Cruelty by husband or relative of husband under IPC, 1860


Instances of women facing abuse from the husband or in laws are in common occurrence in India and such cases are rising on an unprecedent scale.
According to latest National crime records Bureau (NCRB) data, India saw a total of 4,28,078 instances of crime against women in 2021 which is 15% increase from previous year. West Bengal reported the highest number of cases of cruelty against women by husband or their relatives in 2021.
The rate of charge-sheeting in cases under Section 498A, IPC is as high as 93.6%, while the conviction rate is only 15%, which is lowest across all heads.
To check cruelty to women by husband and parent in laws increasing on an unprecedented scale in the country, new chapter with the title of
“Cruelty by husband or relatives of husband”
containing Section 498-A was added to Indian Penal Code through Criminal Law (second amendment) Act in 1983.


Object of Sec 498 A-

The object of adding section 498A is to punish a husband and his relatives who torture and harass the wife with the view to cause her or any person related to her, to meet unlawful demands or to drive her to commit suicide.

Legislative provisions dealing with Cruelty on married woman:

Section 498 A of Indian Penal Code,1860-
Cruelty on woman by husband or relative of husband-

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 purposes 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;
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 113-A of Indian Evidence Act, 1872-

Presumption as to abetment of suicide by a married woman –

When the question is whether the commission of suicide by a woman had been abetted by her husband or any relative of her husband and it is shown that she had committed suicide within a period of seven years from the date of her marriage and that her husband or such relative of her husband had subjected her to cruelty, the court may presume, having regard to all the other circumstances of the case, that such suicide had been abetted by her husband or by such relative of her husband.
Explanation. — For the purposes of this section, “cruelty” shall have the same meaning as in Section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860)

Classification of Offence-

Offence under section 498 A is Cognizable, Non-Bailable and triable by Magistrate of First Class.

Punishment u/s 498 A:

Imprisonment for a term upto 3 years and fine.

Essentials of Crime u/s 498 A-

  1. he woman must be married.
  2. She must be subjected to Cruelty or Harassment.
  3. Such cruelty or harassment must be made by husband or relative of husband of such woman.

Girdhar Shankar Tawade vs State of Maharashtra, 2002 SC

Supreme Court of India held that “cruelty” has to be understood having a specific statutory meaning provided in Section 498A I.P.C and there should be a case of continuous state of affairs of torture by one to another.

G.V. Siddaramesh v. State of Karnataka, 2010 SC

It was held by the Court that Cruelty can either be mental or physical. It is difficult to straitjacket the term cruelty by means of a definition because cruelty is a relative term. What constitutes cruelty for one person may not constitute cruelty for another person

Cruelty and Harassment

State of AP vs M. Madhusudan Rao, 2008 SC

For the purpose of Section 498-A I.P.C. harassment simpliciter is not “cruelty” and 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 Section 498-A ,I.P.C.

Meaning of term Husband

Reema Aggrawal vs Anupam, 2004 SC

The expression “husband” covers a person who enters into a marital relationship and under the color of such proclaimed or feigned status of husband subjects the woman concerned to cruelty in the manner provided under Section 498-A, whatever be the legitimacy of the marriage itself for the limited purpose of Section 498-A. The absence of a definition of “husband” to specifically include such persons who contract marriages ostensibly and cohabit with such woman, in the purported exercise of their role and status as “husband” is no ground to exclude them from the purview of 498-A IPC.

Who is relative of Husband-

Vijeta Gajra vs State of NCT of Delhi, 2010 SC

In order to be covered under Section 498-A IPC one has to be a “relative” of the husband by blood, marriage or adoption.

Sunita Jha vs State of Jharkhand, 2010 SC

A girlfriend or a concubine of the husband being not connected by blood or marriage is not a “relative” of the husband as per Section 498-A and can-not be accused of cruelty u/s 498 A.

Who may file a complaint?

  • by the woman who is subjected to cruelty by her husband, or
  • by a relative of a woman by blood, adoption or marriage, or
  • by a public servant as notified by State Government.

Period of limitation to file a complaint-

The complaint under section 498 A must be filed within 3 years from the time of last alleged act of cruelty.
After expiration of 3 years, court can take cognizance of the offence if court is satisfied that there were sufficient reasons for delay.

Arun Vyas vs Anita Vyas,1999 SC

In this landmark judgment, Apex Court held that offence under Section 498-A of the I.P.C. is a continuing offence and there would be a new starting point of limitation on each occasion on which the victim was subjected to cruelty.

Constitutionality of section 498 A-

Sushil Kumar Sharma vs Union of India,2005 SC

The petitioner requested the Supreme Court to declare 498A as unconstitutional and to formulate guidelines in order to protect innocent husbands and their relatives. Citing several instances of misuse, petitioner asked the court to punish the false accusers. In Sushil’s words, “there is no prosecution in these cases but persecution in these cases.”
The Supreme Court declared Section 498 A constitutional. The Court observed that just because a law is being misused does not mean that it is unconstitutional or unreasonable.
Court further stated “It is a provision to intend to work as a shield and not assassins” but on the contrary, they were turned out into “legal terrorism”. The judges opined “if a ‘wolf cry’ is frequently made there might be no protection available if that wolf really comes.” Court and investigation agencies are ‘watchdogs, not bloodhounds’. It was the court’s effort to make sure innocent not made guilty of unlawful and false allegations. The ultimate aim of the legal system is to ‘arrive at truth, punish the guilty and protect the innocent’.

Misuse of the provision-

The fact that Section 498-A is a cognizable and non-bailable offence has lent it a dubious place of pride amongst the provisions that are used as weapons rather than shield by disgruntled wives. The simplest way to harass is to get the husband and his relatives arrested under this provision.
To prevent misuse of the provision, following development has taken place:

  • At the initial stage of commencement of this section, after filing of FIR there used to be ‘automatic arrest’ of the accused, but now first there is to be proper investigation and then only the accused can be arrested.
  • Rajesh Sharma vs. The state of Uttar Pradesh (2017) gave right to be released on anticipatory bail in case u/s 498 A.
  • Without evidence husband or his relative can’t be arrested under this section.
  • The family welfare committee and district legal aid commission will scrutinize the filed case and report to the authorities.

Directions of Supreme Court-

Arneesh Kumar vs State of Bihar,2010 SC

In this case a wife filed report against husband accusing him for demanding dowry.
The court laid down guidelines to be followed in arrest. The court directed-

  • All the State Governments to instruct its police officers not to automatically arrest when a case u/s 498-A of the IPC is registered but to satisfy themselves about the necessity for arrest under the parameters laid down above flowing from Section 41, CrPC.
  • All police officers be provided with a checklist containing specified sub- clauses under Section 41(1)(b)(ii). The police officer shall forward the check list duly filed and furnish the reasons and materials which necessitated the arrest, while forwarding/producing the accused before the Magistrate for further detention.
  • The Magistrate while authorizing detention of the accused shall peruse the report furnished by the police officer in terms aforesaid and only after recording its satisfaction, the Magistrate will authorize detention.
  • The decision not to arrest an accused, be forwarded to the Magistrate within two weeks from the date of the institution of the case with a copy to the Magistrate which may be extended by the Superintendent of police of the district for the reasons to be recorded in writing.
  • Notice of appearance in terms of Section 41 A of CrPC be served on the accused within two weeks from the date of institution of the case, which may be extended by the Superintendent of Police of the District for the reasons to be recorded in writing.
  • Failure to comply with the directions aforesaid shall apart from rendering the police officers concerned liable for departmental action, they shall also be liable to be punished for contempt of court to be instituted before High Court having territorial jurisdiction.
  • Authorizing detention without recording reasons as aforesaid by the judicial Magistrate concerned shall be liable for departmental action by the appropriate High Court.

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