1[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.
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.]
CLASSIFICATION OF OFFENCE
Punishment—Imprisonment for 3 years and fine‑Cognizable if information relating to the commission of the offence is given to an officer in charge of a police station by the person aggrieved by the offence or by any person related to her by blood, marriage or adoption or if there is no such relative, by any public servant belonging to such class or category as may be notified by the State Government in this behalf—Non-bailable—Triable by Magistrate of the first class—Non-compoundable.
Demand for Dowry and Ill-treatment
(i) The wife petitioned for divorce on the ground of persistent demand made on her by her husband and in-laws. The High Court took the view that there was nothing wrong in these demands as money was needed by the husband for his personal use and in such a case wife should extend help. Reversing the judgment, the Supreme Court held that demand for dowry is prohibited under the law. That itself was bad enough; Shobha Rani v. Madhukar, AIR 1988 SC 121; see also Prakash Kaur v. Harijinderpal Singh, AIR 1999 Raj 46.
(ii) The husband and his parents were greedy people. Their desire for dowry was insatiable. They went on demanding dowry even after two years of marriage, and since the parents of wife could not meet these, they started ill-treating her with a view to coercing her parens to give dowry. The Delhi High Court held that this amounted to cruelty; Adarsh Parkash v. Sarita, AIR 1987 Del 203.
Demand for money
Demand for money after four years of marriage for a specific purpose, no where related to marriage demand but causing of harassment to deceased wife so much so that she was bound to end her life is sufficient for conviction under section 498A; State of Punjab v. Daljit Singh, 1999 Cr LJ 2723 (P&H).
No doubt drinking is a constituent of culture all over the world, and is almost a cult in certain societies. Yet, even here as elsewhere a habit of excessive drinking is a vice and cannot be considered a reasonable wear and tear of married life. No reasonable person marries to bargain to endure habitual drunkenness, a disgusting conduct. And yet it is not an independent ground of any matrimonial relief in India. But it may constitute treatment with cruelty, if indulged in by a spouse and continued, in spite of remonstrances, by the other. It may cause great anguish and distress to the wife who never suspected what she was bargaining for and may sooner or later find living together not only miserable but unbearable. If it was so, she may leave him and may, apart from cruelty, even complain of constructive desertion; Rita v. Brij Kishore, AIR 1984 Del 291.
Section 498A was added with a view to punishing husband and his relatives who harass or torture the wife to coerce her or her relatives to satisfy unlawful demands of dowry. The hyper-technical view would be counter productive and would act against interests of women and against the object for which the provision was added. There is every likelihood that non-exercise of inherent power to quash the proceedings to meet the ends of justice would prevent woman from settling earlier. That is not the object of Chapter XXA; B.S. Joshi v. State of Haryana,AIR 2003 SC 1386.
Section 498A vis-a-vis section 113 of Evidence Act
Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code or section 113A of the Indian Evidence Act has not introduced invidious classification qua the treatment of a married woman by her husband or relatives of her husband vis-a-vis the other offenders. On the other hand, such women form a class apart whom from those who are married more than seven years earlier to the commission of such offence, because, with the passage of time after marriage and birth of children, there are remote chances of treating a married woman with cruelty by her husband or his relatives. Thus, the classification is reasonable and has close nexus with the object sought to be achieved, i.e., eradication of the evil of dowry in the Indian social set-up and to ensure that the married women live with dignity at their matrimonial homes; Krishan Lal v. Union of India, 1994 Cr LJ 3472.
Unhappiness between husband and wife
Where the prosecution relied only on incident of unhappiness of deceased with her husband and the allegation was only in form of suggestion, it does not establish criminal offence under either or both of the charges, hence conviction under section 498A is improper; State v. K. Sridhar, 2000 Cr LJ 328 (Kant).
The allegations against the husband were that he abused and beat his wife, forced her to have a common kitchen with a harijan family, accused her of adultery and of carrying in her womb someone else’s child, pressurizing her to agree for an abortion, and such other acts. This amounted to a wilful conduct of cruelty towards wife; Rishi Kumar v. State of Haryana, Criminal Appeal No. 335-B of 1985.
1. Ins. by Act 46 of 1983, sec. 2 (w.e.f. 25-12-1983).