Cruelty against women, especially to get dowry is one of the most deep-rooted problems of women in India. For many years, many women have been falling prey to these offences. Data from the National Crimes Records Bureau showed that in 2017 nearly 7000 dowry deaths were recorded in India. Let us discuss section 304b and section 498a IPC.
The statistics have shown an upward trend year by year. Dowry system was abolished in the year 1961 in India but it continues to exist and haunt the lives of so many women. Cruelty to women by husband or his relative forms the most significant fraction among all the crimes against women and still section 498A IPC has the lowest conviction rate than any other crime against women.
The Legislature added Sections 304(B) and 498(A) to the Indian Penal Code, 1960, because it was observed that the legislations like Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 have not been very effective to help curb the menace of dowry and cruelty to women.
Both the sections talk about ‘cruelty’ to women, while section 498A IPC refers to cruelty against a women in any form which includes harassment to obtain property, section 304 (b) talks about dowry death. Since the objective of both these sections is to penalise the husband or his relative for subjecting women to any kind of cruelty for ‘dowry’, they have certain underlying similarities which will is discussed in this article.
Section 304 (b)
Section 304 (b) of I.P.C. states that “Dowry death.- (1) Where the death of a woman is caused by any burns or bodily injury or occurs otherwise than under unusual circumstances within seven years of her marriage and it is shown that soon before her death she was subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relative of her husband for, or in connection with, any demand for dowry, such death shall be called “dowry death”, and such husband or relative shall be deemed to have caused her death.
Explanation. For the purposes of this sub-section, “dowry” shall have the same meaning as in section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961.
(2) Whoever commits dowry death shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than seven years but which may extend to imprisonment for life.”
Ingredients of section 304 (b) –
- The death of the women occurs due to burns or bodily injury or under unusual circumstances.
- It should happen within the first seven years of marriage.
- The wife should have been subjected to cruelty by husband or his relative soon before the marriage.
- It should be in connection to the demand of dowry.
It is a non-bailable and cognizable offence.
What is meant by the demand for dowry as stated in this section?
Section 2 of Dowry Prohibition Act 1961 states that “dowry is any property or valuable security directly or indirectly agreed to be given by-
(a) By one party to a marriage to the other party to the marriage; or
(b) by the parent of either party to a marriage or by any other person, to either party to the marriage or to any other person, at or before or any time after the marriage in connection with the marriage of the said parties.”
Important legal developments
In the case Sher Singh v. State of Haryana, the Supreme Court analysed the words ‘shown’ and ‘deemed’ used in this section. It stated “… interpreting the words ‘prove’, ‘shown’ and ‘presume’ used in the abovementioned Sections, the Court stated that the word ‘shown’ in Section 304B of the I.P.C. connotes ‘prove’, in other words, it is for the prosecution to prove that a ‘dowry death’ has occurred. The Court further observed that the Parliament intended by using the word ‘deemed’ intended that only preponderance of evidence would be insufficient to discharge the husband or his family members of their guilt. Further interpreting ‘shown’ as in Section 304B of I.P.C. the Court stated that the proper manner of interpreting it is that ‘shown’ has to be read up to mean ‘prove’ and the word ‘deemed’ has to be read down to mean ‘presumed’.”
Section 498a IPC
Section 498 (a) of I.P.C. states that “ Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty — 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.
Explanation. — For the purposes of this section, “cruelty” means—
(a) Any wilful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) 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.”
Ingredients of section 498a IPC –
- The women must be married.
- She must have been subjected to cruelty by the husband or/and his relatives.
Important legal developments
The principle of ‘proven beyond reasonable doubt’ needs to be met for conviction of the accused but the same is not true for section 498 (a). In the case State of W.B. v. Orilal Jaiswal the Court said “In a criminal trial, the charges made against the accused must be proved beyond all reasonable doubts. This requirement does not stand altered in case of Section 498-A I.P.C. Before recording a finding of guilt, the Court must satisfy itself that the deceased was not hypersensitive.”
Section 304 (B) and 498 (A) I.P.C., have some broad similarities but a deep understanding of these sections highlights that these are not completely identical. Similarities of both the sections along with their underlying difference (if any) are discussed below –
- Both the sections talk about women being subjected to “cruelty” and ‘demand of property’.
- The Court discussed the difference between harassment and cruelty in the case of State of A.P.vs. M. Madhusudhan Rao. The Court said that “….every harassment does not amount to “cruelty” within the meaning of Section 498-A I.P.C. The definition stipulates that the harassment has to be with a definite object of coercing the woman or any person related to her to meet an unlawful demand. In other words, for the purpose of Section 498-A I.P.C. harassment simpliciter is not “cruelty” and it is only when harassment is committed for the purpose of coercing a woman or any other person related to her to meet an unlawful demand for property etc. that it amounts to “cruelty” punishable under Section 498-A I.P.C.” Hence, the Court made it clear that cruelty as given under this sections does not include harassments of all types but it is specific as given above.
- In the case G.V. Siddaramesh vs. State of Karnatkathe Court analysed a different facet of ‘cruelty’, it stated that Cruelty can either be mental or physical. It is difficult to straightjacket the term cruelty by means of a definition, because cruelty is a relative term. What constitutes cruelty for one person may not constitute cruelty for another person.” Hence, the Court observed that cruelty, as used in these sections, is a rather subjective term and cannot have one strict meaning.
- In Gananath Pattnaik v. State of Orissa , the Court discussed cruelty in terms of socio-economic context by saying that “The concept of cruelty and its effect varies from individual to individual also depending upon the social and economic status to which such person belongs. “Cruelty” for the purposes of constituting the offence under the aforesaid section need not be physical. Even mental torture or abnormal behaviour may amount to cruelty and harassment in a given case.” The Court also advanced the ‘mental element’ of cruelty in this case.
- Dowry demand or demand of property has been mentioned in both the sections but it needs not be the only demand. The Court in Modinsab KasimsabKanchagar v. State of Karnatakadiscussed that “a demand of Rs 10,000 towards repayment of a society loan, though not a dowry demand, was an unlawful demand sufficient to attract Section 498-A”.
- Both the sections state that the accused should be husband or his relatives.
- The term ‘husband’ has been discussed at length in the case of Reema Aggarwal vs. Anupam “The question as to who would be covered by the expression “husband” for attracting Section 498-A does present problems. Etymologically, in terms of the definitions of “husband” and “marriage” as given in the various law lexicons and dictionaries — the existence of a valid marriage may appear to be a sine qua non for applying a penal provision…. The concept of marriage to constitute the relationship of “husband” and “wife” may require strict interpretation where claims for civil rights, right to property etc. may follow or flow and a liberal approach and different perception cannot be anathema when the question of curbing a social evil is concerned…….The expression “husband” covers a person who enters into a marital relationship and under the colour of such proclaimed or feigned status of husband subjects the woman concerned to cruelty in the manner provided under Section 498-A, whatever be the legitimacy of the marriage itself for the limited purpose of Section 498A IPC. The absence of a definition of “husband” to specifically include such persons who contract marriages ostensibly and cohabit with such woman, in the purported exercise of their role and status as “husband” is no ground to exclude them from the purview of 498-A I.P.C.”
- The term “relatives of the husband” has been discussed in VijetaGajra vs. State (N.C.T.of Delhi). In the instant case it was stated that “… in order to be covered under Section 498A, I.P.C. one has to be a `relative’ of the husband by blood, marriage or adoption. After quoting from various decisions of this Court, it was held that reference to the word `relative’ in Section 498A, I.P.C. would be limited only to the blood relations or the relations by marriage.”
- Abovementioned meaning of ‘relative’ was also reiterated by the Court in the case U. Suvetha vs. State. In this case the court stated that “A girlfriend or a concubine being not connected by blood or marriage is not a “relative” of the husband as per Section 498-A.”
- The term ‘relative’ was also discussed in The state of Punjab vs. Gurmit Singhstated “‘relative’ means a person who is a relative by blood, adoption or by marriage others will not fall under the category of relatives and cannot be held guilty under Section 304B but can be held guilty under other section if they have committed any other offence.”
It can be said the section 304(B) and 498A IPC share some stark similarities that have been discussed above primarily because the objective of both the provisions is to protect women from ‘cruelty’ at the hands of a husband or his relative especially for the demand of dowry.
Although this article establishes that these sections share some similarities but they cannot be said to be identical in any form. They are two different sections with different provisions. Like section 304(B) penalises ‘dowry death’ and states that the same should occur during first seven years of the marriage but section 498(A) does not prescribe any such limitation period. Also, there’s no explanation clause regarding cruelty in S. 304(B) but there is one in section 498A IPC. However, the purpose of both the sections is similar that is to protect women from various atrocities.
Hence, from the above information, we can conclude that these sections share some similarities but are not completely identical. These similarities highlight the deep rooted problems that women face in the society, in their own families and hence, special provisions for this purpose, help to deal with the particular offences in a more effective manner.
Rudrani Gupta, 20 women die a day: Dowry Deaths still a threatening reality in India?, She the people TV
(April 21, 2020, 10.06 a.m.), https://www.shethepeople.tv/top-stories/opinion/dowry-deaths-reality-in-india-but-until-when/.
DeeptimanTiwary, Section 498A, dowry: Most FIRs, least convictions, the Indian Express (December 06, 2017, 5.35 a.m.).
Indian Penal Code, 1860.
Indian Penal Code, 1860, § 304(b).
Dowry Prohibition Act 1961, § 2.
Sher Singh vs. State of Haryana, AIR 2008 SC 209.
Indian Penal Code, 160, § 498(a).
State of W.B. vs. Orilal Jaiswal, (1994) 1 SCC 73.
State of AP vs. M. Madhusudhan Rao, (2008) 15 SCC 582.
G.V. Siddramaesh vs. state of Karnatka, (2010) 3 SCC 152.
Gananath Pattnaik v. State of Orissa, (2002) 2 SCC 619.
ModinsabKasimsabKanchagar v.State of Karnataka, (2013) 4 SCC 551.
Reema Aggarwal vs. Anupam, (2004) 3 SCC 199.
VijetaGajra vs. State (NCT of Delhi), (2010) 11 SCC 618.
U. Suvetha vs. State, (2009) 6 SCC 757.
The state of Punjab vs. Gurmit Singh, (1996) 2 SCC 384.