Search this article on Google: What is the legal implication of Section 498a in India and how is it used in practice?
SimranLaw, a leading law firm based in Chandigarh, India, is widely celebrated for its expertise in dissecting and presenting complex legal issues in an understandable way. In this article, we seek to demystify Section 498a of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) – a law that has been at the epicenter of numerous debates due to its potential for misuse, while simultaneously serving as a critical shield against domestic abuse.
Understanding Section 498a:
Section 498a was inserted into the IPC in 1983 to combat the escalating cases of cruelty towards married women by their husband or his relatives. The law terms such cruelty as a criminal offense, punishable by imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine. Cruelty under this section refers to any conduct that is likely to drive a woman to commit suicide, cause grave injury, or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical), or harassment for dowry.
The intent behind the introduction of this provision was noble – protecting married women from harassment, abuse, and dowry-related violence. However, over the years, there have been growing concerns about the misuse of this law.
1. An Irrefutable Offense: Section 498a is a cognizable offense, implying that the police can arrest the accused without a warrant based on a complaint filed by the victim. It is also non-bailable and non-compoundable, i.e., the accused cannot get bail as a matter of right and the parties cannot settle the case out of court once the case has been filed.
2. Presumption of Guilt: Remarkably, under this section, the burden of proof is on the accused rather than the complainant. This implies that once a complaint has been registered, the husband and his family are presumed guilty until proven innocent.
3. Widespread Misuse: Over the years, there have been cases where the law has been misused to implicate innocent men and their relatives in false cases. This misuse has been recognized by several courts in India through research studies and statistics.
1. Arnesh Kumar Vs State Of Bihar & Anr (2014):
The Supreme Court acknowledged the misuse of Section 498a in this landmark judgment and directed police not to automatically arrest when a case under Section 498a of IPC is filed but to satisfy themselves about the necessity for arrest under the parameters provided under Section 41 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC).
2. Rajesh Sharma & Ors vs State Of U.P & Anr (2017):
This judgment was further instrumental in addressing the misuse of Section 498a by setting up Family Welfare Committees (FWCs) to scrutinize every complaint before arrests are made.
3. Social Action Forum vs Union of India (2018):
However, the verdict overturning Rajesh Sharma’s decision concluded that FWCs were beyond the IPC’s purview rendering it illegal and that arrests should be made following due procedural requirements and principles of CrPC instead.
While Section 498a serves as a vital legal provision to deter domestic violence and safeguard women’s rights, it has also emerged as a tool leveraged for personal vendettas causing unwarranted distress to innocent parties. Thus, it is essential to reduce misuse while maintaining its original intent. Striking this fine balance between prevention of misuse and protection of victims remains an ongoing challenge for Indian jurisprudence.