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Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code: A Deep Dive into Cruelty to Women, Case Interpretations, and Concerns over Misuse


Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was introduced in 1983 as a means to combat the widespread issue of cruelty towards women, especially in the context of dowry-related violence. It specifically targets acts by a husband, or his relatives, which cause grave injury or danger to the life, limb, or health (both mental and physical) of a wife. 

A Deep Dive into Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code

Key Provisions of Section 498A

Scope: This section targets any wilful conduct which drives a woman to suicide or causes grave injury or danger.

Punishment: The offence is non-bailable, and the accused can be imprisoned for up to three years and fined.

Cognizable: The police can arrest without a warrant.

Concerns of Misuse and Conviction Ratio

While the section was added with noble intentions, there have been increasing concerns regarding its misuse.

  • Frivolous Complaints

There have been instances where the provision has been employed as a tool of revenge in strained marriages, leading to unwarranted arrests.

  • Conviction Rates

Despite a high number of cases being registered under Section 498A, the conviction rate remains relatively low, raising questions about the authenticity of many complaints.

  • Law Commission Report

Recognizing these issues, the Law Commission in its report suggested modifications, emphasising the need for a balanced approach to protect genuine victims while preventing potential misuse.

Relation to Other Legal Provisions

Hindu Marriage Act

Often, issues under Section 498A intersect with matters of divorce, maintenance, or custody battles.

Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005

This act provides a civil remedy for the victims, whereas Section 498A is a criminal provision.

Landmark Judgments and Interpretations

These judgments reflect the evolving nature of the interpretation of Section 498A and highlight the judiciary’s efforts to strike a balance between protecting the rights of women and preventing the misuse of the provision. 

Hira Bittar v. State of West Bengal, 2015

Calcutta High Court reversed a previous conviction, emphasising the subjectivity of “mental cruelty.” Justice Paul noted the absence of consistent evidence and injury reports, suggesting that mental cruelty cannot have a standard definition. The marriage’s longevity and inconsistencies in witness statements also influenced the decision.

Kans Raj v. State of Punjab, 2000

The Court observed that for the fault of the husband, the in-laws or other relations cannot always be held involved in dowry demands. Accusations against persons other than the husband need to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Over-enthusiasm to convict maximum people can weaken the case against the actual accused. 

Sushil Kumar Sharma v. UOI, 2005

Supreme Court held that Section 498A of the IPC is not unconstitutional. The mere possibility of misuse doesn’t invalidate the legislation.

Bibi Parwana Khatoon v. State of Bihar, 2017

The Court observed that evidence against the brother-in-law and sister-in-law regarding torture wasn’t proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The appellants lived in a different village and had no common intention with the husband to commit the crime.

Rajesh Sharma & Ors. v. State of U.P., 2017

Supreme Court issued guidelines to prevent misuse of Section 498A, including the constitution of Family Welfare Committees in every district.

Preeti Gupta & Anr v. State of Jharkhand, 2010

The Court observed that there’s a tendency to implicate the husband and all his immediate relations, which can sometimes make it difficult to ascertain the truth. The courts must be careful and consider the realities of matrimonial disputes.

Arnesh Kumar v. State of Bihar, 2014

Supreme Court noted that Section 498A is often used more as a weapon than a shield. The police’s power of arrest has been misused, leading to unnecessary harassment. The police must exercise caution and not make unwarranted arrests without proper investigation.

Kamlesh Kalra v. Shilpika Kalra, 2020

The Supreme Court held that FIR filed was time-barred and the filing of the criminal complaint appeared to be a pressure tactic, which was an abuse of the court’s process and was liable to be quashed in toto. 

Shobha Rani v. Medhukar Reddi, 1988 

The Supreme Court remarked that under Section 498A of IPC, a new dimension has been given to the concept of cruelty. The Court elaborated on the nature of cruelty, emphasising that cruelty need not be only intentional, willful, or deliberate. The absence of intention should not make any difference in the case if the act could be regarded as cruelty in ordinary human affairs.

Noorjahan v. State Rep by DSP., 2008 

The Supreme Court explained the expression “cruelty” and emphasized the consequences of cruelty which are likely to drive a woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb, or health.

Bhaskar Lal Sharma & Anr. v. Monica, 2014

The Court observed that all essential elements for an offense under Section 498A were not fulfilled. Mere allegations by the wife did not amount to cruelty under Section 498A.


Section 498A remains a contentious provision, underscoring the tension between safeguarding women’s rights and the potential for misuse. As judicial interpretations evolve and society progresses, it is imperative that the law adapts to ensure justice, equity, and balance.


Author: Parthvi Patel, United World School of Law 



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