India is known to be a patriarchal society and it is necessary to protect the interest of women with the help of 498A complaint in a male dominating society to maintain the balance of rights and opportunities between both genders. India has high rate of domestic violence cases against married women and some of them also include sexual, physical and mental harassment of the wife by her husband and his relatives. Hence, in order to curb these kinds of harassment against married women, Section 498A was inserted in the Indian Penal Code 1860.
The section basically provides protection to married women against all sorts of cruelty and ill-treatment faced in their matrimonial household by the husband and his relatives. This Section allows the courts to take legal action against such husbands and relatives and punish them with the appropriate penalties.
Section 498A complaint
Section 498A of the IPC was introduced initially in the year 1983 for defending the married women who were being subjected to extreme cruelty in the name of dowry from their husbands and in-laws. The section provides acts as a guard for the women suffering from dowry-related harassment and other cruelty. But in the recent times, it has been noticed that many women are abusing this provision and using it as a tool to take revenge from their NRI husbands and file for a false case to extort money from him and his family. It is often argued that Section 498A is one of the most provocative sections of the Indian Penal Code 1860.
The amendment in IPC in 1983 added Section 498A for dealing with matrimonial cruelty towards women in the name of dowry and other demands by the husband and his relatives. Section 498A states that, “Husband or relative of the husband subjecting a woman to cruelty-
Whoever, being the husband or any of his relative subjects woman to cruelty will be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 3 years and shall also be liable to a fine.”
Now, “cruelty” is defined for better understanding of this provision. It is defined as-
- Any wilful conduct which is of such nature that it is likely to drive a woman to commit suicide or cause some form of severe injury or can put danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) of the woman; or
- Harassment of the woman where such a harassment is with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet such unlawful demands for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand.
Reasons to bring in Section 498A
Before the provision was inserted in 498A, there was no specific punishment given to the husbands or his relatives for harassing the wife and ill-treating her, making wrongful demands. Hence, it was necessary to protect the rights of married women and also save them from such perennial harassment. This provision was introduced for women to fight back against the male society. It made women feel that they were being heard and given justice. The major reasons for bringing this provision are as follows-
- Majority of the cases were related to dowry wherein the women was subjected to physical and mental harassment or pushed to commit suicide. So, there was dire need for stringent laws against these kinds of cruelty.
- Women are usually forced, threatened, abused for illicit demands from husband’s relatives. So, it was absolutely essential to instil the fear in the minds of wrongdoer.
- In many of the cases, women were being mentally tortured and subjected to mental cruelty and there was no prior law which gave relief for mental cruelty. Provisions like 498A were one of the first ones to do so.
- There were certain pre-existing loopholes in the previous provisions which needed to be updated as per the changing crimes. Hence, this addition to IPC was done to bring power in the hands of married women in India and rectify their earlier mistake. This provision helped the women to fight against all sorts of domestic violence as the Act against domestic violence was not enacted yet.
How to file 498A complaint?
It is not that difficult to file a 498A complaint against the husband and his relatives. The steps to do so are-
- Usually a complaint is filed by wife or her parents in the nearest police station under Section 498A and then the case is transferred to CAW (Crime Against Women) Cell or to the Mahila Thana.
- The CAW Cell usually calls both the wife and husband for reconciliation purposes or try to bring in settlement between the 2 parties. This process is called Mediation. This alternative dispute resolution method is also used at other stages like Bail etc. to get settlements before going to the Courts.
- In cases, where there is no scope of reconciliation or settlement between the parties at early stage then the police registers an FIR against the husband and his relatives. At this stage, the police can open a look out circular and arrest the accused persons and harass them in their ways. The accused is often asked to hire a lawyer beforehand for dealing with such situations.
Misuse of Section 498A
Lately, it has been witnessed that Section 498A of the IPC is being misused by women for harassing the husband or extorting money from them. The Apex Court has even called this provision as “Legal Terrorism”. It is seen that in majority of the cases, the abuse or misuse of the section is done by educated and urban women. It is also observed that most of the cases, the husband and his 2-3 relatives are being prosecuted. Some of the situations where the women have abused Section 498A are-
- In the famous case of Arnesh Kumar v. State of Bihar, it was stated that bedridden grandfather and grandparents and other relatives living in abroad were also arrested which was completely unjust and irrelevant. It is stated that in the last decade women have started using this provision as a weapon against their husbands and get them arrested if their demands are not satisfied. The number of false cases being registered is rising every year and this further leads to more pendency of cases and burden on the shoulders of Judiciary.
- It is also seen that in many of the cases, the male is not even living in India and has come to marry the lady and due to extortion and fear of law, the person is made to do things against his will and under fear of such provisions which he wouldn’t have done otherwise.
- Whenever these cases are registered with the police, there are visits made by the police in the premises of husbands and his family which harms the reputation of the guy in the society. In some cases, the police directly comes to arrest the husband and his relatives as there is no need for proof in such cases and no prior investigation is required. So, in case there is any small dispute the women can use Section 498A to avenge the dispute.
- Sometimes, gifts exchanged between the families are also misunderstood as dowry which again can cause misunderstanding and false registration of complaints. Hence, the police should have a better background check of such complaints before taking any drastic actions. The pro-woman laws should not result in anti-man laws.
Controversial role played by Judiciary in cases of 498A
Judiciary has always played role in the favour of women, as they are the only place where justice is expected to be served impartially and appropriately to the rightful persons. Judiciary always promotes equal rights for women and men and even takes steps to protect them. The government has also shown interest in such matters and acted as per the guideline of Judiciary to make laws for women wherever needed.
Thus, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 and Section 498A was added to the list of criminal laws by the government. But these laws are not full proof and still have certain loopholes which need to be looked at or it can be used in wrong ways. Some of the grey areas of Judiciary in this arena are-
- There are few cases wherein it has been seen that wives often hit the husband and their relatives and even mentally torture them. These attacks are fatal in nature but there are no legislations to protect the husband and his relatives. The wives always have an easy escape and even Judiciary considers this kind of behaviour as normal and acceptable.
- There are cases where the wife doesn’t appear for its hearings and yet the Judges do not dismiss the case. The case keeps going for years even if the wife is not attending the proceedings. The husbands are therefore unable to get free from the charges and it often takes months and years for the judges to decide upon the bail application of husband and his relatives.
- Section 498A is non-bailable and cognizable offence and thus this gives the police liberty to arrest the alleged persons without any warrant. This section should be made non-cognizable offence as many of the times, the complaint is filed on the basis of normal husband-wife disputes and the police arrests the husband on no specific grounds but just the complaint.
Present contentions for Section 498A
There are varied contentions presented for Section 498A of the IPC 1860. Some are against Section 498A as it women centric and can be invoked by women and her relatives only while some say it is the strongest weapon of married women especially in today’s world and cannot be given to both the genders.
The Justice Malimath Committee report states that initially the harsh law was brought in to aid the genuine victimized married women but now it is becoming a source to blackmail and harassment of husbands and others. Once a complaint is filed u/s 498A/506 of IPC, then it gets easy for the police to arrest or threaten the husband and his relatives named in the FIR without even going for preliminary investigation and to the actual root cause of the complaint.
But on the other hand, Section 498A has its perks too and acts as one of the major saviour provisions for women. As this is the only section which helps the women to fight against the atrocities committed by men. The abuse of the section is wrong but the essence of section cannot be entirely scrapped as it is also helping a lot of genuine victimized women to get away from their brutal husbands and in-laws along with compensation for the damage caused.
It is usually seen that women approaches the Court only when she is left with no other option or remedy. So, 498A is no doubt one of the strongest remedies for married women but it just has to be carefully looked into by the police officials rather than blindly trusting the women’s complaint. Proper investigation should be carried out and if it is found to be true, then the accused persons should arrested.
Lastly it can be concluded that Section 498A of the IPC acts as the armour of women who are being subjected to cruelty and ill-treatment by their husbands and his relatives. The government and police officials need to wise enough to sort whether the complaint registered is genuine or on some false and frivolous accusations, to keep it balanced both for husband and wife.
In today’s world women are finally getting to be treated as equals and feel liberated and this is one of the most important measures in order to make them feel safe and stop all kinds of harassment against them. Hence, this section is the need of the hour but it should be executed and implemented cautiously so that it doesn’t turn out to be detrimental to the male side. The main purpose of this provision is to protect women from all kinds of cruelty and not subject men to unwanted brutality in the name of protection.
This article is authored by Rhea Banerjee.