“CRUELTY BY husband or his relatives”, covered under Section 498A of Indian Penal Code (IPC), makes up the largest chunk of all crimes against women. The charge, often levelled by a wife against her in-laws in cases of dowry harassment, accounts for over 30 per cent of all crimes against women.
The crime, however, has the lowest conviction rate.
According to the latest data on crimes, released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), more than 3.3 lakh cases of crimes against women were registered in 2016. Of these, 1.1 lakh cases related to ‘Cruelty by husband or his relatives’.
Cases under Section 498A was found to have the lowest conviction rate — merely 12.1 per cent — among all cases of crimes against women.
“Assault on women with intent to outrage her modesty”, kidnapping, and rape, which formed the next three major chunks of crimes against women, had conviction rates of 21.8%, 21.4% and 25.5% in 2016, according to NCRB.
Close to 10,000 cases were also registered under the Dowry Prohibition Act in 2016, but conviction rate here too was just over 15%.
The highest conviction rates have been reported in cases of immoral trafficking (38.5%) and acid attacks (37%).
In 19 metropolitan cities where data was collected, conviction rate of cases under Section 498A and Dowry Prohibition Act dropped further. Data shows that in 2016, the police could achieve conviction in only 9.5% cases under Section 498A, and a measly 1.6% under Dowry Prohibition Act.
Section 498A has been a matter of debate over the last few years, with the government in 2015 even attempting to make the offence compoundable (which would have allowed complainants to enter into a compromise with the accused and agree to have the charges dropped). The Home Ministry had sent a draft note to the Law Ministry for drawing up a draft Bill for the Union Cabinet to amend Section 498A.
Making the dowry law compoundable was also among the recommendations made by the Law Commission and the Justice Malimath Committee.
The matter, however, has been in a limbo as women’s rights groups have opposed it on the ground that it is the last recourse available to economically dependent and helpless women.
Various courts, including the Supreme Court, have over the years called Section 498A as being prone to abuse. In 2014, the SC said that it had a “dubious place of pride amongst the provisions that are used as weapons rather than shield by disgruntled wives”.
Activists have, however, argued that all laws are prone to misuse and abuse, but it’s only in the case of women that a call to dilute the law is being made.
They point to the fact that while 10 per cent of cases under Section 498A have been found to be false at the stage of investigation, the figure is far higher for crimes of cheating, forgery or breach of trust.