Suicide due to Dowry Harassment u/s 498A & 304B IPC

Minor quarrels would not constitute offence u/s 498A

Minor quarrels between spouses due to differences of opinion or sporadic instances of ill-treatment would not establish an offence of cruelty under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), says the High Court of Kerala in Sreekumar s/o Chellappan Chettiyar v State of Kerala [2024 (1) KLT 382] delivered on 4th January 2024.

The case of Sreekumar v State of Kerala, as above, involves the suicide of a married woman by allegedly pouring kerosene on herself. The parents of the deceased raised allegations of physical and mental cruelty upon her husband (1st accused) and mother-in-law (2nd accused) for demanding dowry. The Additional District Court at Thiruvananthapuram convicted the accused and sentenced him to undergo rigorous imprisonment for three years and a fine of Rs 25, 000/-.

But in appeal, the High court found that is not sufficient to constitute the ingredients of cruelty or harassment contemplated u/s 498A IPC. Therefore, the accused was acquitted on account of benefit of reasonable doubt.

Suicide u/s 498A must be consequential to cruelty

To prove an offence of cruelty under Section 498A of IPC, the prosecution has to establish the consequences of cruelty which are likely to cause a woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger.

The Section 498A was inserted in the statute with the object of punishing cruelty at the hands of husband or his relatives against a wife particularly when such cruelty had potential to result in suicide or murder of a woman and the term cruelty in Section 498A covers the exercise  of cruelty by the husband or relatives which may drive the women to commit suicide or cause grave injury (mental or physical) or danger to life or harassment with a view to coerce her to meet unlawful demand, says the Supreme Court (SC) in Rajesh Sharma v The State of Uttar Pradesh (AIR 2017 SC 3869).

Frivolous complaints being filed u/s 498A IPC

The object of the provisions is prevention of the dowry menace, says the SC in Sushil Kumar Sharma v Union of India & Ors (AIR 2005 SC 3100).

The SC adds that many instances have come to light where the complaints are not bona fide and have been filed with oblique motive. In such cases, the acquittal of the accused does not in all cases wipe out the ignominy suffered during and prior to trial. Sometimes, adverse media coverage adds to the misery.

The question, therefore, is what remedial measures can be taken to prevent abuse of the well-intentioned provision. Merely because the provision is constitutional and intra vires, does not give a licence to unscrupulous persons to wreck personal vendetta or unleash harassment.

For a 498A case, both demand for dowry & cruelty essential

In another judgement in Niyas v State of Kerala, the High Court of Kerala, in the year 2023, held that mere skirmish in the ordinary life between the spouses or intermittent quarrel or even a frequent quarrel, unless constitutes the ingredient of ‘harassment’ for meeting an unlawful demand for property or valuable security or on account of failure to meet such unlawful demand, would not constitute or attract the criminal liability that can be fastened for the offence under Section 498A of IPC.

Likewise, a demand for dowry or any property or valuable security without the ingredient of cruelty as explained under clause (a) or (b) will not attract the said offence, but a combined effect of both these would bring home the liability under Section 498 A of IPC, the High Court of Kerala held.

Dowry death u/s 304B of IPC

If a married woman dies in unnatural circumstances at her matrimonial home, within seven years of her marriage, and there are allegations of cruelty or harassment upon such married woman for or in connection with demand of dowry by the husband or relatives of the husband, the case would come under dowry death. In such a case, it would be presumed that such husband or relatives shall be deemed to have caused her death.

In dowry death, there shall be material to show that soon before the death of woman, such woman was subjected to cruelty or harassment for or in connection with demand for dowry. The meaning of the term cruelty for Section 304B of the IPC will have to be gathered from the language as found in Section 498A of the IPC.

Once the prosecution establishes the ingredients of dowry death, the presumption against the accused will become operative until it is disproved by the accused by providing evidence to rebut the presumption. The SC says in such cases of dowry death, there shall be a rebuttable presumption against the husband and the relatives under Section 113B of the Indian Evidence Act (IEA) read with Section 304 B of the IPC [ Pathan Hussain Basha v State of Andhra Pradesh: AIR 2012 SC 3205].

Whoever commits dowry death shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than 7 years.

SC convicted u/s 498A & 306 when acquitted under 304B of IPC

In Paranagouda v State of Karnataka where a girl committed suicide by setting herself on fire due to physical and mental torture committed by her in-laws demanding dowry, the SC convicted the appellants under Section 306 IPC (abetment of suicide) and Section 498A (cruelty against a married woman) read with Section 34 IPC, based on the dying declaration made by her, even though there was no enough evidence to convict the accused u/s 304B of IPC.

Mens rea needed to convict a person for abetting a crime

In Naresh Kumar v State of Haryana [2024(1) KLD 427 (SC)], the SC acquitted the accused by exercising its discretion, in a case of wife committing suicide without clear reasons even though the suicide occurred within 7 years of marriage.

The SC says that to convict a person under Section 306 read with 107 of IPC, there must be clear mens rea to commit the offence. A person can be said to have abetted only when he instigates or intentionally aids by any act or illegal omission in doing that thing such as suicide.

To bring a case within the purview of abetment under Section 107 of IPC, there must be evidence regarding instigation, conspiracy or intentional aid on the part of the accused and to prove the charge under Section 306 of IPC, there has to be evidence regarding any positive act on the part of the accused to instigate or aid to drive a person to commit suicide.

Presumption of abetment in dowry death u/s 113 A of IEA

In order the court to take presumption of abetment of wife’s suicide under Section 113A of IEA, the husband and/or his relatives should have subjected her to cruelty and she should have committed suicide within 7 years of marriage.

The SC interpreted the import of the Section 113A of IEA in Lakhijit Singh v State of Punjab [ 1994 KHC 913], Pawan Kumar v State of Haryana [ AIR 1998 SC 958] and Smt Shanti v State of Haryana [ AIR 1991 SC 1226].

Remedies that can mitigate consequences of 498A cases

Get an Anticipatory Bail: In case you suspect that your wife may file an FIR under Section 498A, you may obtain anticipatory bail to avoid arrest.

Get the FIR u/s 498A quashed: Under Section 482 of the CrPC, you can quash a fraudulent FIR filed against you u/s 498A, by the High Court. Normally High Courts are reluctiant in quashing an FIR, but if you have a compelling case with enough evidence, the court will quash your wife’s FIR under 498A. Therefore, you must collect as much evidence as you can that clearly shows that you have not made any demand for dowry and made no harassment in connection with marriage.

You can seek discharge: If you feel your wife’s complaint is wholly frivolous you can file an application under Section 227 of the CrPC seeking discharge from wife’s false 498A case.


In short, due to ever increasing number of false charges u/s 498A, Indian courts and enforcement officials are more careful in dealing with Section 498A IPC cases.

Further reading

  1. Kahkashan Kausar & Ors v State of Bihar & Ors [(2022) 6 SCC 599]
  2. Subba Rao v State of Telangana [(2018) 14 SCC 452]
  3. Rajesh Sharma v State of Uttar Pradesh [(2018) 10 SCC 472]
  4. Arnesh Kumar v State of Bihar [(2014) 8 SCC 273]
  5. Geeta Mehrotra v State of Uttar Pradesh [(2012) 10 SCC 741]
  6. Preeti Gupta v State of Jharkhand [(2010) 7 SCC 667]