BNS Defines Harm to Women’s Mental Health as “Cruelty”

BNS Defines Harm to Women’s Mental Health as “Cruelty”

BNS Defines Harm to Women’s Mental Health as “Cruelty”

Within the broader discourse of human rights, we cannot ignore the importance of mental health, especially the mental health of women. The Code of Criminal Procedure Act (1873), the Indian Penal Code (1860), and the Indian Evidence Act (1872) are aimed at the proposal of three new bills in the parliament called the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS), the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita, and the Bharatiya Sakshya Bill.

One of these bills — Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS) has considered women’s mental health a crucial facet that demands advocacy and attention. Previously, the bills were introduced in the Monsoon session of the parliament. However certain amendments and revisions were to be made to the bill. The re-introduced bill now consists of two important provisions —

  • Section 73
  • Section 86

Out of the two, section 86 has defined cruelty. The definition of cruelty in section 86 is given as —

  • wilful conduct that can drive a woman into committing suicide or can lead to causing a serious injury or cause danger to life, limb, or health (whether it is mental health or physical health) of the woman; or
  • harassing a woman with the view and aim of coercing her or anyone in relation to her to meet any kind of demand that is unlawful…(Singh, 2023).

The provision has stated with clear words that any harm to a woman’s mental well-being is to be considered cruelty. The former bill had also introduced a penalty in section 85 for the husband of the woman or the in-laws, for showing cruelty to the woman. The penalty stated a jail time of upto 3 years for the offence. The previous bill did not include the definition of what amounts to cruelty, which the reintroduced bill now does, as mentioned above.

Read More: Mental Health and Women

The provision has been created after BNS has taken into consideration research that studies the social structure of Indian families and how it leaves women (newly married and moving away from their homes to with live their husbands and in-laws) vulnerable (Pandey, 2023). While BNS-Second has now explicitly defined “cruelty” in a separate provision, it’s noteworthy that both the old Section 498A and Section 84 in BNS previously defined cruelty using identical terms in their “explanation” clause. Consequently, the new section in BNS-Second essentially does not introduce any novel elements to the proposed penal code.

In summary, the bill mentions the mental well-being of women and includes clear provisions that address harm to a woman’s mental well-being. By introducing penalties for such cruelty, along with a definition that gives one a clear understanding of what constitutes cruelty, signifies a crucial step towards safeguarding women’s rights. The bill has also made changes by removing terms and words in the Indian Penal Code, that were old and outdated. Words like “unsound mind” and “lunacy” have been changed and the words “mental illness” and “mental health” are used in the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS).

Aside from this, several other changes have been brought about. Section 73 penalised (two years of prison) the publication of proceedings of the courts if it threatens to disclose the identity of the rape victim.

Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS) is supposed to replace the Indian Penal Code. The Indian Penal is the legislation that defines crimes and offences and also describes the punishments for criminal offences. The Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS) does not completely change the IPC legislation, rather it consists of the provisions that were a part of the Indian Penal Code. The BNS has made changes by introducing new offences, it has also removed or eliminated the offences that are considered invalid by the court. Additionally, the BNS has also made changes in the penalties for various offences, by increasing those said punishments.

The Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS) and the other two bills introduced with it to uproot the colonial era framework show India’s effort to progress towards a better nation. By including women’s mental health, a crucial step has been taken to safeguard women and their human rights.

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