The controversial Section 498A

Updated: Jun 23, 2011, 13:59 PM IST

Pankaj Sharma/Zee Research Group

The husband-wife dispute story has taken a new turn with the government expeditiously seeking a review of the controversial Section 498A. The Section was introduced in the year 1983 to protect married women from being subjected to cruelty by the husband or his relatives treating it as a non-bailable offence with a three years punishment plus a hefty fine.

The review was ordered by the Home Ministry which inducted Law Commission to issue a discussion paper in April this year. But the backgrounder note prepared by the Commission only leaves the option wide open with strong arguments for and against the review.

The Home Ministry ordered the review following increasing number of complaints from groups representing the interests of men charging that they had been wronged by the current law. This coincided with about 35 per cent rise in number of deaths of husbands caught in dowry dispute during 2007-09. Dowry deaths in case of women grew by just about 3.5 per cent during the period.

As per the latest figures compiled by the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB), between 2007 and 2009 a total of 24,648 women died due to dowry disputes as against 169 in the case of men.

The Commission backgrounder argued for a review on the ground that once a complaint (FIR) is lodged with the police it becomes an easy tool in the hands of the police to either arrest or threaten to arrest the husband and other relatives named in the FIR without even considering the intrinsic worth of the allegations and making a preliminary investigation. It concluded thus that when the members of a family are arrested and sent to jail without even the immediate prospect of bail, the chances of amicable re-conciliation or salvaging the marriage would be lost once and for all.

Pragmatic realities have to be taken into consideration while dealing with matrimonial matters with due regard to the fact that it is a sensitive family problem which shall not be allowed to be aggravated by over-zealous or callous actions on the part of the police by taking advantage of the harsh provisions of the Section 498A, the commission pleaded.

In its argument for status quo, the Law Commission note argued that Section 498A and other legislations like Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act had been specifically enacted to protect a vulnerable section of the society who has been the victim of cruelty and harassment. “The social purpose behind it will be lost if the rigour of the provision is diluted. The abuse or misuse of law is not peculiar to this provision. The misuse can however be curtailed within the existing framework of law,” it argued.

Chairperson of National Commission for Women (NCW), Yasmeen Abrar favoured amendments in Section 498A without diluting its core. “Several instances of wrong cases registered against husbands have come to the fore but it is important to recognize that vulnerability of wives has to be protected at any cost.”

However, Supreme Court senior advocate Pinki Anand opposes any amendment in the Act: “I don’t think if there is really any major amendment require in the Section 498A of IPC. Judiciary is there to take any decision if anyone misuses the Act.” She though sought exemption from arrest for relatives of husband in such disputes.

On increasing death of husbands due to dowry and divorce cases, she alleged that “these figures are misleading and far away from reality. Section 498A of IPC shouldn’t become bailable offence because if any offence becomes bailable in India it also becomes ineffective.”

The Law Commission is now busy collating the feedback it has received in response to its questionnaire and hopes to submit its report to the Home Ministry this month end.

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