The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 1983 introduced Chapter XX-A to the Indian Penal Code. This new Chapter provided for offences of cruelty by husband or relatives of husband. Section 498A was inserted into the Code under the said Chapter. The Supreme Court has observed that this Section has given a new dimension to the concept of cruelty for the purposes of matrimonial remedies and the type of conduct described in this provision is relevant to prove cruelty[i].
The provision under section 498A considers the following aspects as cruelty by husband or his relatives-
1. A willful conduct by husband or his relatives to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause her grave injury or danger to life, limb or health. It is to be noted that health under this section includes physical as well as the mental health of the woman.
2. Harassment of woman with a view to coerce her to give or get any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security. The provision also covers the coercion imposed on the persons related to woman to meet the same unlawful demands of the husband or his relatives.
The wrongful demand by husband or his relatives may not always be as a marriage demand. In the case of State of Punjab v. Daljit Singh[ii], the Court held that demand for money after four years of marriage for a specific purpose, nowhere related to marriage demand but causing harassment to wife so much that she was made to end her life is sufficient for conviction under section 498A.
Thus, the offence of cruelty by husband or his relative is not added as an offence against marriage under Chapter XX. The section 498A provides a wider protection than being just a matrimonial remedy. Therefore, all harassments and violence against women while demanding for money or any other valuables are considered as cruelty under this provision.
In B. S. Joshi v. State of Haryana[iii], the Supreme Court while discussing the object of introducing Chapter XX-A observed that, Section 498A was added with a view to punish the husband or his relatives who harass the wife to coerce her or her relatives to satisfy unlawful demands of dowry and the object of introducing the section was to prevent the torture to a woman by her husband or his relatives.
Prospective effect of the provision-
The provision under Section 498A applies prospectively and not retrospectively. The requirement for the application of this provision is the continuance of marriage. In the case of Prasanna Kumar v. Dhanalaxmi[iv], the Court where a dowry harassment which had ended in March 1983 by the husband disserting his wife before the new provision came into force in 1983 held that to be not covered under this section. This clearly described that the new provision does not have retrospective effect.
Further, in the case of Vasanta Tulshiram Bhoyar v. State of Maharashtra[v], the Court held that where the relationship of marriage is continuing, the events of cruelty taking place prior to the amendment can be covered under the new provision. But this application does not mean that the new provision has retrospective effect.
Section 498A of IPC and Sections 2(1) and 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961-
The provisions under the Dowry Prohibition Act necessarily requires that dowry should have been given or agreed to be given. But in case of provision under section 498A of IPC mere demand for dowry is considered as an offence. The explanation (2) to section 498A mentions the words ‘demand for property or valuable security’ which clarifies that mere demand for dowry is an offence under section 498A unlike the provisions of Dowry Prohibition Act which requires payment of dowry or dowry agreed to be paid.
In the case of Vadde Rama Rao v. State of Andhra Pradesh[vi], it was on record that the husband accompanied his wife to his in-law’s home to ask for the unpaid balance dowry and also demanded for additional dowry. On the way back to her husband’s home, wife disappeared and her parents lodged a missing complaint. Later the body of the wife was found in a river. The court held that the death of the wife was directly in relation to the harassment by the husband while he coerced her and her parents to give dowry and convicted the husband under section 498A.
The section not only covers the case of harassment to a wife, but it also covers the cruelty to a mistress. In the case of Vamgarla Yedukondala v. State of Andhra Pradesh[vii], the court held that if the cruelty or harassment of the kind described in the section is meted out to a mistress which leads her to commit suicide, then the section would cover her case also.
Punishment for the offence under section 498A-
The provision further prescribes punishment for the offence of cruelty by husband or his relatives. The punishment is imprisonment for a term which may extend to 3 years and also liable to fine.
Frequently asked questions
Is the offence of cruelty by husband or his relatives under section 498A compoundable?
The offence under section 498A is non-compoundable. But the State Amendment of Andhra Pradesh has classified the offence under section 498A as compoundable. The State Amendment provides that where the wife has condoned the matrimonial cruelty of which she was a victim and has resumed consortium with her husband, the court will permit to compound the complaint.
In the case of Thathupadi Venkatalakshmi v. State of Andhra Pradesh[viii], the court held that if the wife has resumed consortium with husband by condoning him of the offence of cruelty, the court will not obstruct the wife from taking back the complaint. But if the police have filed the charge-sheet, then wife shall not be permitted to withdraw the charge-sheet.
Edited by Sakshi Agarwal
Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje
[i]Shobha Rani v. MadhukarReddi, AIR 1988 SC 121
[ii] 1999 Cr LJ 2723 (P&H)
[iii] AIR 2003 SC 1386
[iv] 1989 Cr LJ 1829 Mad
[v] 1987 Cr LJ 901 Bom
[vi] 1990 Cr LJ 1666 AP
[vii] 1988 Cr LJ 1538 AP
[viii] 1991 Cr LJ 749