Section 498A IPC: A Protective Shield or a Weapon of Revenge?
Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was introduced in 1983 as a protective measure against the widespread and severe issue of cruelty against married women. This section was designed to safeguard women’s rights and empowerment. The offence under this section is cognizable, non-bailable, and non-compoundable.
Understanding Section 498A IPC
The section states that if a husband or relative of the husband of a woman subjects such woman to cruelty, they shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine. The term ‘cruelty’ is defined in wide terms to include inflicting physical or mental harm to the body or health of the woman, and indulging in acts of harassment with a view to coerce her or her relations to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security.
Misuse of Section 498A IPC
Despite its noble intentions, Section 498A has been subject to misuse. There have been instances of false and exaggerated allegations leading to the arrest and harassment of the husband and his relatives.
The Kerala High Court’s Interpretation of Section 498A IPC
In a recent case, the Kerala High Court held that a mere demand for dowry or any property or valuable security without the ingredient of ‘cruelty’ would not attract the offence under Section 498A IPC. The case was presided over by Justice P. Somarajan.
The Court held that when both elements of demand and cruelty are combined, then liability would be fastened on an accused. It observed that a mere skirmish in the ordinary life between the spouses or intermittent quarrel or even a frequent quarrel, unless constitutes the ingredient of ‘harassment’ for meeting an unlawful demand for property or valuable security or on account of failure to meet such unlawful demand, would not constitute or attract the criminal liability that can be fastened for the offence under Section 498 A IPC.
The Court also proceeded to caution authorities while registering cases alleging offence under Section 498A , merely on the basis of trivial disputes between spouses. It observed that the practice of registering FIR alleging offence under Section 498 A IPC and setting the criminal law in motion on the basis of trivial disputes or differences between the spouses or the relatives may not reflect the legislative intent or the mischief to be suppressed under that provision.
Finding that there was no acceptable evidence to prove manhandling nor any document evidencing any earlier incident or assault on the victim, the Court set aside the conviction and sentence imposed on the petitioner accused under Section 498A IPC, and acquitted him.
Important Judgments on Section 498A IPC
There have been several important judgments by various courts in India on Section 498A . These judgments have provided clarity on various aspects of this law and have also highlighted its misuse.
- Arnesh Kumar v. State of Bihar: In this case, the Supreme Court observed that Section 498A IPC is often used as a weapon rather than shield by disgruntled wives. The court laid down certain guidelines which the police officer must follow while arresting under Section 498A IPC.
- Manju Ram Kalita v. State of Assam: In this case, the Supreme Court held that when an offence has been committed by a woman by meting out cruelty to another woman, i.e., the daughter-in-law, it becomes a more serious offence.
- Kahkashan Kausar v. State of Bihar: In this case, the Supreme Court held that husband’s relatives cannot be forced to undergo trial in absence of specific allegations of dowry demand.
These judgments provide important insights into how courts interpret and apply Section 498A.
Section 498A IPC is indeed a double-edged sword. While it provides much-needed protection to women against cruelty and harassment, it has also been misused in several instances. The recent judgment by the Kerala High Court provides important guidelines for authorities while registering cases under this section. It is crucial for authorities to exercise caution and ensure that this law is used as intended – as a shield to protect women from cruelty and not as a weapon for settling personal scores.