Dowry Cases: Section 498-A of IPC

What is Section 498A of IPC?

It is related to dowry related cases. It says –  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.

Facts:

  • Cruelty by husband or his relatives, covered under Section 498A of Indian Penal Code (IPC), makes up the largest chunk of all crimes against women
  • The charge, often levelled by a wife against her in-laws in cases of dowry harassment, accounts for over 30 per cent of all crimes against women.
  • Cases under Section 498A was found to have the lowest conviction rate — merely 12.1 per cent — among all cases of crimes against women

Timeline:

  • Section 498A has been a matter of debate over the last few years
  • Government in 2015 even attempted to make the offence compoundable. This would have allowed complainants to enter into a compromise with the accused and agree to have the charges dropped
  • Making the dowry law compoundable was also among the recommendations made by the Law Commission and the Justice Malimath Committee
  • Various courts, including the Supreme Court, have over the years called Section 498A as being prone to abuse
  • In 2014, the SC said that it had a “dubious place of pride amongst the provisions that are used as weapons rather than shield by disgruntled wives”

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What is the issue around 498A?

The Supreme Court said women were increasingly using the anti-dowry law to harass in-laws and restrained police from mechanically arresting the husband and his relatives on mere lodging of a complaint under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code.

Citing very low conviction rate in such cases, it directed the state governments to instruct police “not to automatically arrest when a case under Section 498A of IPC is registered but to satisfy themselves about the necessity for arrest under the parameters (check list) provided under Section 41 of criminal procedure code”.

The bench quoted “Crime in India 2012 Statistics” published by National Crime Records Bureau to say that nearly 2 lakh people were arrested in India in 2012 under Section 498-A, which was 9.4% more than in 2011.

Indian Courts had been using IPC 498-A to safeguard the women from facing the cruelty faced by them at their matrimonial home. Most of the cases are related to dowry, wherein the woman is continuously threatened for want of more money and property which if remains unfulfilled, the married woman is tortured, threatened, abused- both physically and verbally and harassed.

Several cases show that the married woman takes advantage of the section. Many women rights‘ groups justify the abuse of this section as being a common feature with all other laws and that also the ratio of false cases to that of true ones as being very low. But this still does not change the truth. The abuse of this section is rapidly increasing and the women often well- educated know that this section is both cognizable and non-bailable and impromptu works on the complaint of the woman and placing the man behind bars.

Justice must protect the weaker and ensure that the wronged is given a chance to claim back his/her due. When women accuse their husbands under Sec 498A IPC by making the offence non-bailable and cognizable, if the man is innocent he does not get a chance quickly to get justice. Misuse of the provision a new legal terrorism can be unleashed. The provision is intended to be used a shield and not an assassin‘s weapon.

Therefore, the lawmakers must suggest some way of making this section non-biased to any individual such that the guilty is punished and the person wronged is given justice.

What is the decision of SC in this regard?

  • Police cannot arrest the accused without conducting a preliminary inquiry under dowry harassment cases.
  • With this, apex court put an end to immediate arrest of the husband and his family members in the dowry harassment cases filed under Section 498A of Indian Penal Code (IPC).
  • Now cases under Section 498A of IPC will be referred to Family Welfare Committees (FWC). FWC must be constituted at every district and no arrest will be effected till the committee’s report is received. Such report may be then considered by the investigating officer or the magistrate on its own merit.
  • FWC must comprise 3 members who may be social workers, retired persons, para-legal volunteers, wives of working officers and other citizens who are found suitable and willing. However, these committee members will not be considered as witnesses.
  • There must be adequate material to show that the arrest is necessary to prevent the accused from committing any further offence.
  • Moreover, designated police officer should be appointed to deal with such complaints.
  • These directions will not apply to the offences involving tangible physical injuries or death.
  • There will be also no routine impounding of passports or issuance of Red Corner Notice for the accused NRI.
  • The personal appearance of all family members and particularly outstation members will be also not be required.

Appeal in SC: Two months after the Supreme Court stopped immediate arrests of accused in dowry harassment cases, the court did a re-think, saying its order dilutes the right of a woman to seek justice against the evil of dowry.

SC revised its 2017 Judgement:

  • SC withdrew the court’s direction from July 2017.
  • The judges accepted that family welfare committee would create an extrajudicial entity not envisaged in the Code of Criminal Procedure.
  • They also decided to remove another guideline that gave a district judge the power to dispose of proceedings if the parties in a case reach a settlement. Such a power in a non-compoundable provision such as Section 498A exclusively belongs to the High Court, the top court held
  • It restored to the police their power to immediately register an FIR and act on a dowry harassment complaint filed by a married woman.
  • It further says a designated police officer should be there to probe dowry complaints. It ordered the Director General of Police of every State to provide such officers rigorous training.

Related Question:

  • The fact that Section 498-A is a cognizable and non-bailable offence has lent it a dubious place of pride amongst the provisions that are used as weapons rather than shield by disgruntled wives. Critically analyse in the light of recent Supreme Court judgement. (200 Words)