This particular section, 498A was added to the Indian Penal Code in the year 1983, to chapter XXA. The fundamental objective behind this addition was the protection of women from the torture being subjected to them by their husband or relatives of the husband. The motive was also to deliver punishment and the prevention of torture at the hands of a woman’s in laws who resorted to harassment to force the women to meet unlawful demands. In several cases, the women were even driven to an extent where they committed suicide.
According to Section 498A,
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. Explanation.—For the purpose of this section, “cruelty” means—
(a) any wilful 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 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.
For an offence to be filed under Section 498A, it is prudent for the prosecution to prove that
- The victim of the harassment/torture was legally married. She might also be a widow, in case the torture was inflicted by her in-laws.
- Secondly, it is important to establish that the torture was meted out either by the husband or by the relatives of the husband or by both.
- Third, the cruelty that the woman was subjected to, was carried out with a view to compel her to meet the unlawful demand for dowry.
- It must be proved that the conduct of the husband or the relatives was wilful in nature which either drove the woman to commit suicide or the conduct resulted in serious injuries either to her health, body or life.
- The injury can either be of physical nature or mental nature.
This section is neither unconstitutional, nor ultra vires as was contended in Inder Raj Malik v. Mrs. Sumita Malik. In this case, it was asserted that this section is ultra vires Article 14 and Article 20(2) of the Constitution. It was also stated that this section created a situation of double jeopardy with the dowry prohibition act. However, this contention was negated by the High Court of Delhi stating that no such situation was created since under section 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act makes just the demand of dowry punishable by law, whereas section 498A punishes the coupled act of dowry demand along with cruelty.
This section has aided in attributing a contemporary dimension to the term cruelty in cases of matrimonial disputes. At the same instance, it is also necessary to keep in mind that the ingredients of section 498A as have been interpreted are much more rigid and steely as compared to the normal idea of cruelty under civil law. To invoke section 498A, intention or mens rea is very crucial. Section 498A makes a mention of wilful conduct which means intentional behaviour on the part of the offender. Attention is paid to the intention of the offender to cause harm to the victim. For section 498A, IPC, proving of conduct of cruelty must be done. The harassment of the women under this section must be driven by an objective which is to coerce the woman to fulfil unlawful demands.
The concept of cruelty cannot be limited to a mere list of acts. This continuing offence differs from individual to individual and is also dependant on the situation in question. The social, economic and cultural background of the individuals also plays a role in the determination of cruelty.
In Virender Bhatti v. State, it was held that in cases where within seven years of marriage, the victim committed suicide after being subjected to cruelty at the hands of the husband, it was proper to presume that the husband abetted the commission of suicide and he could be convicted under sections 498A and 306.
In Arun Vyas v. Anita Vyas, it was held that the offence of cruelty as mentioned under section 498A is a continuing offence and on each and every occasion that the wife is subjected to cruelty, she will have a new beginning point of limitation.
In Balram Prasad Agrawal v. State of Bihar, the Apex Court held that a complaint filed under section 498A would prove to be successful only if the fact that there was an unlawful demand for dowry by either the husband or by his relatives, could be proved. The said demand must come within the definition of dowry.
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