The Author of this blog is Ms. Megha Garg of SGT University, Gurgaon

The purpose of law is social engineering. Therefore, it has to cater the needs of changing society according to changing situations. Sometimes, the very provisions of law which are meant to be reformative become a source of harassment.

India is a country where Rites and customs have played a major role of the society. In which dowry was one of the practices prevailing in our society from long period. Initially, this practice was treated as blessing but it took an ugly turn and turned into a curse for the society because the women fell prey of the greed of their husbands and of his family. Moreover, this practice became a cause of harassing the women and causing mental as well as physically cruelty. Thus, for the protection of women, the Government of India inserted Section 498A under IPC by the Amendment Act 1983. But, with the rise of education, financial security, and modernization, women started using this section as a weapon rather than a shield. In the recent scenario, there are cases seen where women misuse Sec 498A of IPC and by filing case against her husband and her in-laws which was not intended by the legislature. It has been found that the motives behind filing false cases under sec. 498A are as follows:

·         Wife wants to teach a lesson to husband or his family.

·         Wife wants easy divorce.

·         Wife cannot adjust in husband’s family.

·         Wife wants to get a huge amount as alimony.

·         Wife having illicit relationship.

Instead of curbing the evil of dowry and cruelty towards woman, the misuse of these provisions is adversely affecting the very foundation of society i.e. the family. The family comes to an end as soon as complaint is lodged and cognizance is taken by police.

Being non bailable, this law is having tendency to make arrest of all accused including senior citizens, minors, sister in laws, brother-in-laws even without investigation and may be without any fault on their part. Lawyer and police too joined the work for bargain and the husband is just reduced to an ATM machine.

The Supreme Court of India and various High Courts time and again showed their concern over misuse of anti dowry laws.

In Savitri Devi v.Ramesh Chand & Ors,[1] the Court held clearly that there was misuse and exploitation of the provisions to such an extent that it was hitting at the foundation of marriage itself and proved to be not so good for the health of society at large. The court believed that authorities and lawmakers had to review the legal provisions to prevent such from taking place.

The Supreme Court of India in Sushila Sharma v. Union of India[2], held the misuse of sec. 498A IPC as LEGAL TERRORISM.

in Kanaraj v. State of Punjab[3], the Apex Court observed as:” For the fault of the husband , in laws or other relatives in all cases cannot be involved. The acts attributed to such persons have to be proved beyond reasonable doubt and they cannot be held responsible by mere conjectures and implications. The tendency to rope in relatives of the husband as accused has to be curbed.”

In case of State v. Srikanth[4] The Karnataka High Court observed as, “ Roping in of the whole family including brothers and sister-in-law has to be depriciated  unless there is specific material against these persons, it is down right on the part of the police to include the whole of the family as accused”.

In Arnesh Kumar v. State of Bihar[5], the Court observed that as sec. 498A is cognizable and bailable, it is more often used as a weapon rather than shield by wives which results in harassment of husband and his relatives without any prima facie case. Thus, the Court laid down certain guidelines which the police officer must followwhile making arrest under section 498A IPC and that arrest must be based on reasonable satisfaction that allegation is genuine. Moreover, Magistrate must be careful while ordering detention that it should not be a casual or mechanical detention.

In Bibi Parwana Khaoon v. State of Bihar[6],the sister-in- law and brother-in-law of the deceased wife challenged the conviction in the Supreme Court. The court observed that the appellant in the case is not even reside at the place of mishap and the evidences were not sufficient to prove the charge beyond reasonable doubt. Therefore, the court acquitted them and held that Court must guard against false implication of the relatives.

The Supreme Court laid down comprehensive guidelines in Rajesh Kumar v. State of UP[7] to curb the misuse of Sec. 498A of IPC. These directions include:

·         The constitution of Family Welfare Committee to submit the report on complaint made under Sec 498A IPC and referred by the police or Magistrate. No arrest can be made till report is sent by the committee

·         Appointment of investigating officer to investigate the complaints under Sec. 498A IPC.

·         If the settlement is reached, then District and Session Judge are empowered to dispose of the proceedings including closure of criminal cases if the dispute primarily related to matrimonial discord.

·         Bail application can be decided on the same day if that is filed with atleast one day’s notice to Public Prosecutor or the complainant.

·         Personal appearance of all the family members specially the members who are out of station may not be required.

However, the Court clearly said that this direction will have no application to the offences which involves tangible physical injury or death.

Latest development in this chain was made by the Supreme Court of India  in the case of Social Action Forum for Manav Adhikar & another v. Union of India[8].  In this case a writ petition was filed under sec 32 of the Constitution of India. The petitioner contended that we cannot ignore that a number of women suffer from violence at the hands of husband and their relatives and the accusation that sec. 498A is being misused is not supported by any concrete data on such misuse.  After referring to the directions, the Supreme Court concluded that Family welfare Committees and their duties are not in accordance with the provisions of Cr. P.C. 1973 and the same is declared impermissible. Further, the court modified the direction related to settlement that if settelment is arrived at, the parties can approach the High court under Sec. 482 of Cr.P.C.

The consequence of false charges under Sec 498A of IPC is very destructive. The parents and relative of husband are labeled with criminal records even if the charge is a false one. Sometimes, an innocent husband who out of frustration and shame choose to commit suicide. As it is non compoundable offence, case cannot be withdrawn and thus chances of living together again become negligible. The life of parents of husband who got arrested turns into hell.  A dignified life turns into a shameful life. As the offence is non bailable and cognizable, the man does not get a chance to get justice even if he is innocent and it is rightly said that justice delayed is justice denied. Therefore, the law makers must suggest some way of making this section unbiased towards every individual and such that the guilty is punished and the person wronged is provided with justice.

We have to understand that criminal cases and non bailable offences like sec 498Aare not a joke like ordering PIZZA. Criminal cases are there for punishing criminals. It is not a money earning tool.

This section has created biggest problem in a current scenario for men as they are being discriminated and such laws are being misused by women and there is a need of amendment in section 498A so as to protect men and for punishing women misusing the same. Thus, there is a need for providing safety to the innocent men in the society from the frivolous filing of cases under Section-498A. As of now, there is no law to provide shield and remedy to men from such exploitation.

[1] II (2003) DMC 328

[2] AIR 2005 SC 309

[3]2000 Cri. L.J. 2993

[4] 2002 Cri. L.J. 3065

[5] (2014) 8 SCC 273

[6] (2017) 6 SCC 792

[7] (2017) SCC online SC 821

[8] (2018) 10 SCC 443