Section 498A of IPC came as a significant addition to the Indian Penal Code, 1860, which was introduced in 1983 to safeguard the rights and empowerment of women. Under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, extortion of any form of property by subjecting a woman to cruelty is punishable. The Government of India amended the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) by way of the Criminal Law (Second Amendment ) Act, 1983 on 26 December 1983, and inserted a new Section 498(A) under Chapter XX-A, Of Cruelty By Husband Or Relatives Of Husband.

The word ‘cruelty’ has been described in broad terms so as to include causing 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 protection.Matrimonial Cruelty in India is a cognizable, non bailable and non-compoundable offence.


It is defined in Chapter XXA of I.P.C. under Section 498A as:

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.[1]

 Explanation.- For the purposes 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.


Cruelty includes both physical and mental torture. Wilful conduct in Explanation (a) to section 498A, I.P.C. can be inferred from direct and indirect evidence. The word cruelty in the Explanation clause attached to the section has been given a wider meaning.[2]


In 1983, domestic violence was decided as a specific criminal offense with the introduction of section 498-A into the IPC. This section deals with cruelty by a husband or his relatives against a married woman. Four types of cruelties are which are under this law:

  • Firstly, conduct which is likely to induce a woman to suicide,
  • Secondly, conduct which is likely to cause serious injury to the life or health of the lady,
  • harassing with the purpose of forcing the lady or her known to give some property, or
  • Lastly, harassment because the woman or her relatives are unable to fulfill the demands for more money items.


  • Persistent refusal of eatables,
  • Insisting on continuous sexual conduct,
  • Continuous locking a lady out of the house,
  • Physiological violence,
  • Taunting, demoralizing and putting down the lady with the aim of causing mental harm,
  • Confining the woman at the house and not allowing her normal social interaction,
  • Abusing children in their mom’s presence with the aim of causing her mental harm,
  • Threatening with divorce for dowry

For safeguarding the interest of a woman against the cruelty they face behind the four walls of their matrimonial home, the Indian Penal Code,1860 was amended in 1983 and S.498A was inserted which deals with ‘Matrimonial Cruelty’ to a woman. The section was enacted to combat the menace of dowry deaths. It was introduced in the code by the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1983 (Act 46 of 1983). By the same Act section 113-A was been added to the Indian Evidence Act to raise presumption regarding abetment of suicide by married woman. The main objective of section 498-A of I.P.C is to protect a woman who is being harassed by her husband or relatives of husband.

Section 113-A of Indian Evidence Act, reads as follows:

When the question is whether a person has committed the dowry death of a woman and it is shown that soon before her death such woman has been subjected by such person to cruelty or harassment for, or in connection with, any demand for dowry, the Court shall presume that such person had caused the dowry death.

Explanation- For the purpose of this section ‘dowry death’ shall have the same meaning as in section 304-B of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860).

The OBJECT with which section 498A IPC was introduced is amply reflected in the Statement of Objects and Reasons while enacting Criminal Law (Second Amendment) Act No. 46 of 1983. As clearly stated therein, the increase in number of dowry deaths was a matter of serious concern. The extent of the evil was commented upon by the Joint Committee of the Houses to examine the work of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961. In some of cases, cruelty of the husband and the relatives of the husband culminated in suicide by or murder of the helpless woman concerned.

      CASE LAWS (498-A)


In Inder Raj Malik and others vs. Sunita Malikit[3] was contended that this section is ultra vires Article 14 and Article 20 (2) of the Constitution. There is the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 which also deals with similar types of cases; therefore, both statutes together create a situation commonly known as double jeopardy. But Delhi High Court negatived this contention and held that this section does not create situation for double jeopardy. Section 498-A is distinguishable from Section 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act because in the latter mere demand of dowry is punishable and existence of the element of cruelty is not necessary, whereas section 498-A deals with an aggravated form of the offence

  • Similarly, its constitutionality was challenged in the case of Polavarpu Satyanarayana v. Soundaravalli where it was again held that 498A is not ultra vires of constitution.
  • In the case of Surajmal Banthia & Anr. v. State of West Bengal, the deceased was ill-treated and tortured for several days and not given food several times. The court acknowledging that this is the treatment that several young brides face when they move out of their parents’ home and into the house of her in-laws, held the husband and his father liable under 498A.
  • Sec 498A and the Allegation of Misuse

In the last 20 years of criminal law reform a common argument made against laws relating to violence against women in India has been that women misuse these laws. The police, civil society, politicians and even judges of the High Courts and Supreme Court have offered these arguments of the misuse of laws vehemently. The allegation of misuse is made particularly against Sec 498A and against the offence of dowry death in Sec 304B

[1] Section 498-A, Indian Penal Code, 1860


[3] 1986 CrLJ 1510

Aishwarya Says:

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