By Annshika Bakshi, a student at Indian Institute of Management (IIM-Rohtak)

We are all well aware of the causes and consequences that women endure when they become victims of physical abuse. The term ‘Domestic Violence’ frequently arises in discussions due to the injustices women face. However, this doesn’t dismiss the fact that men, on occasion, also experience domestic violence. The preconceived notion that men should embody unyielding strength, suppress their emotions and pain, has left countless shattered hearts and tormented souls across the globe. Even when men attempt to voice their anguish, they’re met with criticism for exhibiting traits deemed as ‘feminine’ or ‘unmanly.’ Why is this inequality perpetuated? Why are men denied the liberty to address their suffering and seek justice when harmed by someone of a different gender? This article aims to delve into the situation faced by men in India and worldwide regarding domestic violence, shedding light on the potential causes and repercussions of the underreported violence against them.

The idea of “family” has always been very important in India, where marriage, a fundamental social institution has been deeply rooted in societal norms dating back to the Vedic era. However, this institution has historically favoured a lopsided view, skewed against women, viewing it more as a partnership between two families than between two people. The bride’s role predominantly revolved around serving her husband’s family, ensuring their happiness and well-being, overshadowing the essence of the partnership itself. Hindu marriage was centred around three main goals: proja (procreation), rati (conjugal love), and dharma (the couple’s religious obligations).

The Gautama Dharma sutra is the first source that mentions the historical “stridhan” economic right held by Hindu women. It stipulated that a woman would have her own property with certain laws governing inheritance. Hindu marriage is viewed as both a religious sacrament and a contract, with legal provisions and reforms supporting mutual consent and the interests of both parties.

In India, the definition of matrimonial cruelty can be found in Chapter XX A of the Indian Penal Code, specifically under Section 498A, which states the following:

“Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine. The offence is Cognizable, non-compoundable and non-bailable. 

The section provides an explanation that elaborates the meaning of cruelty as follows: 

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

Section 498-A, which addresses the punishment of husbands and their families for subjecting a married woman to cruelty, was added to the Indian Penal Code in 1983 as part of an amendment. This offense places the accused in a difficult situation as it is cognizable, non-bailable, and non-compoundable. In the wake of progress in modernity, education, financial independence, and women’s empowerment, there have been instances where Section 498-A has been exploited by certain radical feminists. This misuse has led to situations where aggrieved daughters-in-law have unjustly turned against innocent husbands and their families, resulting in a skewed application of the law.

Instances of false Section 498-A cases are rampant and often utilized as a tool for coercion within troubled marriages. Blackmail becomes a common tactic following the filing of such cases, with demands for extortion emerging as a means to settle the dispute outside the judicial realm. In the Kanaraj v. State of Punjab (2000) decision, the Supreme Court curbed the tendency to indict in-laws or relatives based only on supposition by emphasizing the requirement to show their involvement beyond a reasonable doubt. In the same vein, the Karnataka High Court dissuaded the police from accusing every member of the family without particular proof against them in the State v. Srikanth (2002) case, reasoning that it would be unfair to do so.

Notwithstanding the way Indian courts have interpreted the Article, the Indian Parliament has started to examine the matter in light of court decisions and citizen petitions. In its 154th Report, the Law Commission of India proposed in 1996 that Section 498-A be treated as a compoundable violation. The 177th Report from 2001 reaffirmed this proposal. Despite lacking precise statistics on its misuse, the Dr. Justice V.S. Malimath Committee Report on Reforms of the Criminal Justice System (2003) highlighted charges of egregious misuse of Section 498-A as justification for making it compoundable.

The Law Commission, under the direction of Justice PV Reddi, again proposed in 2012 that Section 498-A be made compoundable in their 237th Report. The Law Commission’s most recent 243rd Report, which concentrated on Section 498-A, urged that the charge remain non-bailable while restating the earlier recommendation that it be rendered compoundable.

In the 2013 case of K. Srinivas Rao v. D.A. Deepa , the Supreme Court revived the discussion of whether Section 498-An offenses ought to be subject to bail or compounding. If both parties were willing and the court thought there was a chance for a resolution, the decision permitted mediation.

It’s crucial in these discussions to confront the notion of “misuse,” a concern raised by various groups and individuals. Despite the implementation of laws and initiatives targeting domestic abuse, a comprehensive evaluation of the impact of Section 498-A on victims remains conspicuously absent. Multiple stakeholders, including legislative bodies and courts, have often downplayed the significance of this provision. Consequently, extensive research is imperative to enhance our understanding of how legal interventions influence instances of cruelty.

Considering the intricate nature of domestic violence inflicted by spouses and families upon women, trial courts, law enforcement agencies, and prosecutors need to confront the prevalent issue of underreported cases of domestic abuse. Addressing this challenge demands a concerted effort to shed light on these cases and improve avenues for reporting and addressing such instances of cruelty.

The claim that Section 498-A is illegal under Articles 14 and 20(2) of the Constitution because it puts people in double jeopardy when paired with the Dowry Prohibition Act was made in the case of Inder Raj Malik and others vs. Mrs. Sumita Malik. The Delhi High Court, however, dismissed this claim, noting that Section 4 and Section 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act deal with distinct issues. The court underscored that while Section 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act deals solely with dowry demands and doesn’t necessitate the presence of cruelty, Section 498-A addresses more aggravated forms of the offense. It specifically penalizes the combination of property or valuable security demands along with cruelty, indicating a different scope and intent.

This interpretation highlights the courts’ authority to interpret laws and determine suitable penalties under this clause. It emphasizes that such interpretation doesn’t grant judges unfettered discretion; rather, it aligns with constitutional principles and does not violate the constitutionality of the law in question.

In Wazir Chand v. State of Haryana, harassment for dowry was addressed using the recently passed Section 498-A in a case where there was insufficient evidence to show either murder or assisted suicide. It brought attention to the in-laws’ constant demands for cash and items. The Commission stresses that the police should not employ Section 498-A or any associated provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code as a means of oppression or retaliation. It recognizes that the social objective of Section 498-A is crucial and that it deals with family matters and marital strife. As a result, it ought to continue to be included in the legal system to deal with such circumstances.

The following are the suggestions or recommendations posed by the researcher towards the research problem:-

  • Firstly, criminal trials in India, particularly those of serious nature, often extend for 8 to 10 years, or more, depending on the severity of the crime. However, expediting these trials is crucial, especially for innocent victims trapped under Section 498A, ensuring they receive timely justice. Hence, it’s imperative for the judiciary to not only be effective but also accelerate the trial process concerning 498A cases.
  • Secondly, there should be a concerted effort to ensure that investigations into these 498A cases are conducted solely by civil authorities. Police action should only be taken upon the discovery of substantial evidence that establishes an individual’s guilt.
  • Thirdly, it’s essential that 498A cases remain bailable offenses rather than non-bailable ones. This approach prevents innocent individuals from being detained unnecessarily.
  • Lastly, the courts need to implement penalties and stringent measures against those who make false accusations. The lack of deterrence in this regard has led to a concerning rise in dowry cases, necessitating action to curb false allegations.

Understanding the true impact of IPC section 498A on women is paramount. Advocates of the law, including government officials, argue for its efficacy in combating harassment against married women. However, despite legal measures, reported cases of such harassment have increased. This implies that women experiencing harassment are encouraged to seek protection under this law. Logically, a successful use of this law should result in a decline in harassment cases over time. Yet, the reality starkly contrasts this expectation.

The law’s severe penalties and the inherent delays within the legal system create a deterrent for most individuals, regardless of gender, from engaging with it, especially to fulfil financial or sadistic desires. Consequently, despite its presence, many women enduring spousal abuse and harassment opt against filing 498A cases or instead turn to alternative dowry-related laws.

This discrepancy between the law’s intention and its practical implications raises significant concerns about its efficacy in addressing the plight of harassed women. The hesitation or reluctance of many women to utilize this law due to its complexities and potential repercussions questions its ability to serve as an effective safeguard.

In conclusion, while IPC section 498A was designed to protect women from harassment, its implementation faces considerable challenges. The law’s intimidating nature and legal intricacies often deter victims from seeking recourse through this particular provision. Thus, a revaluation of its effectiveness and accessibility in providing real protection for harassed women becomes imperative.


  1. https://www.mha.gov.in/sites/default/files/criminal_justice_system.pdf
  2. www.academia.edu
  3. https://feministlawarchives.pldindia.org/wp-content/uploads/Humsafar-Draft-Rep-498A-27.6.pdf
  4. https://pragyaanlaw.iuu.ac/

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