Can misuse of 498A be prevented?

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
Theft 467833
Rash Driving/Road Rage 451069
Death by Negligence 134384
Cheating 115405
Criminal Tresspass & Burglary 114123
Cruelty by Husband & Relatives 113403
Grievous Hurt 92996
Kidnapping & Abduction 82999
Assault on women 82422
Riots 65255
Robbery 36188
Rape 34651
Murder 32127

 

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

Year Cases Registered
2001 49170
2002 49237
2003 50703
2004 58121
2005 58319
2006 63128
2007 75930
2008 81344
2009 89546
2010 94041
2011 99135
2012 106527
2013 118866
2014 122877
2015 113403

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

Year Cases Registered
2001 1735
2002 1826
2003 1704
2004 1588
2005 1883
2006 2129
2007 2507
2008 2638
2009 3185
2010 3441
2011 3712
2012 3684
2013 3276
2014 3025
2015 2732

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

Year Cases Registered
2001 2561
2002 2836
2003 2930
2004 3222
2005 3283
2006 3708
2007 3999
2008 4138
2009 4007
2010 4797
2011 5377
2012 5216
2013 4820
2014 4919
2015 3668

 

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 (%)
2010 180413 23837 13.21
2011 180701 21662 11.98
2012 197762 16402 8.29
2013 222091 17542 7.89
2014 225648 16360 7.25
2015 187067 16857 9.01

 

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
Cheating 146236 39378 26.92
Murder 62159 16081 25.87
Tresspass & Burglary 79379 15461 19.47
Theft 222556 40916 18.38
Rape 42036 7185 17.09
Death by Negligence 116759 19048 16.31
Robbery 46899 7317 15.60
Riots 294289 34300 11.65
Assault on women 101571 11342 11.16
Kidnapping & Abduction 73557 7285 9.90
Grievous Hurt 112916 10975 9.71
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 (%)
2010 6515 183 2.80
2011 6801 157 2.30
2012 6317 174 2.75
2013 5771 179 3.10
2014 5523 276 4.99
2015 4770 91 1.90

 

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 (%)
2010 7522 222 2.95
2011 7305 313 4.28
2012 6923 254 3.66
2013 6330 268 4.23
2014 6818 165 2.42
2015 4998 185 3.70

 

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
West Bengal 20163 17.77 7.55
Rajasthan 14383 12.68 5.67
Assam 11225 9.89 2.58
Uttar Pradesh 8660 7.63 16.49
Maharashtra 7640 6.73 9.28
Telengana 7329 6.46 2.97
Andhra Pradesh 6121 5.39 4.08
Madhya Pradesh 5281 4.65 6.00
Gujarat 4133 3.64 5.00
Bihar 3792 3.34 8.58
Kerala 3668 3.23 2.76
Odisha 3605 3.17 3.47
Haryana 3525 3.10 2.09
Delhi 3521 3.10 1.38
Karnataka 2732 2.40 5.05
Tamil Nadu 1900 1.67 5.96

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
West Bengal 22508 244 1.08
Rajasthan 9590 2341 24.41
Assam 10404 263 2.53
Uttar Pradesh 41802 6708 16.04
Maharashtra 20129 762 3.78
Telengana 10082 426 4.22
Andhra Pradesh 8984 756 8.41
Madhya Pradesh 13317 2270 17.04
Gujarat 12982 120 0.9
Bihar 5396 143 2.65
Kerala 4998 185 3.70
Odisha 5051 171 3.38
Haryana 3628 239 6.58
Delhi 1266 144 11.37
Karnataka 4770 91 1.9
Tamil Nadu 3634 368 10.12

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.

Conclusion

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/

  • guest

    Well researched, very important and timely!! Good job guys!!