SECTION 498A- A LEGAL INSTRUMENT FOR SOCIAL CHANGE

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Published On: 30th April, 2024

Authored By: Priya Das
Bikash Bharati Law College, University of Calcutta

ABSTRACT:

Marriage is a way through which two people come together to create a family. It is a relationship between two partners where they got legal recognition to live with each other. The term marriage has a great effect on society. People enter into marriage to carry a life and have the right to give birth to children. But in Indian society, the term domestic violence is a concept that affects the relationship between partners and also affects society as a whole. Cruelty and domestic violence are a crucial issue in Indian society. There are various laws created to protect married women from any kind of harassment from their husbands or husbands’ family members. Due to fear of society, people step back to take any action against another intimate partner. In India, because of the existence of paternal society, women don’t get the courage to complain. In this article we will discuss the domestic violence and cruelty that occurred against married women, the punishment for this crime and also the remedies available to them. In order to protect women from cruelty, in the year 1983, a section was inserted (section 498A) into the Indian Penal Code, 1860.

KEYWORDS: dowry, domestic violence, cruelty, women, marriage, harassment.

INTRODUCTION:

Domestic violence refers to the situation where a partner in a marriage or any cohabitation relationship has to suffer mentally, physically, emotionally, verbally by the other partner. Most of the cases of domestic violence are filed when the violence caused death or grievous hurt to the other partner. Mostly, domestic violence happens to women. Domestic violence can also occur in same-sex marriage partners or heterosexual partners too. Through this violence, one partner gains control over the other one by using coercive means.

Prior to 1983, the concept of dowry in marriage is a mandatory requirement that the bride’s family had to fulfil. If the husband’s family wasn’t able to get enough dowry, they continued to torture the woman, which sometimes caused her death due to the torture. At that time, there was no remedy available for women to protect themselves from harassment. In a patriarchal society, women were tortured if they weren’t able to fulfil the dowry demands of their husband’s family.

Due to these reasons, an amendment was made to the Indian Penal Code, where Section 498A was introduced by the Criminal Amendment Act, 1983. This section came into force in the year 1993.

In order to file a case against the husband or his family members, the evidence must be required and the status of marriage is also needed. Any kind of certain bad behaviour by the husband to his wife doesn’t amount to cruelty. This crime is considered as a cognizable and non-compoundable offense. In order to protect people from such kinds of offences, there are various acts that are formed. Such as the Domestic Violence Act, 2005, Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, Sexual Harassment of women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 and also several amendments made to the provision of the Indian Penal Code.

This offence under section 498A is cognizable, which means that the husband and his relatives may be arrested without any warrant. As this offence is a criminal offence, it is non-bailable in nature. The complaint may be filed by the victim or any person related to her. In the case of the absence of any close relative of the victim. The complaint must have to be filed within three years of the event.

THE MEANING OF CRUELTY AS PER SECTION 498A:

According to this section of the act, the term cruelty includes any wilful act of the husband or his family that led the woman to commit suicide, caused grievous injury, or, if any act puts the woman’s life or health in danger physically or mentally, is said to commit cruelty.

Or, if any harassment committed to the woman or her family to meet the demand, which can be any valuable asset or property by the husband or his family members, is also included in term cruelty, this section was included to prevent such types of crimes against women and punish the husband and his family. The term dowry is also related to Section 498A observed by the Supreme Court of India. This section helps to prevent such unlawful demands by the husband of the woman and his family members.

In this section, it is mentioned that if the wife is subjected to cruelty by her husband or his family members, he will be punished with imprisonment for three years, a fine, or both.

STATUS OF WOMEN IN PRIOR INDIA:

As in the prior era, there existed a maternal society, where the decision of the male in the family was considered as the last and foremost word. Women were not able to take part in making any decisions. They are considered as a way to give birth to children and to maintain the family. Women didn’t get such an opportunity to get an education and not even get the chance to participate in the outer world. They just remain as a part of the family who would fulfil the requirements needed by her in-laws. They are oppressed by society and subject to cruelty of the family and society.

To protect the status of women, several acts have been enacted to uplift women’s status in society. There are various laws being made which will protect women from harassment in their own house, workplace and also by society. Due to the enactment of such laws, women are able to participate in the matters of the outer world, able to get education, uplift society as they have the same importance as men.

RELEVANCE BETWEEN SECTION 498A AND SECTION 304B OF IPC:

These two provisions deal with the two different offenses. Section 498A deals with the cruelty against married women and section 304B deals with dowry death. The term cruelty is common between these two sections. Section 498A was introduced in the year 1983, whereas section 304B was inserted in the year 1986.

Section 498A defines if a married woman is subject to cruelty by her husband or his family members, which leads to the death of the woman or causes serious injuries, and if the harassment by the husband’s family coerces the woman to fulfil the unlawful demand, the husband and his relatives are punished with imprisonment for three years, fine or both. On the other hand, section 304B of the Indian Penal Code states that if the death of a married woman occurs within the seven years of marriage, which is not normal death, and if the death is related to any presence of dowry demand by her husband or his relatives, the husband and his relatives are said to have caused the death of the woman.

In the case of dowry death there is a specific period mentioned, but not in section 498A. But it is held that a person charged with section 304B can also be charged with section 498A of IPC.

CONSTITUTIONAL VALIDITY OF SECTION 498A:

Supreme Court recognises the Constitutional validity of section 498A of Indian Penal Code. The court held that any case of misuse of this section cannot make the provision invalid. This section doesn’t ultra vires to the Article 20(2) and Article 14 of the Indian Constitution. Section 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act states that any demand of dowry is punishable.

In the case of Inder Raj v. Sunita, 1986[1], it was held that he threatened his wife to take away his son in demand for a dowry and also compelled her parents to sell their property to meet his unlawful demand. He is punishable under section 498A of the Indian Penal Code. In this case, it was also held that section 498A is not ultra viers to Article 14 of the Indian Constitution.

MISUSE OF SECTION 498A:

In several cases, the court highlighted the fact that a husband was wrongly accused of domestic violence by his wife. Some women used this protection as a tool to receive their unlawful demand such as money or property to withdraw the case. Where laws are made to protect women from harassment caused by women, they use it as a way to blackmail their in-law families. As these cases are non-bailable and compoundable and sufficient evidence is required to prove the innocence of the husband and his family, sometimes without committing any crime, the husband and his family have to suffer from this problem.

THE TERM CRUELTY IN BHARATIYA NYAYA SANHITA:

 Section 84 of the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita explicitly mentions the term mental cruelty to a married woman. Previously in the Indian Penal Code, cruelty includes any kind of harassment to the wife which can be physical, mental, emotional or verbally by her husband or his relatives. This section also includes wilful conduct and harassment which causes the death of a woman or causes serious harm or leads to committing suicide. The punishment is three years imprisonment and also liable with a fine. This bill will replace the Indian Penal Code, 1860.  The bill was passed by the Parliament of India on 20 and 21st December in 2023 and also received assent by the President of India on 25th December. This bill will come into effect from 1st July 2024.

JUDICIAL DECISIONS:

In case Meera v. State[2], it was held that if the offense of cruelty is committed by her mother-in-law it is more serious in nature. Another case in Rajaram v. State of M. P[3]., in this case the death of the victim was caused by burning injuries in her body. Her last statement clearly states the cruelty of her husband and his family members. Depending upon the factor, the court convicted her husband and sentenced him to the charge of cruelty under section 498A.

In the case of Rajesh Sharma & Ors. v. State of U. P. & Anr[4]., in this case, the court highlighted the matter of preventing the misuse of section 498A, to protect the accused and also involved the use of counselling in resolving the problems that arise in martial relationships. Sushil Kumar Sharma v. Union of India (2005), [5]in this case, the court stated that section 498A aims to protect women from any matrimonial cruelty. Any misuse of this section cannot make the provision invalid or unconstitutional.

Preeti Gupta & Anr. v. State of Jharkhand[6], in this case, a wife brought a charge pleading that her husband and her married sister-in-law tortured her and demanded dowry from her. The court held that if the relative, if the husband is living in another city and never visited them, cannot be charged on this ground and therefore, the court quashed all the charges brought by the plaintiff. In another case, Manju Ram Kalita v. State of Assam[7], in this case, a wife brought charges of mental and physical cruelty against her husband under section 498A. The court observed that the plaintiff had been subject to cruelty and also declared that a petty quarrel cannot be regarded as cruelty under section 498A.

In the case of Krishna Lal v. Union of India[8], court observed that the presence of cruelty and a demand for dowry by her husband or his relatives before her death includes the term mens rea in those cases. In P. B. Bikshapathi v. State of A. P.[9], in this case, it was held that coming home late and drinking and abusing his wife and demanding dowry is subject to cruelty. In another case, taking away a minor child without the permission of his wife doesn’t amount to cruelty (Hegde v. Hegde, 2002). In another case, U. Subba Rao v. State of Karnataka, 2003[10], the court held that if the wife is told to not enter into the kitchen, not to consider it as cruelty under section 498A of the IPC.

CONCLUSION:

Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code was inserted to protect women from harassment received by their in-laws. For the uplifting of society, the status of women should be protected. There are many cases considering the importance of this section. To prevent mental and physical harassment, demanding dowry from the bride and her family is considered as a crime and punishable under section 498A of the Indian Penal Code. This section provides a remedy for women subject to cruelty. There is a significant provision to prevent exclusive abuse by in-laws.

Reference(s):

[1] 1986CRILJ1510, 1986(2) CRIMES435, 1986RLR220

[2] 2022 SCC Online SC 31

[3] 1994 SCC (2) 568, JT 1994 (2) 36

[4] (2017) 3 SCC 821.

[5] Writ petition (civil) 141 of 2005

[6] (2010) 7 SCC 667

[7] (2009) 1 3Scc 330 on 19 May, 2015

[8] 1994CRILJ3472

[9] II(2005)DMC617

[10] II(2003)DMC102, 2003 CRI LJ (NOC) 126, 2003 AIR – KANT. H. C. R. 1062, (2003) 2 DMC 102, (2003) 3 RECCRIR 403, (2003) 2 KCCR 1177

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