Explainer: Understanding cruelty laws in domestic violence

Nyaaya, an open access, digital resource that simplifies Indian laws, explains how survivors of domestic violence can seek help.

In July 2023, 995 cases of cruelty in domestic violence, under section 498 A, were reported in Karnataka. In Bengaluru, a Deccan Herald report stated that the Parihar-Vanitha Sahayavani counselling centre in Bengaluru received 434 complaints of domestic violence, between April and December, 2022. As more cases of domestic violence are reported, it is important to know the legal definition and consequences of cruelty in domestic violence. 

This explainer clarifies how survivors can seek legal help and protection. 

What is cruelty in the context of domestic violence?

Cruelty includes the actions of torture against a married woman by her husband and his relatives. These actions can drive a woman to commit suicide or cause grave injury or danger to the life, limb and health (mental and physical) of a married woman. It also includes the unlawful demand of dowry from the woman and her family. Indian laws punish such harassment of a wife under the Indian Penal Code and protect women against violence through various special enactments.


Read more: Explainer: Steep rise in domestic violence complaints, but where are the protectors?


What are the laws covered?

This article deals with the laws for cruelty as laid down in the Indian Penal Code,1860, The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, and The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961.

What are some signs of Cruelty under Section 498 A of the Indian Penal Code?

Any action that causes reasonable fear in the mind of a married woman that living with her husband will be harmful and injurious to her life constitutes cruelty. Some examples of cruelty include:

  1. Physical violence against the woman like slapping, biting, pulling her hair, beating, punching, kicking or causing injuries with or without a weapon, acid attacks, strangling etc.
  2. Continuous taunting and teasing
  3. Keeping a relationship with another woman and maintaining her child
  4. Coercing the first wife to give consent to the husband to marry another woman
  5. Depriving the wife and children of basic means of sustenance
  6. False attacks on the sexual conduct of the woman
  7. Calling a woman “barren” or humiliating her for giving birth to a girl child
  8. Not allowing the woman to work
  9. Depriving the woman and her child of basic necessities
  10. Aggressively demanding explanations for expenditures
  11. Any unlawful demands for money, including dowry demands

Who is protected under the law?

The Indian Penal Code only protects married women from cruelty. A list of civil remedies is available under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005. If the woman is related to the aggressor by blood, marriage, adoption or cohabitation, she can make use of these remedies to seek protection. A woman in a live-in relationship cannot file a complaint against her partner or his family for committing cruelty against her. However, she can file a complaint under the general provisions of criminal law like assault, defamation, outraging modesty etc.

Who is the aggressor under the criminal law?

The aggressor can be the husband of the woman subjected to cruelty or his relatives if they are the ones who subjected her to cruelty. Ordinarily, the term ‘relative’ includes anyone who is related to the husband by blood, marriage or adoption; such as father, mother, daughter, son, sister, brother, nephew, niece, brother’s wife, sister’s husband etc. Any person who commits cruelty can be punished with a jail term of up to three years along with a fine.


Read more: Why ‘Fast Track Courts’ have been slow to ensure justice for women and children


What are the remedies available under the law?

In addition to the punishment of jail term to the aggressor, the court can also order the survivor’s husband to maintain her and their children if he has sufficient means to provide for them. Such maintenance can be demanded by:

  • The wife from her husband
  • Children (legitimate and illegitimate) from their father
  • Father or mother from their son or daughter

This remedy is also available to a woman cohabitating with a man in a live-in relationship or divorced women. In addition, the survivor has an option to avail of civil remedies under The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005. A married woman can avail of these remedies along with filing a criminal complaint against her aggressor. To read more about these remedies, click here.

If the survivor is not a married woman and wants to file a criminal complaint against torture by her family members, her partner or his relatives, she can file such a complaint under the general provisions of criminal law.

Who can file a criminal complaint against cruelty?

A survivor of domestic violence or any person related to her by blood, marriage or adoption can file a complaint under Section 498A of the IPC. For example, a woman’s maternal uncle can file a criminal complaint against that woman’s husband and his family. If no such relative is available, the State Government can notify a public servant to file the complaint on behalf of the survivor.

When can a criminal complaint be filed?

The survivor or relatives must file a complaint within three years from the date on which the act was committed. If the events took place continuously over a period of time, the period of three years for filing is counted from the date on which the last act of cruelty took place. For example, if a couple was married in 2017 and the demands of dowry were being made till 2020, a woman can file a complaint up to three years from the day in 2020 when such demands were last made. However, the court also has the power to hear the case after the period of three years, if it is satisfied that it is necessary to do so in the interest of justice.

Can a compromise be reached between the parties after filing a case under Section 498A?

The court does not have the power to record a compromise between the parties once a complaint has been filed for cruelty under Section 498A. However, in the interest of a genuine compromise and for maintaining peace in a matrimonial relationship, the court can quash the case or reduce the punishment of the aggressor.

woman calling a helpline
Representational image. During 2020-2021, more women faced abuse and violence as they were confined to their homes with their abusers. Pic courtesy: Diya Bhat

Who can help in Bengaluru?

Helplines:

  • Domestic Violence against Women: 7217735372 (WhatsApp Number) by National Commission for Women
  • National Commission for Women Helpline: 7827170170
  • Central Social Welfare Board -Police Helpline: 1091/ 1291; (011) 23317004
  • Vanitha Sahaya Vani: 080 2294 3225
  • Women’s And Children’s Safety Help Line: 09108445555
  • South India Cell for Human Rights Education & Monitoring (SICHREM): 080-25473922, 25492856, 25804072-73
  • All India Women’s Conference: 011 23389680
  • Joint Women’s Programme: (0124) 4056116
  • Vishvashanthi Santwana Women’s Helpline Center: 080 2360 9888
  • Karnataka State Human Rights Commission: 0802239 2203
  • RAHI Recovering and Healing from Incest. A support centre for women survivors of child sexual abuse: 011 41607055
  • Ask SHEROES: Find the online chatting service here.
  • Women Helpline (Domestic Abuse ) : 181

You can also reach out to Parihar, centre for research, training and development of women and children, with an objective to improve the welfare of women and children, to help mentally and physically handicapped, unemployed and distressed women, and abandoned / street/runaway children by counselling and training. The Commissioner of Police, Bangalore City is the Ex-Officio President of the Governing Body. Their expert team of professional counsellors who are trained in social counselling are available 24/7 to respond to any distress calls. The services rendered are free and open to all. Their contact details are:

Address: PARIHAR Office of the Commissioner of Police
No. 1 Infantry Road,
Bengaluru 560001
E-mail: pariharfcc.vsv@gmail.com
Telephone: 080-22943225
Mobile no. : 9845450256

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