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Section 498A Indian Penal Code: Most Abused Law In Indian Jurisprudence

There is no greater tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of the law and in the name of justice.- Montesquieu
Law is not law , if it violates the principles of eternal justice - Lydia Maria Child

Introduction
In Indian society, females have been given paramount status but due to various horrendous invasions and draconian British colonial rule, the condition of women in society deteriorated.

There was stratospheric number of reported cases of heart-wrenching torture and bedevilment against females which results in pugnacious demands of strict actions against it, by the legislative and legal edifice of the country.

As a result of these loud demands, various women-centric laws were enacted of which section 498 A (IPC) is a glaring facet. But over the years it was seen that the application of section 498A (IPC) digressed from its objective and became a bane for the husbands and his relatives.

Sec 498A (IPC) was frequently used by wife for filling maliciously frivolous cases for legal extortion, belligerent torture and harassment , not only against husband but also against his relative (immediate or far).

The Hon'ble Supreme Court in Sushil Kumar Sharma V. Union of India stated that"By misuse of the provision (498A IPC), a new legal terrorism can be unleashed."

The misuse of Sec 498A (IPC) leads to thunderous voices for the prompt amendment in it and even also for its repeal.

Section 498a (IPC)

Section 498A (IPC) was introduced in the year 1983 along with sections 113A and 113B of the Indian Evidence Act.

The sec 498A punishes the husband and his relatives who subject his wife to cruelty

Sec 498A Defines Cruelty As:
  • Any willful conduct by the husband or relative of the husband which likely to drive the wife:
    1. To commit suicide or
    2. Danger to life , limb or health (Mental or Physical)
  • Harass the wife with the view to coerce her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demands for:
    1. any property or
    2. valuable security or
    3. on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand

Classification Of Offence
  • Non Bailable Offence
  • Non Compoundable Offence
  • Cognizable Offence
  • Imprisonment May Extend To 3 Years And Shall Also Be Liable To Fine

Misuse Of Section 498a (IPC)

The Supreme Court in Sushil Kumar Sharma Vs. UOI (2005),stated that in many instances, complaints under sec 498A (IPC) were being filed with an oblique motive to wreck personal vendetta.

In recent times sec 498A (IPC) has been De facto maneuvered as a weapon with a view of domestic blackmailing against the husband and and his relatives which leads to its illimitable animadversion.

Wide and cryptically enigmatic terms like relative of husband, health (mental or physical) , and likely to drive to suicide, are the most prolific reasons for its ill-use.

The cruelty especially mental cruelty given in section 498A (IPC) is ginormously opaque and can be easily misused as well as arduous for the accused husband to rebut.

The major reason for the vitriolic application of this Section 498A (IPC) is that it confers discretionary power upon law enforcement agencies to arrest the husband and his relatives on the complaint of the wife without any prior investigation.

The prominent notion is that the arrest of the husband will help the wife to improve her say in family matters and will give her greater bargaining power in family disputes.It has now become a common practice to arrest the most respectable person in the husband's family to create pressure on the husband.

In the case of Preeti Gupta Vs. State of Jharkhand (2010),The Court said: "It is a matter of common knowledge that exaggerated versions of the incidents are reflected in a large number of complaints". The Court took note of the common tendency to implicate the husband and all his immediate relations.

The sensitivity of the situation can be seen that a man can be arrested on the mere fact that he is married to that woman and not only this ,the respective provision is also used to harass women who are related to aggrieved husband like his mother or his sisters etc ,which reflect that the provision is maliciously misused by a woman against another woman.

According to the 243rd law commission report under section 498A ,the conviction rate is quite low which is about only 20%.

The Hon'ble High Court of Delhi in Chandrabhan Vs. State observed that "there is no iota of doubt that most of the complaints are filed in the heat of the moment over trifling fights and ego clashes. It is also a matter of common knowledge that in their tussle and ongoing hostility, the hapless children are the worst victims".

Nowadays it's a common practice by the wife to use this provision as a counter against the divorce filed by the husband and also for out-of-court settlement by coercing the husband for a hefty amount of money.

Data Regarding Section 498a (IPC)

According to National Crime Records Bureau in 2018, more than 100000 cases were reported in India under Sec 498A, which constitutes 27.3% of all the cases of crime against women.

The number of pending cases has risen by 6% under this section in 2018. The number of pending cases under 498A from 2006 to 2016 has increased by 161%.

The number of acquittals under section 498A (IPC) witnessed an increase of 60% till 2016 compared to 2006. But after that, the number of acquittals dropped to 34,153 in 2017 and 31,691 in 2018 which is the lowest in the decade.The number of cases withdrawn /compromised between 2006 and 2018 has increased by 70%.

Under section 498A (IPC) the conviction rate has drastically reduced from 21.9% in 2006 to 13% in 2018. The conviction rate of 498A cases in 2018 is almost one-fourth of the conviction rate of all IPC crimes. Only 1 out of 7 cases under Sec 498A resulted in a conviction in 2018.

Conclusion
Matrimonial matters are hellishly sensitive, they not only convulse the couple but also the entire family.So while enacting matrimonial laws, lawmakers should be scrupulous and focus on the actual ground reality, rather than futile academic philosophy.

Law Commission in its 243rd report accepted that there is a gross misuse of the provision and the blaring voices against the misuse of the provision impetrate for amendment and salubrious application of it.

To prevent and stop misuse of the provision following steps should be taken which are as follows:
  1. Wide and ambiguous terms like relative of husband, health (mental or physical) , and likely to drive to suicide should be amended to narrow down its interpretation
  2. Section 498 (IPC) should be strictly made gender-neutral for this, the term husband or wife should be amended to spouse.
  3. Except in the case of prima facie violence against the wife immediate arrest should be delayed till all endeavours of reconciliation be made.
  4. A preliminary investigation before arrest should be done and the arrest should be made only after the permission of the magistrate.
  5. The section 498A should be made bailable and compoundable as was suggested by the Malimath Committee on criminal justice reform.
  6. Judges should be given the power to straightaway punish the false complainant.
Section 498A (IPC) no doubt has ended up being a fiasco when it comes to achieving its objective and instead of improving, it deteriorated the condition of the marital home .

The current situation bolster strict amendments in section 498A (IPC) and reforms of its application by law enforcement agencies in order to curb its malicious use against the husband combined with achieving its objective to improve the position of the wife in the marital home.

References:
  1. https://indiankanoon.org/docfragment/174997460/?formInput=law%20commission%20reports
  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vKRAkw5RUdw
  3. https://indiankanoon.org/docfragment/174997460/?formInput=law%20commission%20reports
  4. https://indiankanoon.org/doc/538436/
  5. https://indiankanoon.org/doc/294349/
  6. https://indiankanoon.org/docfragment/174997460/?formInput=law%20commission%20reports
  7. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vKRAkw5RUdw
  8. https://indianakanoon.org/docfragment/174997460/formInput=law%20commission%20reports
  9. https://factly.in/the-conviction-rate-of-sec-498a-cases-falls-as-conviction-rate-of-ipc-crimes-increases/
  10. https://factly.in/the-conviction-rate-of-sec-498a-cases-falls-as-conviction-rate-of-ipc-crimes-increases/
  11. https://indiankanoon.org/docfragment/174997460/?formInput=law%20commission%20reports

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