Jul 7, 2020

“I am Gayatri

I am Fatima, Banu, Uma,

I am Jayalakshmi, I am Saraswati.

I am one of those faceless women who die every day in your morning newspapers and go on to become a crime number in the Police Station and then a file to be pushed around in the courts...”

The above mentioned poem titled “I Cry for Help, No One’s There...” was published by Vimochana in a Community Campaign to Safeguard a Women’s Right to Live. This poem depicts a reality being faced by thousands of women all around the globe. The women were tortured and subjected to cruelty by the people; domestic violence was rampant. As the cases of unnatural death of women, especially the newly wedded bride was increasing day-by-day. So, in order to protect these women, the Parliament of India, in the year 1984, took a step to introduced Section 498-A in the Indian Penal Code, 1860. But is this Section effective enough or has some contradictions?

Section 498-A tells about the punishment given to Husband or Relative of Husband of a Woman subjecting to her Cruelty. It states as:

“Whoever, being the husband or relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 3 years and shall also be liable to fine.”

Further, in the Explanation of the Section it is stated that –

“For the purpose of this section, “cruelty” means,

(a)  Any willful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive a woman to commit suicide or cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) of the woman; or

(b)  Harassment of the woman when such harassment is with a view to coercing her or any person to meet any unlawful demands for any property or valuable security or is on account of cellular by her or any person related to her to meet such demand.”

In short, the essentials of this Section are that the marriage must be valid, and the married woman must have husband or relatives of her husband. The married woman must have been treated cruelly by her husband or by her husband’s relatives and the intention of cruelty must be so high that force her to commit suicide or cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health just to meet some unlawful demands (such as dowry). Cruelty (physical or mental) can be done to woman by the husband or his relatives due to two reasons; first reason is to meet unlawful demands, and second reason is because of the secondary status of the woman. The cruelty should include harassment. In Savitri Devi v. Ramesh Chand and others, 2006 Cr LJ 2881 SC, the Court stated that harassment includes following ingredients –

(i)           Woman should be tormented, that is, tortured and such torture or torment may be physical or mental by constant interference or threat;

(ii)         The object behind such act should be to coerce her to do something which she is not expected to do ordinarily;

(iii)        Intention should be there to compel or force wife or her relatives to fulfill unlawful demands for any property or valuable security.

In State of Karnataka v. M.V.S. Manjuna the gaowda, AIR 2003 SC 809, the Apex Court said that ‘when a woman enters into wedlock she has many salutary expectations. She would expect happy conjugal life; she would then expect to be mother-in-law and grandmother and so on. All these expectations are shattered by the cruel hands of dowry related deaths.’ The threat of dowry is not only dangerous to wife but sometimes to the children also (State of Karnataka v. K. Gopal krishna, AIR 2005 SC 1014). As the section came into effect, many married woman found herself safe and protected.Slowly, the number of cases of ‘marital cruelty’ decreased. But though the section is effective, due some factors the number of cases related to cruelty against married woman are still rising. These factors were delay in registration of FIR, grant or denial of bail, delay in trial proceeding of such cases due to poor investigation and prosecution, and so on.

The contradictory part of Section 498-A is that manywomen use this Section to intimidate their husbands andhis families and thus creates a negative impact on husband’s life. It is a verycruel and wicked design to blackmail husbands and in-laws. The Supreme Court ofIndia has described such act of grossly misusing this Section as “LegalTerrorism”. In Preeti Gupta v. State of Jharkhand AIR 2010 SC 3363, the Apex Court observed that “serious re-look of the entire provision is warranted by the Legislature. It is a matter of common knowledge that exaggerated versions of the incident are reflected in a large number of complaints. The tendency of over implications is also reflected in a very large number of cases.” One of the main factors behind this is lack of proper justice due to loop holes in laws and societal pressure. The judiciary should examine the problems related to martial cruelty; trial courts should be improved. In Sushil Kumar v. Union of India, AIR 2005 SC 3100 the Supreme Court stated that“ is necessary for the Legislature to find out ways how the makers off rivolous complaints or allegations can be appropriately dealt with.”