Section 498A Of The Indian Penal Code, 1860 – A Crying Need For A Fine Balancing Act To Address The Flaws In This Provision

Vaish Associates Advocates


Established in 1971, Vaish Associates, Advocates is one of the best-known full-service law firms in India. Since its inception, it continues to serve a diverse clientele, including domestic and overseas corporations, multinational companies and individuals. Presently, the Firm has its operations in Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru.
Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 ("IPC") was introduced in 1983 and the statement of objects and reasons explained that (a) the increasing number of dowry deaths...
India Litigation, Mediation & Arbitration
To print this article, all you need is to be registered or login on

Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 ("IPC") was introduced in 1983 and the statement of objects and reasons explained that (a) the increasing number of dowry deaths is a matter of serious concern, and (b) this section was introduced to deal effectively not only with cases of dowry deaths but also cases of cruelty to married women by their in-laws.

The IPC, the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 ("CrPC") and Indian Evidence Act, 1972 ("IEA") are being replaced with Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, 2023, Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita, 2023 and Bharatiya Sakshya Adhiniyam, 2023 respectively with effect from July 1, 2024.

Section 498A of the IPC is proposed to be replaced with Sections 85 and 86 of the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, 2023. Section 85 of Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, provides that if the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty, they shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 3 (three) years and shall also be liable to fine. Section 86 defines cruelty as (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.

Schedule I to the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita, 2023 provides that the punishment for subjecting a married woman to cruelty is imprisonment for 3 (three) years and fine. The offence is 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. The offence is non bailable and offence is triable by Magistrate of the first class.

In a recent decision in the case of Achin Gupta vs State of Haryana1 decided by the Supreme Court of India on May 3, 2024, the Court referred to the observations of the Supreme Court in the case of Preeti Gupta v. State of Jharkhand2 decided 14 years ago in 2010. In the case of Preeti Gupta, the Court had observed that a serious relook of Section 498A is warranted as criminal trials lead to immense sufferings for all concerned, even ultimate acquittal in the trial may also not be able to wipe out the deep scars of suffering of ignominy and that it is high time that the legislature must take into consideration the pragmatic realities and make suitable changes in the existing law. The court had directed the Registry to send a copy of this judgment to the Law Commission and to the Union Law Secretary, Government of India who may place it before the Hon'ble Minister for Law and Justice to take appropriate steps in the larger interest of the society. In the Achin Gupta case, the Supreme Court has once again requested the Legislature to look into the issue taking into consideration the pragmatic realities and consider making necessary changes in Sections 85 and 86 respectively of the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, 2023, before both the new provisions come into force.

One cannot ignore the fact that even today there are large number of married women who have been committing suicide on account of dowry demands and constitute certain sections of society which need to be protected. However, at the same time, there are several and increasing instances where women have misused the existing Section 498A to either settle personal scores or extract larger alimony from the husband and in view thereof, it becomes necessary to introduce some checks and balances. This provision of law needs to be balanced out as we see that in many cases, the in-laws who are senior citizens and sisters-in-law have suffered on account of false allegations. In fact, the following observations of the Hon'ble Supreme Court are interesting-

  1. Rajesh Sharma and Ors. Vs. State of U.P. & Anr3 - "Section 498-A was inserted in the statute with the laudable object of punishing cruelty at the hands of husband or his relatives against a wife particularly when such cruelty had potential to result in suicide or murder of a woman as mentioned in the statement of Objects and Reasons of the Act 46 of 1983. The expression 'cruelty' in Section 498A covers conduct which may drive the woman to commit suicide or cause grave injury (mental or physical) or danger to life or harassment with a view to coerce her to meet unlawful demand. It is a matter of serious concern that large number of cases continue to be filed under section 498A alleging harassment of married women. We have already referred to some of the statistics from the Crime Records Bureau. This Court had earlier noticed the fact that most of such complaints are filed in the heat of the moment over trivial issues. Many of such complaints are not bona fide. At the time of filing of the complaint, implications and consequences are not visualized. At times such complaints lead to uncalled for harassment not only to the accused but also to the complainant. Uncalled for arrest may ruin the chances of settlement."
  2. Arnesh Kumar Vs. State of Bihar and Anr4 - "There is a phenomenal increase in matrimonial disputes in recent years. The institution of marriage is greatly revered in this country. Section 498-A IPC was introduced with avowed object to combat the menace of harassment to a woman at the hands of her husband and his relatives. The fact that Section 498-A IPC 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. In a quite number of cases, bed-ridden grandfathers and grand-mothers of the husbands, their sisters living abroad for decades are arrested..... "Crime in India 2012 Statistics" published by National Crime Records Bureau, Ministry of Home Affairs shows arrest of 1,97,762 persons all over India during the year 2012 for offence Under Section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code, 9.4% more than the year 2011. Nearly a quarter of those arrested under this provision in 2012 were women, i.e. 47,951 which depicts that mothers and sisters of the husbands were liberally included in their arrest net. Its share is 6% out of the total persons arrested under the crimes committed under Indian Penal Code. It accounts for 4.5% of total crimes committed under different sections of penal code, more than any other crimes excepting theft and hurt. The rate of charge-sheeting in cases Under Section 498A, Indian Penal Code is as high as 93.6%, while the conviction rate is only 15%, which is lowest across all heads. As many as 3,72,706 cases are pending trial of which on current estimate, nearly 3,17,000 are likely to result in acquittal.


It is a fact that many innocent men and their relatives have been harassed under this provision and there is need to act against misuse of this provision of law.

The following are some suggestions that could be implemented-

  1. Make this section applicable only to woman whose earnings are below some threshold, i.e., economically weaker sections as in many of these cases, the women are not financially independent and in the case of dowry demand, their parental families do not have resources to support them and they have no option but to suffer or end their lives. Here threat of imprisonment should be a deterrent.
  2. The affluent sections of women do not need the protection of this provision. The recourse under these sections should not be available to women who have income beyond a certain threshold or owning assets beyond a certain threshold. Such women in any event have the option to walk out of cruelty in marriage and do not have to continue to suffer. Any demand for alimony should be under other relevant statutes, physical violence can be dealt with under other provisions of the IPC and recourse to Section 498A is not required for these purposes. It is observed that affluent sections of women, more often than not, tend to use these provisions to extract their pound of flesh and/or as a negotiating tactic.
  3. The categories other than (a) and (b) should have recourse to these sections but if a court decides that the proceedings are malicious, resulting in harassment to in-laws who are senior citizens or has ruined the lives of the husband or his relatives, then the punishment by way of imprisonment and fine should be imposed on the complainant for initiating such malicious proceedings. This is expected to act as a deterrent against filing malicious proceedings.
  4. There should be special fast track courts for cases filed under this provision of law.

Only time will tell whether the government will act on the requests of the Hon'ble Supreme Court and introduce checks and balances to address the misuse of this provision before implementation of Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, 2023 from July 1, 2024.


1. Not yet reported

2. (2010) 7 SCC 667

3. (2018) 10 SCC 472

4. (2014) 8 SCC 273

© 2024, Vaish Associates Advocates,
All rights reserved
Advocates, 1st & 11th Floors, Mohan Dev Building 13, Tolstoy Marg New Delhi-110001 (India).

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist professional advice should be sought about your specific circumstances. The views expressed in this article are solely of the authors of this article.

See More Popular Content From

Mondaq uses cookies on this website. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies as set out in our Privacy Policy.

Learn More