Misuse of Section 498A

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    In Context

    • The Supreme Court stated that instead of assuring rapid state intervention for protecting women against cruelty by her husband, Section 498A is increasingly being used to settle personal scores against in-laws.

    Background

    • In a case filed by a woman against her in-laws alleging mental harassment and terminating her pregnancy,  SC said that with friction increasing in marriages, Section 498A is being misused by women to target her husband and his relatives. 
    • SC also quashed the FIR in the case, calling the allegations general and omnibus, and not warranting prosecution.

    Section 498A

    • About:
      • Section 498A provides for imprisonment for three years and/or a fine for a man and his relatives, if they subject his wife to cruelty. ‘Cruelty’ is defined as wilfully driving a woman to commit suicide or inflicting grave injury (including physical or mental injury) upon her.
      • It was introduced in 1983 to prevent domestic violence and murders caused by the in-laws due to the prevalence of dowry in the society.
    • Important Provisions:
      • Non-Bailable: It means that bail cannot be granted as a right and depends on the discretion and sense of justice of the court.
      • Non-Compoundable: It means that the case cannot be settled by both the parties involved. The provision is inserted into crimes of a more serious or grave nature due to fear of being pressured into a compromise. It can only be quashed by the court.
      • Cognizable: It means that the police officer can make an arrest or proceed with an investigation without securing a warrant from the court. No permission is required from a magistrate to proceed in cognizable cases.
    • Need for the Law:
      • Dowry Deaths: After independence, dowry deaths had gradually become a common menace in Indian society. To prevent married women from being subject to cruelty, Section 498A was introduced in the IPC.
      • Absence of Provision: Section 498A was required as at the time there was no law in place to prevent domestic violence against married women. It was only in 2005, Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 was enacted to complement Section 498A.
      • Patriarchal Society: National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3) of 2005-06 demonstrated that 40% of ‘ever-married’ women were subjected to physical, sexual or mental abuse by their husbands. This manifests the requirement to protect women from abuse in a patriarchal society.

    Misuse of the Law

    • Fake Cases: Cases filed under Section 498A of IPC, account for over 30% of all crimes against women. However, the conviction rate stands at a mere 12.1%. Therefore, experts have pointed out that most of the cases are not related to dowry demand.
    • Extortion or Blackmail: Legal experts have opined that reports of cases being ‘settled’ on payment of money demonstrate the abuse of law. Accordingly, SC has also said that Section 498A has a “dubious place of pride amongst the provisions that are used as weapons rather than shields by disgruntled wives”. 

    Way Forward

    • Adequate Changes: Section 498A needs to be suitably modified in view of its continued misuse. For e.g In the Rajesh Sharma case, SC had given directions to be followed for preventing the misuse of the law. However, they were tweaked later in the face of opposition by women rights’ groups.
      • Making Section 498A compoundable: Both the Law Commission as well as Malimath Committee have recommended making dowry law compoundable. This will leave a scope for compromise in cases where it is felt that the case is not genuine and is motivated in nature.
    • Sensitizing the errant police officers: At the same time, police need to be sensitized to avoid visiting offices and places of work of the accused, which may lead to unnecessary mental harassment and loss of reputation for the family.
    • Expediency in Justice Delivery: There is a need to protect innocent people from being framed in fake cases by making swift delivery of justice possible. For e.g., the courts should not allow repeated adjournments in case the complainant repeatedly fails to appear in the court.

    Conclusion

    • Section 498A is an important provision in the quest for women empowerment. However, various courts, including SC, have called Section 498A as being prone to misuse. Therefore, it is imperative to amend the law to the required extent so that misuse of the law is prevented and it is used as per the intent with which it was formulated.

    Source: IE