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Constitutional Validity of Section 498 A

Updated: Apr 13

The word "domestic violence" refers to any act of violence or abuse, including mental, physical, and sexual abuse, that occurs in a domestic setting, such as a marriage or cohabitation relationship; "intimate partner violence" is another common term for domestic violence. Dowry, male dominance, and joint family arrangements are cultural norms in India that make this occurrence more widespread than elsewhere. Prior to 1983, there was no provision in Indian law addressing domestic abuse. In 1983, an amendment to the Indian Penal Code, 1860, inserting Section 498A, was passed. Section 498A criminalizes’ matrimonial cruelty' against a female spouse. Matrimonial cruelty is now a serious offence in India, and it cannot be negotiated out of court.

To confront this issue head on, the Parliament determined that three layers of legislation were required:

To define the underlying offence of cruelty to women by husbands' wives and relatives.

To put regulations in place that compel an investigation into individual women's deaths.

To make it easier to bring perpetrators of violence against women to justice, the Indian Evidence Act of 1872 must be amended. The purpose of Section 498-A is to safeguard married women from abuse by their husbands or their spouse’s family members. A maximum sentence of three years in prison and a Rs. 30,000 fine has been set. The term “cruelty” has been broadly defined to include acts of harassment with the intent to pressure the woman or her family into meeting any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security, as well as acts of bodily or mental harm to the woman’s body or health. The harassment based on a woman’s ability to pay a dowry falls under the purview of the section’s final subsection. One element of “cruelty” is engineering a circumstance in which the woman is motivated to take her own life.

The nature of the Section 498A offence is as follows:

Cognizable: Cognizable crimes are ones that the police can arrest without a warrant, but non-cognizable acts cannot be arrested without a warrant. Any crime that satisfies the legal description must be reported and investigated by law enforcement.

Non-bailable: If a complaint is filed under Section 498A, the magistrate has the authority to refuse bail and transfer the accused to court or police custody without a bail hearing.

Non-compoundable: With the exception of the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, where the latter charge has recently been made compoundable, a petitioner cannot withdraw from a non-compoundable case, i.e., cannot settle outside court (such as a rape or 498A complaint).

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