Report No. 243
Section 498-A IPC
1.1 Keeping in view the representations received from various quarters and observations made by the Supreme Court and the High Courts, the Home Secretary, Government of India through his D.O. letter dated 1st September, 2009 requested the Law Commission of India to consider suggesting amendment, if any to Section 498-A of Indian Penal Code or other measures to check the alleged misuse of the said provision. Thereafter, in the case of Preeti Gupta v. State of Jharkhand, (2010) the Supreme Court observed that "serious re-look of the entire provision is warranted by the Legislature.
It is a matter of common knowledge that exaggerated versions of the incident are reflected in a large number of complaints. The tendency of over-implication is also reflected in a very large number of cases". Copy of the Judgment has been directed to be sent to the Law Commission and Union Law Secretary for taking appropriate steps. The Law Commission of India after intense deliberations released a Consultation Paper-cum-Questionnaire which is attached to this report as Annexure-I.
1.2 Section 498-A was introduced in the year 1983 to protect married women from being subjected to cruelty by the husband or his relatives. A punishment extending to 3 years and fine has been prescribed. The expression 'cruelty' has been defined in wide terms so as 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.
Harassment for dowry falls within the sweep of latter limb of the section. Creating a situation driving the woman to commit suicide is also one of the ingredients of 'cruelty'. The offence under Section 498-A is cognizable, non-compoundable and non-bailable. The section is extracted below:
498-A. 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 punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.
Explanation.- For the purpose of this section, "cruelty" means
(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 woman; or
(b) harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view to coercing 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."
1.3 Several enactments and provisions have been brought on the statute book during the last two or three decades to address the concerns of liberty, dignity and equal respect for women founded on the community perception that women suffer violence or deprived of their constitutional rights owing to several social and cultural factors. Meaningful debates and persuasions have led to these enactments.
The insertion of Section 498-A IPC is one such move and it penalizes offensive conduct of the husband and his relatives towards the married woman. The provision together with allied provisions in Cr. P.C. are so designed as to impart an element of deterrence. In course of time, a spate of reports of misuse of the section by means of false / exaggerated allegations and implication of several relatives of the husband have been pouring in.
Though there are widespread complaints and even the judiciary has taken cognizance of large scale misuse, there is no reliable data based on empirical study as regards the extent of the alleged misuse. There are different versions about it and the percentage of misuse given by them is based on their experience or ipse dixit, rather than ground level study.