In order to check cruelty to women by husbands and parents-in-law, rampant in the unprecedented scale in the country, a new chapter XXA, entitled: ‘Of cruelty by Husband or Relatives of Husband’ was added in the Penal Code. Additionally, an amendment took place in the Evidence Act shifting the burden of proof of innocence on the accused against prosecution in cases of abetment of suicide of a married woman within seven years of marriage [Section 113A and 113B of the Evidence Act, 1872]. The object behind the introduction of the chapter was to punish the husband and his relatives who torture and harass the wife with a view to coerce her on any person related to her to meet any unlawful demands or to drive her to commit suicide. To make the offence determent, section 498A prescribes a sentence of three years and also a fine for the husband or the relatives of the husband or wife, who subject to cruelty.    

The Bench led by the Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi has ruled that in dowry harassment cases under section 498 IPC, a woman can file a case where she is currently sheltered against her in-laws. The decision has relaxed the rigorous provisions of jurisdictions under section 177 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. The aforesaid section mandates for criminal cases to be filed and tried only in courts within whose jurisdiction the crime has occurred.

The Allahabad High Court dismissed the appeal filed by Rupali Devi to file dowry harassment from her parents’ place of residence, where she had fled to. The High Court had taken the view that cruelty punishable under section 498Aof the Indian Penal Code was not a “continuing offence”, nor can it be investigated or punished in a jurisdiction outside the one in which the matrimonial house of the victim is located. The question before the Court was that “whether a case of cruelty on account of dowry harassment punishable under section 498A, IPC can be registered, investigated and punished in a jurisdiction different from where she has been forced out on account of such harassment”   

The Apex Court has made a welcoming move. ‘Cruelty’ under section 498A of the Code is a continuing offence considering the facts and circumstance of each case.   

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