False case against husband – Misuse of Section 498A?

“Woman lodges a complaint under section 498A,  husband and in-laws arrested.”

A newspaper headline such as above is sure to garner sympathy for the victim from the public and the media. But rarely do we ponder over who might be the actual victim here – the wife or the husband? Recently, several cases, where the husband and his family were wrongly accused and trapped under the section 498A of Indian Penal Code,  have come into the public eye.  Does this mean that section 498A is being misused? Perhaps yes,  because there have been horror stories of legal extortions, baseless claims and blackmail by women under this section.

One of these stories is of a Pune based couple, Romesh Marathe and his wife Supriya (names changed), who had married in March 2001. Due to marital disputes with the wife wanting to stay separately, Romesh filed for a divorce in June 2003. But a month later, Romesh along with his mother and three other relatives, were arrested and sent to the custody in a dowry harassment case filed by Supriya.  Due to lack of any evidence, Romesh and his near relations were proven innocent by a magistrate’s court.  Later, Romesh again made a divorce plea on the grounds of cruelty by the wife. The family court did not grant the divorce, stating that one singular complaint by wife can not be cited as cruelty. Romesh moved to the Bombay High Court, which accepted Romesh’s contention that the false allegations by wife had caused him mental cruelty and entitled him to a divorce.

Like Romesh, there are several other innocent married men who are facing the brunt of abuse of the powers under the section 498A. Primarily, an anti-dowry law formed to protect women, section 498A is now considered a deleterious legal weapon in a woman’s armour. In fact, according to “Crime in India 2012 Statistics” published by the National Crime Records Bureau, section 498A itself accounted for 6% of all arrests, though the conviction rate was merely 15%!

In order to prevent illegal arrests or similar threats of the section 498A accused, the Supreme Court in its latest judgement (2nd July, 2014), has enforced a 9 point checklist for police under section 41 of the Criminal Procedure Code.  The checklist prescribes Do’s and Don’t’s, to be referred to by the police before arresting the accused.  Further, in case the arrest is made, then the magistrate should allow the detention only if the checklist validates so, or else he can authorize the release of the accused.

This new development in the context of section 498A was long overdue and is a welcome news of relief. We can only hope that there are no further legal loopholes or new judgements to bypass the section 41 and give undue advantage to the section 498A.