abuse of Section 498 A of IPC
Seeking to address concerns over large-scale misuse of anti-dowry laws, the Centre is set to move, with court permission, an amendment bill in the next session of Parliament to make offences under Section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code compoundable. In this backdrop, Metro India reporters Jaya Vellampalli and Palli Durga Sindhuja interacted with a cross-section of people to know their opinions on whether the provision is being misued and whether the proposed amendments would bring relief to the affected family.
LAW PANEL’S TAKE
- Misuse of Section 498-A in many cases has been judicially noticed by the apex court as well as various High Courts. However, misuse by itself is not a ground to abolish S 498-A or to denude the section of its teeth. The social objective behind the section and the need for deterrence should be kept in view, while at the same time ensuring that the complaints filed with false or exaggerated allegations out of ulterior motives or in a fit of emotion should be curbed.
- The law on the question whether registration of FIR could be postponed for a reasonable time is in a state of uncertainty. Some High Courts have been directing that FIR shall not be registered under S 498A till the preliminary investigation is done and reconciliation process is completed. The issue has been referred to a larger bench of the Supreme Court.
- The offence under S 498-A shall be made compoundable, with the permission of court and subject to cooling off period of three months.
- The offence should remain non-bailable. However, the safeguard against arbitrary and unwarranted arrests lies in strictly observing the letter and spirit of the conditions laid down in Sections 41 and 41-A of Cr PC relating to power of arrest and sensitising the police on the modalities to be observed in cases of this nature. The need for custodial interrogation should be carefully assessed. Over-reaction and inaction are equally wrong. Police should take necessary steps to ensure safety of the complainant and to prevent further acts of harassment.
- There should be a monitoring mechanism in the police department to keep track of S 498A cases and the observance of guidelines.
- The women police stations should be strengthened both quantitatively and qualitatively. There should be separate room in the police stations for women complainants and the accused women in S 498-A related cases.
- Hostels or shelter homes for the benefit of women who would not like to go back to marital homes should be maintained in cities and district headquarters with necessary facilities. The assistance given to them shall be treated as a part of social welfare measure.
- The passport of non-resident Indians involved in Section 498-A cases should not be impounded mechanically. Instead, bonds and sureties for heavy amounts can be insisted upon.
- The need for expeditious disposal of cases under section 498-A should be given special attention by the prosecution and judiciary.
Fact and fiction
- An average 10,000 false dowry harassment cases are being registered every year
- As per data provided by the National Crime Records Bureau, a total number of 99,135, 1,06,527 and 1,18,866 cases, respectively, were registered in 2011, 2012 and 2013 in the country under Section 498A for cruelty by husband or his relatives.
- After police investigations, 10,193 cases in 2011, 10,235 in 2012 and 10,864 cases in 2013 were found to be false or suffering from mistake of fact or law.
- About nine per cent of cases of cruelty or harassment registered in 2013 were false or bad in law.
Supreme Court’s observations
In July 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that the anti-dowry law introduced in 1983 (designed to safeguard women from abuse and sometimes death at the hands of husband/relatives) was presently being used as ‘weapons’ by ‘disgruntled wives’. “The simplest way to harass is to get the husband and his relatives arrested,” the two-judge bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Justice Chandramouli Kumar Prasad, in a 21-page order said. In some cases, “bed-ridden grand-fathers and grand-mothers of the husbands, their sisters living abroad for decades are arrested,” the order noted.
Deterrent laws and black sheep
Under laws introduced in 1983, a complaint allowed for immediate arrest of the accused, often the husband and his family. This was supposed to serve as a deterrent. Yet, India continues to see a rise in the number of reported dowry-related deaths. More than 8,600 cases where women died from dowry-related harassment were registered in India in 2011, up from 8,391 the year before and just over 6,000 in 2002, according to NCRB.
Affects victims fighting for justice
As far as these cases are concerned, there is misuse. At the same time, several genuine cases are registered. The recent amendment made by the Supreme Court would affect the victims who are genuinely fighting for justice.
If all the cases are investigated properly, then there would not be a need for these amendments. Most of the cases arise due to marital disputes. The fact is that under this act many women who actually suffer harassment are not getting justice.
Swathi Lakra,Additional Commissioner of Police (Crimes)
Stop misuse of laws
Police officers need to wait for a week before arresting the in-laws. The Accused1 (A1) will be immediately arrested. It is important for people to stop wrongly inflicting these laws on their family members. Women are misusing this law and even the officers are arresting the in-laws, sister-in-law without any notice. It is essential to consider the evidence properly.
S Umapathi, IGP (retd)
Not being misused
Section 498 A is not being misused. There would be very minimal cases which have been registered with false proofs. There are 98% cases which are true and mirror how women are being subjected to domestic violence. The amendments being made in the act will not loosen it, but will help law keepers to understand the case in a better way. The police officials also do not take up the cases without proper investigations and there are very strong evidences which support them. Domestic violence is a big offence and the culprit should not escape punishment. The law was established to protect women and I think it is being implemented in the right way.
The Supreme Court has brought about many changes, but all these changes need to reach all the officials. For a week the police officials need to investigate before arresting the people. Yet, most of the times they ignore this law and arrest the in-laws and start harassing them without proper investigation. Advocates have fought as bails being resolved in police stations would lead to corruption. Awareness needs to brought about among the people and the officials. Nowadays the in-laws are not even staying with the couple. Counselling needs to be provided for the people and the real sufferers would get justice if the act is made bailable.
Ramya Akula, Advocate
Women are too emotional
Section 498 A is surely being misused by the people. The section has given a free hand to the women who are filing false cases against their husbands. I feel these kinds of cases are being registered as women are too emotional towards certain things. There are so many registered cases, which can be sorted out with discussions, but things are taken beyond the limit resulting in using this act. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 has provided some relief for the false victims of section 498 A. I think the number of cases being registered under this act can be solved in a better way, rather than put the male counterpart and family into trouble.
Babu Anapa, Bharyabhadithula sangam
Will give relief
I think Section 498a is being misused by the people in many ways. The moment a case is filed, the husband and his family are arrested without even proper investigation being carried out. The amendments being made will bring great relief to the people as they would give time to the other counterparts to prove their innocence, if a false case is registered. There have been many instances where people demanded amendements, but nothing came out of it. I am happy that finally the Supreme Court has decided to make changes which will give relief to the husband and his family.
Osman Shaheed, Advocate
Marriage is sacrosanct
There has been a phenomenal increase in matrimonial disputes in recent years. The institution of marriage is greatly revered in this country. Section 498 A of the IPC was introduced with the avowed object to combat the menace of harassment of a woman at the hands of her husband and his relatives. The fact that Section 498 A is a cognisable and non-bailable offence has lent it a dubious place of pride amongst the provisions that are used as a weapon rather than as a shield by disgruntled wives.
The simplest way to harass is to get the husband and his relatives arrested under this provision. In a number of cases, bed-ridden grand-fathers and grand-mothers of the husbands, their sisters living abroad for decades are arrested. Crime in India 2012 Statistics published by the National Crime Records Bureau, Ministry of Home Affairs, shows arrest of 1,97,762 persons all over India during the year 2012 for offences under Section 498 A of the IPC, 9.4% more than in the year 2011. Nearly a quarter of those arrested under this provision in 2012 were women i.e. 47,951, which depicts that mothers and sisters of the husbands were liberally included in their arrest net.
Praveen, President, Save Indian Family
amendments will help
I am very happy that the Supreme Court has finally decided to make amendments in the section. There are so many cases which are filed on false proofs and the police intervene without any investigations. These cases will land the family members also into a lot of trouble even when they are not involved. The amendments, like making it bailable, will give the male party to prove their innocence. Maximum number of cases under this section is filed on wrong allegations which will ruin the lives of many people.
C V L Narsimha Rao, Senior Advocate