions against those filling false case. I think this shall serve the justice.

  5. 498a is HIGHLY MISUSED/ABUSED. Why jusitfy it’s abuse by saying other laws are also misused. Men have no rights in India. We have first hand experience of this. There should be mandatory penalty and imprisionment imposed on women filing false cases. Now that would be fair.

    • jasveen kaur, you said it. There is no provision to seek compensation or defamation case against the family who misused it. The police used this section to extort money from both the parties.
      Looking at the backlog of pending cases, the hearing would go on and on for years, and for the entire period, the husband and his family suffered. The wife’s family was never interested in hearing, they were just interested in getting money. The family of wife, was adding fuel to fire and never even thought of future of their daughter.

    • Feel sincerely empathetic and sorry to hear about what you had to go thorough! I am doing a bit of research on this topic, intend to write a book on this, as one of my close friend had to go through similar trauma. I would like to hear about your full story , in case you are willing to share and that isn’t going to bring back your trauma.

  6. This is yet another example of misconceptions surrounding S. 498A. Why does this article not highlight that in most cases that are later termed as false accusations, women are forced to withdraw the case owing to family and society pressure? Even when a women approaches the police to register a complaint under S. 498A, despite the fact that the law does not provide for it, the police advice women to attend counselling sessions to resolve the issue. This is the primary problem: the discomfort in allowing the law to govern the private domain. 98% of cases of harassment occur within the home. How many of these cases are reported? If we have to discuss 498A, why not bring to light the cases where women have really got justice? Also, it is pertinent to note that one cannot ‘define’ cruelty as per their convenience. Emotional abuse amounts to cruelty as much as physical abuse does. The fact that S. 498A is one of the “most misused” laws is a huge misconception. Is it misused? Yes, it is. Just like any other law is. But, why have we never read articles listing cases that speak about the misuse of other laws? Vrinda Grover quite rightly says: “more than being misused, it is one of the most under-used laws”. Articles like these only further strengthen false notions about this provision.

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