Misuse of Anti-Dowery laws
Marriage is a sacred union of among a man and a woman. But there is a dark side of marriage named as dowry. Dowry is one of the biggest social evils our country is facing and no civilized society would tolerate this. Every effort should be made to remove this evil from our society. But if we look at the other side of the coin, we will find that some of the unscrupulous wives misuse the provisions of the laws to destroy the life of the husband and his family.
In the recent times, the criminal law has undergone some dynamic changes to protect the women from many social demons. Many laws were made to protect the bride and bride’s family from dowry. Dowry means is a transfer of the parental belongings, items or cash given at the time of marriage of the daughter for the groom, his family and relatives. This also leads to the physical and mental assault of the bride and this sometimes also leads to the death of the bride. Therefore, the state has ensured to scale down this evil and has added to us the Anti-Dowry laws within the shape of section 498A Indian Penal Code, section 406 Indian Penal Code, The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 and new enactments such as Domestic Violence Act have been also made. But unfortunately, the remedy is becoming worse than the ailment, which is now a well-known fact as the stringent dowry laws have failed to stop the gruesome crimes for dowry or dowry deaths.
These laws are highly unsuccessful and this is evident from the low conviction rates. The laws being compoundable and non bailable have mil chances of reconciliation between spouses after litigation. The biased nature of the laws like Section 406 and Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code puts the burden to prove innocence on the accused person, unlike other Indian laws. This means that as soon as the complaint is made, the persons whose complaint is made are accused in the eye of the law before the verdict of any trial.
Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, states that,
“Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty—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.”[i]
This section of the Indian Penal Code is a criminal law in which the wife and her parental family can charge any or all of the husband’s family of physical or mental cruelty. This law is unique to India, it not only discriminates based on gender, but also discriminates against women based on their relationship with the husband. Typically, the family members charged includes, mostly women of all ages such as unmarried sister-in-law, married sister-in-law, mother-in-law, grandmother-in-law and aunts-in-law of the bride.
The section 498A of Indian Penal Code is cognizable that is the accused can be arrested and jailed without warrant or investigation. It is also a non- bailable and non- compoundable that is the complaint cannot be withdrawn by the petitioner which makes the chances of living together lost again. Because of its non- bailable nature, a single complaint of the wife against the husband and his family will put them behind the bars.
The judicial system has time and again made it clear that by the misuse of the provisions of the anti-dowry laws a new legal terrorism can be unleashed. The Hon’ble Supreme Court and various High Courts of India have shown concern over this growing menace.[ii]
In the case of Balbir Singh v. The State of Punjab[iii], the Hon’ble Court observed that, “Though the amendments introduced in the penal code are with the laudable object of eradicating the evil of Dowry, such provisions cannot be allowed to be misused by the parents and the relatives of a psychopath wife who may have chosen to end her life for reason which may be many other than cruelty. The glaring reality cannot be ignored that the ugly trend of false implications in view to harass and blackmail an innocent spouse and his relatives, i.e. fast emerging. It is the time to stop this unhealthy trend which results in unnecessary misery and torture to numerous effected persons.”
In Jasbir Kaur v. State of Haryana[iv], the Punjab & Haryana High Court rightly observed that an estranged wife will go to any extent to rope in as many relatives of the husband as possible in a desperate effort to salvage whatever remains on an estranged marriage.
In Kanaraj v. State of Punjab[v], the Hon’ble Apex Court observed that, “for the fault of the husband the in-laws or other relatives cannot in all cases be held to be involved. The acts attributed to such persons have to be proved beyond reasonable doubt and they cannot be held responsible by mere conjectures and implications. The tendency to rope in relatives of the husband as accused has to be curbed.”
Karnataka High Court, in the case of State v. Srikanth[vi], observed “Roping in of the whole of the family including brothers and sisters-in-law has to be depreciated unless there is a specific material against these persons, it is down right on the part of the police to include the whole of the family as accused”
The Hon’ble Supreme Court, In Mohd. Hoshan vs. State of Andhra Pradesh[vii], observed “Whether one spouse has been guilty of cruelty to the other is essentially a question of fact. The impact of complaints, accusation or taunts on a person amounting to cruelty depends on various factors like the sensitivity of the victim concerned, the social background, the environment, education etc. Further, mental cruelty varies from person to person depending on the intensity of the sensitivity, degree of courage and endurance to withstand such cruelty. Each case has to be decided on its own facts whether mental cruelty is made out”
Delhi high Court, in Savitri Devi v. Ramesh Chand[viii], categorically stated “These provisions were though made with good intentions but the implementation has left a very bad taste and the move has been counter-productive. There is a growing tendency amongst the women which is further perpetuated by their parents and relatives to rope in each and every relative including minors and even school going kids nearer or distant relatives and in some cases against every person of the family of the husband whether living away or in other town or abroad and married, unmarried sisters, sisters-in-law, unmarried brothers, married uncles and in some cases grand-parents or as many as 10 or 15 or even more relatives of the husband.”
Justice Malimath Committee on Reforms of Criminal Justice System[ix], observed the following and gave the recommendation to amend the law immediately. In less tolerant impulsive woman may lodge an FIR even on a trivial act. The result is that the husband and his family may be immediately arrested and there may be a suspension or loss of job. The offence alleged being non-bailable, innocent persons languish in custody. There may be a claim for maintenance adding fuel to fire, if the husband cannot pay. She may change her mind and get into the mood to forget and forgive. The husband may realize the mistakes committed and come forward to turn a new leaf for a loving and cordial relationship. The woman may like to seek reconciliation. But this may not be possible due to the legal obstacles. Even if she wishes to make amends by withdrawing the complaint, she cannot do so as the offence is non compoundable. The doors for returning to family life stand closed. She is thus left at the mercy of her natal family. It Is pertinent to note here that, the real sufferers of the evil of dowry, the rural Indian women are not even sensitized about their rights, and fail to make use of these laws. But Some Indian Urban educated women have turned the tables and are using these laws as weapon to unleash personal vendetta on their husbands and innocent relatives.[x]
Despite the guidelines and recommendation of the Hon’ble Supreme Court and the Malimath Committee that the working of the existing laws should be checked and reviewed so that the innocents get the protection and the complaints with malafide intention does not get registered are highly ignored.
The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act is an absolute pro-women and anti-men law. This law assumes every man as a virtual torture and considers only women as victims. This law is highly vague, and speaks of verbal/economical & emotional abuse, which are impossible to quantify & ascertain. Many husbands and their family members, falsely implicated in these cases have committed suicide after being jailed, unable to bear the social trauma.
Nearly 44.7% of the suicide victims were married males while only 25% were married females.[xi] This clearly shows the ratio of victims of domestic violence and gender abuse. It is high time for law makers/law enforcing agencies/judges to pay heed and review these laws in public interest to check the growing misuse of these laws to ensure impartial justice and to protect the pious and sacred institution of marriage.
Rituparna Patra 2 Year, National University of Study and Research in Law, Ranchi
[i] Section 489A, Indian Penal Code
[iii] 1987 (1) CRIMES – 76.
[iv] 20 May, 2003
[v] (1990)2 Rec Cri R 243
[vi] 2000 CriLJ 2993
[vii] 2002 CriLJ 3605
[viii] 2002 CriLJ 4124
[ix] Government of India, Ministry of Home Affairs, 2003
[x] 16.4.4, report of the Malimath Committee