Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was enacted to address the pressing issue of dowry-related harassment and cruelty faced by married women in India. Introduced in 1983, it aimed to protect women from cruelty by their husbands or relatives of the husband. However, over the years, there have been growing concerns and debates regarding the misuse of this provision, leading to significant consequences for those falsely accused.

The Intent and Importance of Section 498A

Section 498A was a progressive step towards combating the menace of dowry harassment and domestic violence. It recognizes cruelty as any conduct that drives a woman to commit suicide, causes grave injury, or involves unlawful demand for property or valuable security. The stringent nature of this law, which made the offense non-bailable and non-compoundable, was intended to act as a strong deterrent against domestic abuse.

Growing Concerns of Misuse

Despite its noble intentions, Section 498A has been criticized for being prone to misuse. The primary allegations of misuse include:

  1. False Allegations: There have been numerous cases where women, in connivance with their families, have lodged false complaints against their husbands and in-laws. This misuse often stems from marital discord, revenge, or to extract financial settlements.
  2. Harassment of Families: The law’s non-bailable nature often results in the arrest of not just the husband but also his family members, including elderly parents and even distant relatives. This has led to undue harassment and stigmatization of innocent individuals.
  3. Legal and Social Repercussions: The false implication under Section 498A can have severe legal and social repercussions. The accused face social ostracism, financial losses due to prolonged legal battles, and irreparable damage to their reputations and careers.
  4. Judicial Burden: The judiciary is often burdened with a high volume of 498A cases, many of which are found to be baseless upon investigation. This clogs the legal system, delaying justice for genuine victims of domestic violence. Amendments has  also been made to make the offense compoundable with court permission, allowing for reconciliation between the parties. Additionally, guidelines have been issued to police and judicial officers to exercise caution and conduct thorough investigations before proceeding with arrests.

Legal and Judicial Responses

Recognizing the potential for misuse, the Indian judiciary and lawmakers have taken steps to address these concerns:The Supreme Court of India, in several judgments, has acknowledged the misuse of Section 498A. In the landmark judgment of Arnesh Kumar vs. State of Bihar (2014), the Court issued guidelines to prevent arbitrary arrests under this section, emphasizing the need for preliminary investigations before making arrests.

Also, in the case of Abhishek Vs State of Madhya Pradesh (2023), The apex court has taken a view that if the plain reading of the FIR and the chargesheet papers indicate that the allegations levelled by the first informant are quite vague, general and sweeping, specifying no instances of criminal conduct. It is also pertinent to note that in the FIR no specific date or time of the alleged offence/offences has been disclosed. Then it is appropriate for the Hon’ble High Court to invoke his inherent power under section 498A IPC and quash the FIR and the consequential proceeding.

Further in the case of Achin Gupta Vs. State of Haryana And Others (2024), the Hon’ble Supreme Court has noted that

“We looked into Sections 85 and 86 respectively of the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, 2023, which is to come into force with effect from 1st July, 2024 so as to ascertain whether the Legislature has seriously looked into the suggestions of this Court….(there is) nothing but verbatim reproduction of Section 498A of the IPC. The only difference is that the Explanation to Section 498A of the IPC, is now by way of a separate provision, i.e., Section 86 of the Bhartiya Nyaya Sanhita, 2023,” the bench noted.

Balancing Protection and Prevention of Misuse

The challenge lies in balancing the need to protect women from genuine cases of cruelty and preventing the misuse of Section 498A. While the law must remain stringent to deter domestic violence, mechanisms need to be in place to prevent its abuse. Some suggestions include:

  1. Mandatory Counseling: Before registering a case under Section 498A, mandatory counseling sessions for both parties could help in resolving misunderstandings and preventing hasty legal actions.
  2. Stricter Penalties for False Complaints: Introducing stricter penalties for those found guilty of filing false complaints could act as a deterrent against misuse.
  3. Awareness and Training: Sensitizing police officers, judicial officers, and the public about the proper use of Section 498A can help in mitigating its misuse. Training sessions focusing on handling domestic violence cases sensitively and judiciously are crucial.
  4. Alternate Dispute Resolution: Encouraging alternate dispute resolution mechanisms, such as mediation and arbitration, can provide a platform for amicable settlement of disputes without resorting to legal battles.


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