Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code contains provisions relating to the violence committed against a married woman by her husband, her in-laws, or any of the relatives of the husband. Punishment for 3 years and a fine is to be imposed against the wrongdoer according to this Section. The Section provides a wider definition of the term ‘cruelty’.
The object of inserting section 498A was to safeguard the interest of women by protecting them from cruelty, harassment, and other offenses. On cross investigating the ground reality of the viability of these provisions, it is found that the number of acquittals surpasses the convictions. Therefore, because of the misuse of the provision this Section is also known as anti-male law.
An offense under Section 498A:
- Cognizable offense – The cases which are reported under 498A are cognizable in case the information relating to the commission of the offense is provided to the officer.
- Non-Compoundable Offense – The offenses reported under 498A are non-compoundable with Andhra Pradesh being an exception. Non-compoundable offenses are those in which the complaint cannot be withdrawn e.g., rape, dowry death, murder, etc.
- Non-Bailable Offense – Non-bailable offenses are serious in nature and in such offenses bail can only be granted by the court. The offenses committed under 498A are non-bailable.
Landmark judgments on a false complaint under Section 498A:
Chandra Bhan v State
The Hon’ble Delhi High Court laid down the steps to be followed so as to avoid the Misuse of Section 498A of IPC. The steps are as follows:
- Do not register FIR in a routine manner;
- The police should scrutinize the complaint carefully and then register FIR;
- Under section 498-A/406 of IPC case should be registered only after the prior approval of DCP/Additional DCP;
- Prior to the registration of FIR, efforts should be made for reconciliation and in the case where there is no hope of settlement, necessary steps should, in the first instance, to ensure that all the dowry articles and stridhan is returned to the complainant;
- The main accused should be arrested only after conducting a thorough investigation with the prior permission of the ACP/DCP;
- In cases of involvement of collateral accused such as in-laws, prior approval of DCP should be present on the file.
Arnesh Kumar v. State of Bihar
In this case, the file filed a case against her husband and her in-laws alleging that dowry was demanded from her and she was thrown out of the home on non-fulfillment of such demands. After failing of the anticipatory bail by the husband he approached the Supreme Court by special leave petition.
The court held that Section 498A is more often than not used as a weapon and not as a shield. And it ultimately results in the harassment of the husband and his relatives. Thus, the Court laid down certain guidelines directing the police officer to follow while making an arrest under Section 498A, IPC, or Section 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, and that such arrest should be based on reasonable satisfaction with respect to genuineness of the allegation. The Magistrates should also be careful enough to ensure that the detention is not authorized casually and mechanically.
Manju Ram Kalita v. State of Assam
The wife alleged under Section 498A of IPC that she was subjected to physical and mental cruelty by her husband. The husband, however, denied the charges.
The Court held that for the purposes of Section 498-A of IPC “Cruelty” should be established in the context of Section 498-A IPC and not any other statutory provisions. The decision must be determined by taking into account, the conduct of the man, seriousness of acts committed by him, and finding out whether the act was sufficient enough to drive the woman to commit suicide, or any other injury to her.
Bibi Parwana Khatoon v. State of Bihar
In this case, the husband’s relatives were charged with the offense of killing her wife. The sister-in-law and brother-in-law of the deceased challenged the conviction in the Supreme Court.
The Court acquitted the appellant by bringing under the notice, the fact that the appellants in the case did not even reside at the place of mishap and there was no conclusive evidence to prove their guilt beyond any reasonable doubt.
Rajesh Kumar & Ors v. State of U.P.
In this case a question regarding the need for directions to prevent misuse of Section 498A, IPC arose.
The Supreme Court laid down directions so as to prevent the misuse of Section 498A, IPC. The directions of the court have been listed below
Family Welfare Committee:
- In every district, there should be the constitution of one or more Family Welfare Committees by the District Legal Services Authorities comprising preferably of three members.
- The members of the Committee cannot be regarded as witnesses.
- Every complaint should be referred to the Committee and the committee has to then submit the report to the authority referring it.
- The committee has to look into every complaint made under Section 498A.
- An arrest cannot be effected till the report of the committee is received.
- Investigating Officers must be appointed within a month after the delivery of judgment under Section 498A and other connected offenses.
- Such an officer must undergo training for such duration as may be considered appropriate.
- Where a bail application is filed after a notice of at least one week to the Public Prosecutor or the complainant, the same must be decided on the same day.
Issuance of Red Corner Notice:
- Impounding of passports or issuance of Red Corner Notice should not be made a routine in respect of the persons not ordinarily residing in India.
- Personal appearance of all family members particularly of the outstation members should not be required.
- The trial court should grant exemption from the personal appearance allow appearance by video conferencing without affecting the progress of the trial adversely.
The Court further directed that these directions won’t apply to the offenses involving serious physical injuries or death.
The petition was filed under Article 32 of the Constitution contending the misuse of Section 498A so as to settle personal scores. It was further alleged that the main objective behind the coming into force of the Section has been lost as practically the offense has been made bailable by various decisions of this Court including Rajesh Sharma v. the State of U.P.
The court held that the directions given in Rajesh Sharma case have defeated the main object of the Section and therefore, the Court modified the directions. Thus,
- The constitution and duties of the Family Welfare Committee have been made impermissible.
- Further, directly relating to the settlement has been modified providing that the parties to the case after the settlement has been reached can approach the High Court under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
How can innocent husbands protect themselves from false allegations:
Below are some of the steps by which innocent husbands can protect themselves from the false allegations:
Collect all the evidence and documents: Voice recordings, text messages, or any conversation which can be regarded as substantial proof and also other proofs establishing that no demands in respect of dowry before and after marriage should be collected as they can prove to be strong evidence.
Anticipatory bail: In Rajesh Sharma v. Union of India, the court held that the husband can get anticipatory bail issues in case he feels that his wife is going to file a false case against him, hire a good criminal lawyer and get anticipatory bail. This protects his family and himself from getting arrested.
File an FIR case against your wife for false 498A complaint: however, generally, the police in India do not file such cases, but if substantial proofs have been presented the police may consider filling the FIR.
Get the FIR quashed by approaching High Court under Sec 482 of CrPc.: If substantial evidence is presented in the Court, the court may quash the FIR. However, the courts are generally hesitant to quash an FIR by police.
File a defamation case against the wife: Under Sec 500 of IPC, a person whose reputation has been harmed can file a case against the person maligning his reputation.
Damage recovery case under Sec 9 of CPC: A suit can lie against the wife who lies of being physically, economically, or emotionally harassed. Such a suit has no risk involved.
After observing the judicial trend and reports of various committees, it becomes evident that section 498A has become a necessary evil. It cannot be discarded from our statute books for the much-needed protection of women but it should be applied cautiously. However, after various judicial pronouncements, it becomes clear that the police and magistrates must carry out their duties with greater diligence, which will in turn bring down the misuse of the Section.
This article has been written by Shivangi Tiwari of the 3rd year student at Hidayatullah National Law, Raipur
Also Read: What is mental cruelty?
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