Section 498A of Indian Penal Code, 1860
Meaning and Scope
This section was brought into force to safeguard the married women from being subjected to cruelty by the hand of her husband or his relatives. It provides for both physical and mental cruelty.
The explanation ‘a’ of this section defines the term “cruelty” as
“Any willful 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 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”
This can also be used by a married woman who has been subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or his relatives in connection with a demand for dowry. The aggrieved woman can file a complaint with the police, who will then investigate the matter and file chargesheet under section 498-A of the Penal Code if they find sufficient evidence. It is important to note that the demand for dowry need not be proven for applying section 498A. The mere fact that the cruelty was in connection with a demand for dowry is sufficient.
Section 498-A is not applicable in cases where:
- The cruelty or harassment is not related to dowry.
- The accused person is not the husband or a relative of the husband.
- The accused person is not an Indian citizen.
- The alleged offence is committed outside the territorial jurisdiction of Indian courts.
Imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and fine.
In view of section 468 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, a complaint under this section can be filed within 3 years of the alleged offence. However, Section 473 of the Code of Criminal Procedure extends the limitation period if it is satisfied that it is necessary so to do in the interest of justice.
It is also worth noting that there have been instances where this section is being misused to harass innocent persons, particularly husbands and their families. In such cases, the accused person has the right to defend themselves and prove themselves innocent in the court of law.
It is further advisable to always engage a lawyer while taking steps under this section or facing allegation or complaint under the same as the respective law and procedure involved are complex. An experienced lawyer can assist and guide an aggrieved woman or an accused person through the legal process, provide legal advice, and represent them in the court if required.