The bare act of Indian Penal Code, 1860 or “IPC”, as referred to popularily, contains an added section S.498A IPC on Cruelty and Harassment of Wife at the hands of the husband or his relatives. Text of Section 498A or S.498-A from the Penal Code of India, 1860, bare acts, reads as below
Bare Act Text of S.498 IPC
The text of the Penal Code, Section 498A or S.498A IPC, is reproduced below
498A. Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty.—Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine. Explanation.—For the purpose of this section, “cruelty” means—(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.
Brief Synopsis of S.498A IPC on Cruelty and Harassment of Wife
Cruelty has been recognized as being of both mental and physical nature. Either of the consequences would qualify as cruelty. Also, a majority of cases now under litigation are of mental cruelty or torture or harm to reputation, whether privately or in social circles.
The conduct of the alleged accused-husband must be “wilful”. It follows that if the husband does not have apprehension that his conduct is cruel towards the wife or the husband has no reason to believe that the said conduct would drive the woman (his wife) to suicide or cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health, then such conduct would not be construed as “cruel” u/S.498A IPC, 1860. This is ofcourse, dependent on the facts and circumstances of each case.
Wherein the harassment of the woman is done with view to coerce her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or upon failure to do so. What this clause means, is that any harassment without intent to meet any unlawful demand for property or valuable security, would not, unless (a) clause is met, would not normally fall under the definition of “cruelty”. Obviously Courts do take caution to heed the overall factual matrix and the background of each case while applying such principles of statute.
In its scope, cruelty, as envisioned in the drafting of S.498A, is assuming that the wife is the victim of any cruelty, at the hands of the husband. While adultery is no longer a criminal offence against the wife, the equality of being a victim of harassment on account of factors enumerated in S.498A (a) and (b) above, are not yet extended to the husband.
The exact forms, types and manner of actions that would construe cruelty are to be decided upon judicial scrutiny of the facts and circumstances of each case. There is no exclusive definition of “cruelty” to the detriment of any single incidence or cause of it. The Courts are free to decide, within the confines of laid-down precedent, what constitutes “cruelty” in a given situation or circumstance.
Application of S.482 Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (or Criminal P.C. or Cr.P.C. or Criminal Procedure Code, 1973) is not in favour of discharging the accused on bail, if the charge framed is under S.498A of IPC. Question whether complainant has infact been harassed and treated with cruelty, is matter of trial. At the initial stage of criminal proceedings, quashing of proceedings, before trial, is not permissible [ See Hon’ble Supreme Court Judgment in 2015 ALL SCR 1540 Taramani Parakh vs State of M.P. & Ors. ]
Important Judgments of the Hon’ble Supreme Court, for “Cruelty” under Section 498A Penal Code, 1860, are below:
Penal Code (1860), S.498A – “Cruelty” under – For the purpose of S.498-A, I.P.C. harassment simpliciter is not “cruelty” – It is only when harassment is committed for the purpose of coercing a woman or any other person related to her to meet an unlawful demand for property etc., that it amounts to “cruelty” punishable under S.498-A, I.P.C.
Penal Code (1860), Ss.498A, 306 – Cruelty and abetment of suicide – Appeal against conviction – Deceased died within 7 years of her marriage – Father of deceased stating that accused husband and in-laws treated deceased very well for 1½ years – After 2-3 years they started torturing her and deprived her of sufficient food and kept her in cattle shed and lastly she was beaten to death – No evidence as to accused harassed deceased to meet any unlawful demand for any property etc. – Said allegation does not constitute any offence under Clause (b) of Explanation to S.498A IPC – Order of conviction based not on evidence but on mere surmises and conjectures, hence quashed – Appeal allowed. (Paras 17, 18, 20)
(A) Penal Code (1860), S.498A – Cruelty – Scope and ambit of S.498A – Extra-marital relationship per se or as such, would not come within ambit of S.498A – Though it would be an illegal or immoral act and can be a ground for divorce, other ingredients are to be brought home so as to constitute a criminal offence. 2002 ALL MR (Cri) 1669 (S.C.), 2013 ALL MR (Cri) 2936 (S.C.), 2013 ALL SCR 3134, 2015 ALL MR (Cri) 1188 (S.C.) Ref. to. (Para 16) (B) Penal Code (1860), Ss.498A, 306 – Cruelty and abetment of suicide – Appeal against conviction – Wife committed suicide due to suspicion that husband is involved in extra-marital relationship – Same cannot be regarded as mental cruelty so as to satisfy ingredients of S.306 – Conviction set aside – Appeal allowed. (Para 16)
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