On the 27th of July 2017, the Supreme Court of India issued a series of guidelines to curb the misuse of the draconian IPC 498A. This law, easily the most misused law in India, is meant to provide criminal relief against the physical and mental abuse caused to women by their husbands and in-laws. However, this law has turned into a weapon used by unscrupulous wives to falsely implicate their husbands and relatives in order to exert pressure on them to settle for a quick divorce and a fat alimony package.
In spite of the severe public demand, and irrefutable data, the Government of India, over the past 20 years has not taken a single legislative remedial measure. Hence the burden of reducing the misuse of this law has fallen on the Courts of this country.
In Civil appeal No. 4399 of 2005, the Supreme Court of India said the following about IPC 498A-
“As noted above the object is to strike at the roots of dowry menace. But by misuse of the provision a new LEGAL TERRORISM can be unleashed. The provision is intended to be used a shield and not an assassin’s weapon”
For the first time, the Courts started taking cognizance of the fact that a law drafted with the intention of protecting women from abuse was being misused for ulterior gains.
In the year 2010, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued an advisory to all States to take measures to reduce the misuse of this law. The ministry again repeated its advisory to all the States in the year 2012.
In the year 2014, the Supreme Court of India, in Arnesh Kumar vs State Of Bihar & Anr, ended up creating a case law and stopped the right of Police to automatically and indiscreetly arrest those accused under 498A.
To further prevent misuse of this law, the Supreme Court once again, in July 2017, issued further guidelines on the procedure to handle any 498A case. It ordered the setup of Family Welfare Committees in every district that will look into each complaint of 498A and issue directions and advise police on next steps.
With each one of the above measures, one should remember that the goal has ONLY been to prevent misuse of the law, especially the provision to arrest the husband and his family members right at the onset of the complaint. None of the measures have eroded the possibility of justice in case of genuine abuse. Nor has there been any change in the penalty or punishment to those genuinely guilty.
Most of the families who undergo arrest even for a single day end up wanting to settle the cases as soon as possible. This arm twists them into accepting the demands, however unjustified, of the wife and her family, which almost always is around divorce, huge alimony and maintenance and in many cases handing over of the family property. In almost every case of misuse, the intention is to break the will of the husband and his family and force them to accept a settlement on terms placed by the (former) wife. Therefore, for those who misuse the law, it is of utmost importance that there be immediate arrest of the accused.
If there is no arrest prior to chargesheet and/or conviction, false cases will fail during the trial. This means the husband and his family will never be arrested and therefore the chances of them accepting the demands are miniscule. In summary, the main “attraction” of 498A is its ability to get the opposite party arrested even before any semblance of a trial and/or conviction has occurred.
With the new guidelines and consequent difficulty around arrest, interest in misusing this law should naturally decline. In the remainder of this write-up, we look at some numbers from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) to confirm if the numbers support the theory that 498A is waning in its attraction as a tool for misuse.
Statistical analysis of 498A
Every year, a huge number of cases are registered under IPC 498A. In terms of total number of cases registered, it is the 6th biggest crime in India, as seen from the below table.
Note: Table only lists those crime categories where the total number of cases registered are in multiple tens-of-thousands.
All India – Cases – Major Crimes – 2015
|Nature of Crime||Total Number of Cases|
|Rash Driving/Road Rage||451069|
|Death by Negligence||134384|
|Criminal Tresspass & Burglary||114123|
|Cruelty by Husband & Relatives||113403|
|Kidnapping & Abduction||82999|
|Assault on women||82422|
In fact, one can notice from the above table that if one were to consider only those categories where a deliberate intent to commit crime is involved (leaving out rash driving and death by negligence), 498A crimes are the 4th largest in terms of number of cases registered.
Over the past 15 years, the total number of cases under IPC 498A have seen a continuous upward trend and have increased by more than 100% from 2001 to 2015. The below table shows the actual number of cases registered from 2001 to 2015.
All India – Cases – Cruelty by husband and family members for crimes against women
We can observe from the above table that, for the first time in 2015, the total number of cases registered has shown a downward trend. This can directly be attributed to the strict guidelines issued by the Supreme Court of India in the year 2014. One may argue that the decline shown is for only one year and therefore it is inappropriate to conclude that it is related to the guidelines related to “no-automatic arrests”.
When we analyze the numbers for total cases registered over the years for various states, we see that two States – Karnataka and Kerala – have shown a downward trend in number of cases registered from 2012 onwards itself.
The data for Karnataka is captured in the below table.
Karnataka – Cases – Cruelty by husband and family members for crimes against women
Similarly, the number of cases in Kerala have also declined since 2012, as shown below.
Kerala – Cases – Cruelty by husband and family members for crimes against women
Some very interesting details emerge when we try to analyze the reasons behind the decline starting in 2012 for these two states.
As mentioned in the beginning of the article, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a circular in 2010 and in 2012 to all the States to take steps to prevent misuse of 498A. As a response to this many states issued directions to their police to take precautions while handling these cases. For example, guidelines were issued by the DGPs (and other relevant authorities) of Delhi, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh and others. However, almost all the directions were precautionary in nature and centered around thorough investigation, need for counseling, etc.
However, the DGPs of Karnataka and Kerala, in 2010-11 and 2012 respectively, issued detailed directions that involved one crucial, and additional step, before arresting anyone under 498A. In both these states, the investigating officer had to obtain the consent of the DCP prior to arresting anyone. This introduced a crucial senior review process in deciding arrest. Clearly, with an additional, superior, authority reviewing the case, the scope for misuse reduced. The reduction in the registration of cases under 498A in these two states can be directly attributed to this tightening measure.
Therefore, it is quite clear that the drop in 498A cases registration is clearly linked with its utility in immediate arrest coming down, due to the guidelines by the SC and the Police departments.
Misuse and Conviction Rates
If misuse of 498A comes down, it naturally means that the total number of cases that needs to be investigated by the Police comes down. This also means that the percentage of genuine cases go up and also that the bandwidth available to the Police for investigating the genuine cases increases. This highlights the important issue associated with misuse of current law which denies justice to actual victims.
The NCRB website provides detailed statistics on the total number of persons arrested and the number of persons convicted under any crime. For the years 2010-2015, at the all-India level, the following is the conviction rate for crimes under 498A.
All India – Persons Arrested – Cruelty by husband and family members for crimes against women
|Year||Persons Arrested||Persons Convicted||Conviction Rate (%)|
The conviction rate, for the past several years, has been in single digits, which is yet another pointer to the high percentage of false cases registered under this category.
For comparison purposes, let us look at the conviction rates under the 13 crime categories that we looked at in the beginning of this article (which showed the total number of cases registered)
All India – Crimes – 2015 – Persons Arrested and Convicted (Arranged in decreasing order of conviction rate)
|Nature of Crime||Persons Arrested||Persons Convicted||Conviction Rate (%)|
|Rash Driving/Road Rage||426435||245935||57.67|
|Tresspass & Burglary||79379||15461||19.47|
|Death by Negligence||116759||19048||16.31|
|Assault on women||101571||11342||11.16|
|Kidnapping & Abduction||73557||7285||9.90|
|Cruelty by Husband & Rels||187067||16857||9.01|
We can see that crimes under 498A have the lowest conviction rate of any (significant) IPC crime!!! Not to forget that the criminal is known in this case and put behind bars at the onset of the case.
In the year 2015, after the total number of cases declined for the first time, we notice that the conviction rate under this crime went up from 7.25% to 9.01%. This could be an indicator that reduction in the number of false cases provides an opportunity for Police to perform better investigations in genuine cases. To confirm this, we can look at the conviction rates between 2010-2015 for Karnataka and Kerala since these 2 states have shown a decline in false cases for a longer period.
Below table shows the conviction rate for Karnataka.
Karnataka – Persons Arrested – Cruelty by husband and family members for crimes against women
|Year||Persons Arrested||Persons Convicted||Conviction Rate (%)|
Similarly, the table below shows the conviction rate for Kerala.
Kerala – Persons Arrested – Cruelty by husband and family members for crimes against women
|Year||Persons Arrested||Persons Convicted||Conviction Rate (%)|
We can notice from the above 2 tables that, apart from a blip in Karnataka in 2015, the numbers always show that a dip in false cases, and consequent reduction in arrests, leads to an increase in conviction rate! Therefore, any step, such as the guidelines issued by the Supreme Court, to reduce false cases can only benefit those who are genuine victims of domestic violence and need protection and relief from this law.
Disparity in State wise numbers
When it comes to total number of cases registered on a state wise basis, we find that there is a huge disparity in terms of the percentage of cases registered as measured against the percentage of population of the state. The below table shows a list of the states that contribute the maximum number of cases related to 498A.
All India – States with maximum cases registered – 2015 (Total cases – 113403)
|State||Cases Registered||Percentage of Total Cases||Population %age – 2011 Census|
It is startling to see that just 3 states – West Bengal, Rajasthan and Assam – contribute more than 40% of the total cases registered in the country in 2015 even though their share in India’s population is just 15% as per Census 2011. The trend is similar in the immediate preceding few years.
Although, one can argue that these states are different in how police functions and it is easier to report cases. But using NCRB data we do not find that other crimes are also reported more in these states. So, it cannot be efficiency of police force leading to higher reporting of cases. Another possible reason could be that women are treated differently in the public sphere in these states and they can easily report the crimes to police without any stigma. So, high per capita cases case of West Bengal and Assam actually highlights some kind of women empowerment. But this myth is busted when we look at the next table, which presents conviction rate.
The table below shows the total number of persons arrested in the year 2015 and the total number of persons convicted. Of course, the persons convicted most often corresponds to cases registered in previous years but a review of the NCRB data shows a uniform proportion of these numbers in the preceding years. Hence this is a valid comparison.
All India – States – Ratio of persons arrested to persons convicted – 2015
|State||Persons Arrested||Persons Convicted||%age of PC/PA|
It is once again surprising to see that the 2 of the 3 states that contribute most of the cases (West Bengal and Assam) have the most dismal conviction rate amongst all states. If social stigma was the driving force, we would not see such big disparity in conviction rates across states. This clearly shows a high level of misuse of the law associated with failure at proving conviction. Above table also highlights in red a few other states where conviction rate is far below national average of 9% indicating the law being misused more often than not.
The Government of India, considering these factors, should take further steps to dissuade misuse of this law. Introduction of criminal action against those found misusing this law can be the next big reform to totally weed out misuse. This will further reduce the workload of our investigating and judicial authorities and will also lead to faster conclusion of the genuine cases. Shorter trial periods will feed back into the loop leading to more and more genuinely affected women approaching the justice system, thereby serving the purpose which the original makers of the law intended.
The Government should also perform a thorough analysis of the data collected to determine state-wise (local) reasons that could show a more prevalent case of domestic abuse of women. Since law and order is a state subject, making necessary laws specific to those states, while removing a common special law for the entire country could be a welcome move to curb misuse and at the same time increase effectiveness.
Note: The author tweets at @Hariprasad.
Image Source: http://www.section498.com/article/a-look-at-how-the-dowry-law-is-being-highly-abused/