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The difference between men and women has certainly taken the form of a monster that is now feeding on the female strata of society. The situation of women in a patriarchal country is extremely bad, although there have been certain developments for the benefit of women, they still are treated unfairly. One of the main aims of the judiciary is to protect women from atrocities and preserve their dignity and honor.
For this purpose, a lot of gender-specific laws have been framed under which only the male can be held liable. One of the most important parts of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 is the part of ‘Offences Relating to Marriage’. This part of the IPC preserves the rights of a woman in a marital relationship. It also broadly explains the various acts which can be considered offenses. Under this part, Section 493 and 498-A are the only provisions that are gender-specific and only extend liability to the male or the husband. Such provisions in the IPC are extremely important since the main objective of the said provisions is to extend justice to women in India.
Section 493 to section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 deals with the offenses which are related to marriage. All these sections come under Chapter XX of the IPC, but Section 498-A comes under Chapter XX-A.
The main issues that are included in the Chapter of ‘Offences Relating to Marriage’ are-
1) Invalid or mock marriages (Section 493 and 496)
2) Bigamy (Section 494 and 495)
3) Adultery (section 497)
4) Criminal elopement (section 498)
5) Cruelty by husband or relatives of husband (Section 498-A)
For the purposes of this paper, we will be focusing only on Section 493 (invalid marriages) and Section 498-A (cruelty). This paper provides extant case law and reasoning which shows that the interpretation of the courts and judiciary is not always correct and can, from time to time, contain errors in the interpretation of these provisions. There can be dire consequences of such a situation because then the existing case law would result in being misleading and hence will eventually prove to be extremely unfair.
The IPC states that “Every man who by deceit causes any woman who is not lawfully married to him to believe that she is lawfully married to him and to cohabit or have sexual intercourse with him in that belief, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.”
According to Section 493 of the IPC, mock marriage basically means an invalid marriage. This section deals with the offense that occurs when cohabitation or sexual activity takes place because the man deceitfully and intentionally makes the woman believe that the marriage is lawful when it actually isn’t. By the virtue and under the ambit of this section, any man who tries to fraudulently make a woman believe that she is married to him, when she is not, the man can be held liable for punishment under this section. The offense here lies in the fact that a man misrepresents a woman to be his wife when she actually is his concubine.
This section, in general, includes all possible aspects under its ambit and hence, this paper suggests that no change is required to the framing of the existing legislation. However, this does not mean that the judicial interpretation of this Section is perfect.
In the case of Ramchandra Bhagat v. the State of Jharkhand, the Supreme Court bench was itself divided on the question in Section 493. The facts of the case were rather unfortunate. The man had promised to marry the woman and on the basis of such promise, both lived together for nine years. The man had made an agreement that he will eventually marry her. The Court was divided on the issue that whether there was a case of ‘induced belief of marriage’ or not. The court ruled in favor of the man and stated that such a case would be considered outside the ambit of S. 493. I find this interpretation to be flawed.
Justice Gyan Sudha Misra argued in the same case that there was enough evidence that pointed towards the fact that there was a probability of the wife being deceived into thinking she was legally married. As discussed above, this section penalizes the deceitful inducement that the woman is lawfully married to the man. The primary allegation that the accused had promised to marry the complainant was dismissed by the bench. What actually mattered was the fact that the couple conducted themselves as they were in marital relations, or at least gave the appearance of being married. This can be considered deceit on part of the husband and hence this case falls under the ambit of S.493.
Another case where the interpretation of the judiciary can be questioned with regard to S. 493 is Pradeepta Kumar Mohapatra v. State. In this case, the husband had obtained a decree of divorce against his wife, but he concealed this fact from her and continued to maintain sexual relations with her. This soon came to her knowledge and she took the matter to court. The court dismissed the issue as a part of S. 493 because according to the court omission to mention the fact of divorce cannot be considered deceit and hence no liability would follow. This interpretation can be tackled because if a person hides the fact of divorce from his wife, he is technically deceiving her into thinking that she is lawfully married to him.
The word deceit means “dishonesty, fraudulent conduct, false statements made knowing them to be untrue, by which the liar intends to deceive a party receiving the statements and expects the party to believe and rely on them. This is a civil wrong (tort) giving rise to the right of a person reasonably relying on such dishonesty to the point of his/her injury to sue the deceiver.” Therefore, the word deceit would also include dishonest concealment of facts. This shows how the interpretation of S. 493 of the court was in error according to the words of the statue.
Section 498A is placed in chapter XX-A of the IPC. It is a non-bail able, non-compoundable and cognizable offense. The section is reproduced here as follows-
“Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.”
This section offers a very simple gist, which defines and states the offenses of matrimonial cruelty. This section was added to the IPC in 1983 to provide more protection to the wife in a marriage. This section states how if the husband or any relative of the husband engage in cruel acts against the wife, they can be held liable for those acts under this section. This section can only be invoked by the wife or any of her relatives. Section 498A also defines what cruelty stands for and more or less, includes each and every aspect in its ambit. This section was added to the IPC for safeguarding the interests of women against the cruelty they face behind the four walls of their matrimonial home.
Nowadays, it is extremely common for women to file false cases against men and their families on the grounds of cruelty. Legislation which was supposed to be a shield for the protection of the honor, life, and dignity of women has turned out to be a sword for them which they can use to blackmail or to take revenge. The Supreme Court has taken a few steps to ensure that such kind of misuse does not occur anymore, or at least, does not occur on a regular basis. The section is self-explanatory and has a very broad grasp of the word cruelty. Section 498A does not require any amendments as such, but the judiciary has, every now and then, misinterpreted the section.
In the case of Applicant(s) v. the State of Gujarat, to conclude whether there was cruelty or not the Court considered various principles and aspects. One of the principles that the judgment highlighted was that the cruelty that occurs on part of the husband and his relatives needs to be continuous over a period of time. This paper finds there to be an error in such an argument because according to this principle, the wife first needs to get harmed mentally or physically consistently to avail this section towards her benefit. This leaves no scope for a quick and fast response. The explanation clause of S. 498A defines what the word ‘cruelty’ means under this section and the section does not, in any way, mention that there has to be continuous cruelty for prosecution under this section.
Another case where it can be said that the judiciary had erred in its interpretation of the said section is the case of Bhaskar Lal Sharma v. Monica. In this case, the Supreme Court was of the view that even if the mother-in-law kicked the daughter-in-law and threatened her with divorce, it would not amount as cruelty under S. 498-A. This paper completely disagrees with such an incompetent argument and feel that this is a very shocking stance to be taken by the apex court of the largest democracy of the world. Both the acts of kicking and threatening to include the elements of cruelty and should be treated as the same.
This argument is supported by the case of Dastane v. Dastane, where the court held that kicking can be considered as an act of cruelty.
In another case, Pinakin Rawal v. the State of Gujarat, the court was of the opinion that just because the husband had an intimate relationship with someone else does not mean that it amounts to cruelty under S. 498A even if he fails to discharge his marital duties and obligations. According to the court, this act only deals with extremely grave and serious cruelty which might result in a consequential suicide. This paper would suggest that even a certain low level of mental harassment/ cruelty or emotional trauma should also be considered as cruelty under S. 498A so as to provide more justice to the wife.
The trial court, in the case of Ramesh Chand v. Himachal Pradesh, held the husband to be guilty of cruelty under S. 498A. The complainant (wife) had filed charges against the husband and a few of his relatives. The court held the accused husband to be guilty but acquitted all the co-accused/ relatives. Section 498A of the IPC clearly states that both the husband and his relatives can be held guilty for cruelty, therefore, this paper argues that it is wrong of the court to accuse just the husband and acquit the relatives altogether.
This approach cannot be accepted, because on the same set of facts and evidence, the accused is held guilty and all the co-accused are acquitted. The words of the section clearly state that both the husband and his relatives can be held liable if the court chooses to acquit the relatives and convict the husband when the complaint against both of them is the same, then it does not make sense to acquit the relatives.
All the above arguments together show that the judiciary has definitely committed faults in the interpretation of the above mentioned two sections. Even though the Indian Judiciary is full of competent and efficient lawyers, it is very difficult to always interpret the section in a correct manner when it is being applied to such a vast variety of factual situations.