This section expressly deals with the subject matter of controversy, where the Hon’ble Supreme Court observed in ruling that it was often being “used as weapons rather than shield by disgruntled wives”.
Section 498 of the Indian Penal Code defines that “Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty — Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine”
Section 498-A Indian Penal Code was introduced in the year 1983 to safeguard the interest of women against the cruelty they face behind the walls of their matrimonial home.
Section 498-A Indian Penal Code deals exclusively with ‘Matrimonial Cruelty’ to a woman. This Section 498-A also protects married women who are being subjected to cruelty not only by the husband but also any of his relatives. The term “cruelty” includes inflicting physical or mental harm to the body or health of the woman Physical harassment to torture her or force her or her relations to meet any unlawful demand of dowry being any property or valuable security will also be covered under the expression “Cruelty”. Demanding for dowry will also fall within this section where creating a situation driving the woman to commit suicide is also one of the ingredients of “cruelty”.
This section will be attracted when the act was done is of such a nature that the woman is aroused to commit suicide or cause a fatal injury to herself.
In this case, it was held that any evidence that proves harassment to the wife to meet any unlawful demand for money should be constituted as “cruelty” under the purview of criminal law. This is the requirement of the offense of cruelty defined under Section 498 A of IPC. So this section was introduced in the code by the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1983 (Act 46 of 1983) was to combat the menace of dowry deaths.
This section was introduced in the year 1983 mainly to safeguard the interest of women against the cruelty they face behind the walls of their matrimonial home. The Penal Code, 1860 was amended in 1983 and S.498A was inserted. It deals exclusively with ‘Matrimonial Cruelty’ to a woman. This code also protects married women who are being subjected to cruelty not only by the husband but also any of his relatives. The term “cruelty” includes inflicting physical or mental harm to the body or health of the woman Physical harassment to torture her or force her or her relations to meet any unlawful demand of dowry being any property or valuable security will also be covered under the expression “Cruelty”. Demanding for dowry will also fall within this section where creating a situation driving the woman to commit suicide is also one of the ingredients of “cruelty”.
This section will be attracted when the act done is of such a nature that the woman is aroused to commit suicide or cause a fatal injury to herself. In this case, it was held that any evidence that proves harassment to the wife to meet any unlawful demand for money should be constituted as “cruelty” under the purview of criminal law. This is the requirement of the offence of cruelty defined under Section 498 A of IPC. So this section was introduced in the code by the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1983 (Act 46 of 1983) was to combat the menace of dowry deaths.
Presumption of death
Also at the same instance, section 113-A has been added to the Indian Evidence Act to raise presumption regarding abetment of suicide by the married woman. This section covers the area of harassment that amounts to cruelty. Beating and demanding dowry linked with the consumption of alcohol from the husband’s side and late coming habits of the husband linked with physical abuse have been taken to amount to cruelty within the meaning of this section, but this section has been held not to include a husband who merely drinks as a matter of routine and comes home late. It is to say that this section has taken a new dimension to the concept of cruelty for all matrimonial remedies relating to women.
Meaning of Cruelty under this Section
Cruelty is an essential element in offences under both sections 304B and 498A of IPC. These two sections define distinct offences but are not mutually inclusive. A person who is acquitted under section 304B for the offence of dowry death can be convicted for an offence under Sec 498A of IPC. Section 304B specifically does not contain any section but the meaning of cruelty has been defined under section 498-A and that applies in section 304-B as well.
Cruelty has been defined under Section 498 A as
(a) Any willful 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
(b) Harassment of the woman where such harassment is intending to coerce her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand.
The difference between cruelty in 304 B and 498 A is that the offence should be a dowry death and the death must have occurred during seven years of marriage. In section 498-A, no such period is required.
Several kinds of cruelty have been mentioned under this section, which includes:
(a) Cruelty by vexatious litigation
(b) Cruelty by depriving and through wasteful habits
(c) Cruelty by persistent demand of dowry
(d) Cruelty by extra-marital relations
(e) Harassment for non-dowry demand
(f) Taking away children
(g) Cruelty by false attacks on chastity
(h) Cruelty by non-acceptance of baby girl
This is the presumption of cruelty within the meaning of section 113-A, Evidence Act, 1872. This section also makes the husband guilty of abetment of suicide under the meaning of section 306. In cases, if the husband had an illicit relationship with another woman where he used to beat his wife, then it is persistent cruelty within the meaning of Explanation (a) of section 498-A.
Section 498 A under a different angle
Section 498-A aims at protecting and safeguarding a woman from her husband and his relative who imposes physical cruelty, harassment and all kinds of abuse. On the grounds of cruelty, the wife can divorce her husband and remarry or even gain money in the form of compensation. Therefore, this section is used as a weapon by many women for their purposes. Many women invoke this section against their husband’s and their relatives but on the other hand, Indian law has always emphasized the protection of the innocent. It has always been given extra weightage that no single innocent person can be punished but this section has been used in a wrong way to misrepresent certain facts which becomes an instrument of oppression in the hands of certain people who are seeking to get their relatives arrested on absolutely whimsical allegations. The complaints should be investigated in such a way that it does not spoil the sanctity of any marriages or the minor children who have to be protected under the section.
A case involved the death by burning of a newly married woman, where the circumstances did not properly establish a murder or an abetted suicide. Thus those in-laws escaped the jaws of sections 300 and 306. After this newly enacted section for prevention of harassment for dowry, they were caught in this section for persistently demanding dowry from the girl’s side and the fact that a large number of articles were taken by her father after her death from her matrimonial dwelling proved that there was pressure being exerted on-in laws and continued to be exerted till death for more money and articles.
Though few women misuse this section, it was made to protect the married woman from husbands who cause cruelty to their wives and it was condemned in a case where I stressed upon the issue to make this offence a non-cognizable and bailable one. It is basically to give a remedy to the husband under law but much opposition was coming up from the side of women’s rights groups thinking that this gives the accused a chance to escape conviction. But this would give a fair chance to all the husbands and above all help meet the ends of justice.
How to seek protection under Section 498a IPC?
- When a woman undergoes problems relating to Section 498, then she can approach the police station to give details about the case and can lodge a formal complaint against her husband/relatives.
- The complaint will then be transferred to the Crime against Women cell, also known as the CAW cell
- The process of mediation will take place in the cell and try to communicate between the parties for settlement. Mediation can take place at any point in time.
- At a later point, if there is no settlement among the parties, then the police shall file the FIR
The complaints received by the police or Magistrate under Section 498A IPC must be sent to the committee to look into the matters. They will send a detailed report within 30 days to the authority who referred the complaint and no arrest must be made until a report is sent by the committee.
The Supreme Court has also issued guidelines regarding this section where there must be one or more Family Welfare Committees in every district and that must be established by the District Legal Services Authorities. They deal with women related issues under this section. In case if an anticipatory bail for 498A is filled with one day’s notice, it must be decided within that time frame only. While fighting a case under Section 498 A, the duration of the case will depend mainly on the evidence produced before the court and how efficiently your lawyer fights in the court representing your case.
 Inder Raj Malik vs. Sunita Malik Inder 1986 CriLJ 1510, 1986 (2) Crimes 435, 1986 RLR 220
 Shobha Rani v. Medhukar Reddy 1988 AIR 121, 1988 SCR (1)1010
 Jagdish Chander vs. the State of Haryana,1988 Cr. LJ 1048 (P&H)
 Wazir Chand vs. State of Haryana 1989 SCC(Cr) 105; 1989 (1) SCC 244; 1989 AIR(SC) 378; 1989 (1) Crimes 173; 1989 (95) CRLJ 809