Section 498A is one of the most draconian laws in India, where a man and his entire family (close/distant relatives) can be jailed on complaint of a wife. Once again Supreme Court in its recent order has reiterated that ‘relatives of the husband cannot be forced to undergo trial for the offence of cruelty under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code based on omnibus allegations of dowry harassment by the wife.’
Subsequently, on 01.04.19, wife gave another written complaint for registration of FIR under sections 341, 323, 379, 354, 498A read with Section 34 IPC against her husband Md. Ikram and the appellants herein. The complaint inter-alia alleged that all the accused were pressurizing the Respondent wife herein to purchase a car as dowry, and threatened to forcibly terminate her pregnancy if the demands were not met.
The top court was dealing with an appeal against a Patna High Court judgment which had refused to quash a first information report (FIR) against the in-laws under Sections 341 (wrongful restraint), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 379 (theft), 354 (assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty) 498A (husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty) of IPC.
A Bench of Justices S Abdul Nazeer and Krishna Murari stated that the Supreme Court in varied instances have held that a criminal trial leading to an eventual acquittal also inflicts severe scars upon the and such an exercise must therefore be discouraged. The court said,
General and omnibus allegations cannot manifest in a situation where the relatives of the complainant’s husband are forced to undergo trial.
It has been highlighted by this court in varied instances, that a criminal trial leading to an eventual acquittal also inflicts severe scars upon the and such an exercise must therefore be discouraged.
Pertinently, the Court also expressed its concern over the tendency to employ Section 498A to settle personal scores against the husband and his relatives.
The Bench said that in recent times, matrimonial litigation in the country has increased significantly and there is a greater disaffection and friction surrounding the institution of marriage, now, more than ever. The judgement read,
This has resulted in an increased tendency to employ provisions such as 498A IPC as instruments to settle personal scores against the husband and his relatives.
The top court noted that they were all general allegations. It noted,
The complainant alleged that ‘all accused harassed her mentally and threatened her of terminating her pregnancy’. Furthermore, no specific and distinct allegations have been made against either of the Appellants herein, i.e., none of the Appellants have been attributed any specific role in furtherance of the general allegations made against them.
The Court also stated that it has previously on numerous occasions, expressed concern over the misuse of section 498A IPC and the increased tendency of implicating relatives of the husband in matrimonial disputes, without analysing the long term ramifications of a trial on the complainant as well as the accused. The bench said,
False implication by way of general omnibus allegations made in the course of matrimonial dispute, if left unchecked would result in misuse of the process of law.
It also noted how the top court had on many occasions warned courts below from proceeding against the relatives and in-laws of the husband when no prima facie case is made out against them.
The Court, therefore quashed the FIR against the in-laws stating that allowing prosecution in the “absence of clear allegations against the appellants would simply
result in an abuse of the process of law.”
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