Punishment for Cruelty to a Married Woman by Her Husband and In-Laws in India


For the purposes of this section, “cruelty” means

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(a) Any wilful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) of the woman; or

(b) harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand” (Section 498-A).

Recently a large number of dowry deaths came to light and it was a matter of serious concern for the women organisations and also for the legislature. The matter was debated and the working of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 attracted adverse criticism in both the houses of the legislature.

Finally it was thought expedient to add the present section in the Indian Penal Code. Adequate amendments have also been made in the Criminal Procedure Code and the Indian Evidence Act to meet the situation.

This section makes it punishable to practise cruelty upon a married woman by her husband or any relative of the husband. The explanation appended to this section also defines cruelty. Cruelty means—(i) any wilful conduct on the part of the husband or his relative that drives the wife to commit suicide or grave mental or physical injury; or (ii) harassment or coercion of the woman to meet any unlawful demand for any property or other valuable security.

The punishment prescribed under the section is three years imprisonment with fine.

In Shobha Rani v. Madhukar Reddy the Supreme Court had an occasion to observe that Section 498-A of the I.P.C. introduces an entirely new offence hitherto unknown to criminal jurisprudence. A new dimension has been given to the concept of cruelty.

Wazir Chand v. State of Haryana is, perhaps, the first Supreme Court decision regarding conviction of the accused under this new provision resorting to Clause (b) of the Explanation appended to that section.

There was ample evidence that repeated demands were made inter alia by the father-in-law and the husband of the newly married wife, her parents and her brother for articles of dowry and money. There was also evidence that the wife made statements after her marriage and right upto the time, she died that she and her parents were being harassed by the husband and in-laws for dowry.

A large number of dowry articles were taken back by wife’s family members after her death from husband’s residence. An amount of Rs. 20,000/- to 25,000/- was also demanded for setting the husband in business and they were unable to satisfy these demands. The husband and father-in-law were convicted under Section 498-A and sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for one year and a payment of fine of Rs. 100/-.

It may not be out of place to point out here that the concept of ‘cruelty’ for purposes of divorce under Section 13 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 is not identical to that concept as an offence under Section 498-A of the I.P.C.

Demand for dowry by itself amounts to cruelty entitling the wife to get a decree for dissolution of marriage; it may be unintentional too, harassment is also not necessary which is essential under Section 498-A.

In the case of Davkabai v. Namdev Doka, the High Court upheld that there cannot be an offence under Section 498-A of I.P.C. in present circumstances. The appellant after 18 years of the marriage filed F.I.R. in the police station Nerkhad charging that the husband, father-in-law is demanding 10 totals gold and eight thousand rupees from her. As she is unable to give, so they are doing physical and mental cruelty against her. The case could not be proved beyond doubt, so the accused were acquitted by the Court.

Relationship between Sections 498-A and 304-B:

As noted above if a married woman is subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or his family members, Section 498-A would be attracted. This Section was added in 1983. But the law underwent a further change with the introduction of Section 304-B in the Penal Code in 1986.

This aspect of the matter has been dealt at length in Chapter 18 under the heading of ‘Dowry Deaths and Abetment of Suicide Therefore. Shortly stated, where the death of a woman is caused by burns or bodily injury or occurs otherwise than under normal circumstances within seven years of her marriage and evidence reveals that soon before her death she was subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any of his relatives for or in connection with any demand for dowry, such death is described as dowry death under Section 304-B for which punishment extends to imprisonment for life but not less than imprisonment of seven years.

The meaning of the term ‘cruelty’ in Section 304-B has been held to be the same as defined in Explanation to Section 498-A. Now the question is as to what should be the result where the accused is charged under both the sections and is acquitted under one.

For example, whether the acquittal of the accused persons of the offence punishable under Section 498-A will make any difference for their conviction under Section 304-B. Facing this question the Supreme Court in Shanti v. State of Haryana stated that mere acquittal of the accused under Section 498-A makes no difference for the purpose. However, the Court did not stop there and took the opportunity to observe:

“Sections 304-B and 498-A cannot be held to be mutually ‘exclusive:

These provisions deal with the two distinct offences. It is true that ‘cruelty’ is a common essential to both the sections and that has to be proved. The Explanation to Section 498-A gives the meaning of ‘cruelty’. In Section 304-B there is no such Explanation about the meaning of ‘cruelty’ but having regard to the common background to these offences we have taken that the meaning of ‘cruelty or harassment’ will be the same as we find in the Explanation to Section 498-A under which ‘cruelty’ by itself amounts to an offence and is punishable. Under Section 304-B as already noted, it is the ‘dowry death’ that is punishable and such death should have occurred within seven years of marriage.

No such period is mentioned in Section 498-A and the husband or his relative would be liable for subjecting the woman to ‘cruelty’ at any time after the marriage. Further, it must also be borne in mind that a person charged and acquitted under Section 304-B can be convicted under Section 498-A without charge being there, if such a case is made out.

But from the point of view of practice and procedure and to avoid technical defects it is necessary in such cases to frame charges under both the sections and if the case is established they can be convicted under both the sections but no separate sentence need be awarded under Section 498-A in view of the substantive sentence being awarded for the major offence under Section 304-B”.

Non-retrospective in operation:

This section is not retrospective in operation being a prospective Act the allegation of cruelty cannot go back to the date of marriage if it is performed before the commencement of this section.

It is noteworthy here that to bring the accused within the scope of chapter XXA, (Section 498-A) it must be proved that the deceased was subjected to ‘cruelty’ as explained under Section 498-A.

The High Court of Jharkhand in Tilak Bose v. State of Bihar, (now Jharkhand),has held that a demand of money by husband from parents of wife for starting a business cannot be said to be dowry. Therefore, the suicide by wife cannot be said to be a dowry death and conviction for such death is not proper.

In Pawan Kumar v. State of Haryana, the death of the – deceased was caused by burn injuries. The conviction of the accused under Section 498-A was held proper. In Girdhar Shankar Tawade v. State of Maharashtra, it was held that for conviction under Section 498-A some cogent evidence is required without which the charge cannot be said to be maintained.

In K. Prema S. Rao v. State of Maharashtra} the wife of the accused committed suicide for the cruel treatment of her husband. The Supreme Court held the accused liable under Section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code.

In Mohd. Hoshaii v. State of A.P., the Supreme Court held that the accused was liable under Section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code.

The Andhra Pradesh High Court in Vadala Vinay Kumar v. State of Andhra Pradesh,[535] held that petty quarrels between wife and husband cannot be termed as cruelty to attract the provision of Section 498 A, I.P.C.

Our law makers are paying more attention on cases where women are subjected to cruelty by their husbands or husband’s relatives. The Parliament has enacted the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (43 of 2005).

The Act is passed to provide for more effective protection of the rights of women guaranteed under the Constitution who are victims of violence of any kind occurring within the family and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.

Section 3 of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 defines ‘domestic violence’.

Definition of domestic violence:

For the purposes of this Act, any act, omission or commission or conduct of the respondent shall constitute domestic violence in case it—

(a) Harms or injures or endangers the health, safety, life, limb or well-being, whether mental or physical, of the aggrieved person or tends to do so and includes causing physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal and emotional abuse and economic abuse; or

(b) Harasses, harms, injures or endangers the aggrieved person with a view to coerce her or any other person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any dowry or other property or valuable security; or

(c) Has the effect of threatening the aggrieved person or any person related to her by any conduct mentioned in clause (a) or clause (b); or

(d) Otherwise injures or causes harm, whether physical or mental, to the aggrieved person.

Explanation I:

For the purposes of this section,—

(i) “physical abuse” means any act or conduct which is of such a nature as to cause bodily pain, harm, or danger to life, limb, or health or impair the health or development of the aggrieved person and includes assault, criminal intimidation and criminal force;

(ii) “Sexual abuse” includes any conduct of a sexual nature that abuses, humiliates, degrades or otherwise violates the dignity of woman;

(iii) “Verbal and emotional abuse” includes —

(a) Insults, ridicule, humiliation, name calling and insults or ridicule specially with regard to not having a child or a male child; and

(b) Repeated threats to cause physical pain to any person in whom the aggrieved person is interested, (iv) “economic abuse” includes —

(a) Deprivation of all or any economic or financial resources to which the aggrieved person is entitled under any law or custom whether payable under an order of a court or otherwise or which the aggrieved person requires out of necessity including, but not limited to, household necessities for the aggrieved person and her children, if any, stridhan, property, jointly or separately owned by the aggrieved person, payment or rental related to the shared household and maintenance;

(b) Disposal of household effects, any alienation of assets whether movable or immovable, valuables, shares, securities, bonds and the like or other property in which the aggrieved person has an interest or is entitled to use by virtue of the domestic relationship or which may be reasonably required by the aggrieved person or her children or her stridhan or any other property jointly or separately held by the aggrieved person; and

(c) Prohibition or restriction to continued access to resources or facilities which the aggrieved person is entitled to use or enjoy by virtue of the domestic relationship including access to the shared household.

Explanation II:

For the purpose of determining whether any act, omission, commission or conduct of the respondent constitutes “domestic violence” under this section, the overall facts and circumstances of the case shall be taken into consideration.


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