ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Why Women Need 498A

The Supreme Court has overlooked the reality of domestic violence.

The Supreme Court’s recent ruling with regard to Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) will disappoint the majority of Indian women who suffer in silence the abuse they experience within their homes. Instead of looking at the larger reality of such violence, the Court has chosen to focus on a few cases where the law might possibly have been “misused” although even this has not been substantiated with data. By stressing on the “misuse” of this section, on the one hand, and insisting that the police should not resort to automatically arresting those charged under this section, on the other, the Court has unfortunately reinforced many negative and ill-informed views about the value of this provision for women subjected to domestic violence.

Under the broad definition of “dowry law”, there has been a tendency, particularly in the media, to club two distinct provisions in the IPC. Section 498A was introduced in 1983, in response to widespread concern and interventions by women’s groups about the increasing incidence of deaths of young women in so-called “accidental” kitchen fires. When it became evident that these deaths were the result of concerted harassment of these new brides for dowry, a specific provision that made such harassment a cognisable and non-bailable offence was enacted into law. In addition, Section 304B introduced in 1986 recognised “dowry deaths” as any unnatural death of a young woman within the first seven years of marriage. These additional remedies were introduced to enhance and strengthen the existing Dowry Act, 1961. Since then, women have used Section 498A not just in instances of cruelty relating to dowry but also to deal with other forms of violence in their homes. Until 2005, when the Domestic Violence Act was enacted, this was one of the remedies available to them.

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