Dowry harassment: First investigate then arrest, rules SC

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SC rules out automatic arrest in dowry cases.
We expect laws to put curb on a particular wrong but at times instead of acting as a shield it becomes a weapon and is misused by many. And one of them is the Anti-Dowry law which is misused by most women today to book their husbands and in-laws for maltreatment even if dowry is not the cause of marital breakdown. Instead of curbing the give and take of dowry, the anti-dowry law has become a weapon for revenge for wives who use it against their husbands and in-laws, even if the conflict is not over dowry.

The Supreme Court has come to the rescue of all such families who have falsely been arrested on such charges. Expressing concern over misuse of anti-dowry law by disgruntled wives against their husbands and in-laws, the Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that the police cannot arrest accused in such cases automatically and it must give reasons for taking such steps which would be judicially examined.

The apex court said the attitude to arrest first and then proceed with the rest is despicable which must be curbed and directed all state governments to ensure that police do not resort to arresting in all offences punishable up to seven-year jail term including dowry harassment cases.

SC ruling is a boon for men who are falsely implicated by their wives

The National Crime Records Bureau 2012 statistics reveal that about two lakh people, including 50,000 women, were arrested under Section 498A in 2012. While the rate of chargesheeting the accused was as high as 93.6 per cent, only 15 per cent of the cases resulted in convictions. It should also be noted that as per the Supreme court bench, about 3.72 lakh cases of dowry harassment are currently pending, of which 3.17 lakh are likely to result in acquittals.

Driving home the point, the court, quoting crime statistics, said that nearly a quarter of those arrested under Sec 498A in 2012 were women, most of them mothers and sisters of the husbands.

The ambiguous definition of Dowry:

As per the Dowry Prohibition Act (originally passed in 1961 and amended twice in the 1980s), dowry is 'any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly by one party to a marriage to the other party to the marriage or by the parents of either party to a marriage or by any other person, to either party to the marriage or to any other person at or before [or any other time after the marriage] in connection with the marriage of the said parties'. As per this definition, gifts of jewelry, clothes and cash traditionally given by the groom's family would also be covered by the anti-dowry law and hence declared illegal.

More clarity please:

As the social activist Madhu Kishwar says, "Who decides what is a 'voluntary gift' and what is given under pressure of a demand? The very same family that often declares, at the time of marriage, that they only gave 'voluntary gifts' to the groom's family, does not hesitate to attribute all their 'gift-giving' to extortionist demands, once the marriage turns sour and is headed for a breakdown. Thus, even when marital troubles may not be connected to tussles over dowry, and the marital strain is due to mutual incompatibility rather than the husband's violence or abuse, many women's families tend to seek an advantage in registering cases using the draconian provisions of the anti-dowry law when the marriage heads towards a breakdown."

As per the law, not only demanding dowry but even giving dowry is an offence, but have you ever seen an instance where the bride's family is prosecuted for giving dowry. The belief is that only 'takers' are guilty and 'givers' are hapless creatures yielding to the greed and callous demands of the groom's family.

In recent years the criminal laws have undergone radical changes to provide protection to women. More teeth have been provided to existing laws (DP Act, 498A, 406 IPC etc), but unfortunately the so called remedy is becoming worse than the ailment. And today it is very clearly visible that the stringent dowry laws have failed to stop the gruesome crimes for dowry or dowry deaths.

In 1983, ‘Section 498-A of the IPC was introduced with avowed object to combat the menace of harassment to a woman at the hands of her husband and his relatives. The fact that Section 498-A is a cognisable and non-bailable offence has lent it a dubious place of pride amongst the provisions that are used as weapons rather than shield by disgruntled wives. ‘The simplest way to harass is to get the husband and his relatives arrested under this provision. In quite a number of cases, bed-ridden grand-fathers and grand-mothers of the husbands, their sisters living abroad for decades are arrested. 

Flaws in the law:

As mentioned above the definition of the word dowry is very unclear and these laws recognise cruelty and domestic violence only against women, men are not included in the same.

Only women are considered to be from the aggrieved party as per the law. And icing on the cake is , there are no penalties for false complaints or perjury for the same.

Advocacy groups like, the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Husbands help men at the receiving end of anti-dowry laws.

Experts believe that the administration and courts are witnessing increasing number of cases against men after the latest amendment in Section 498- A of IPC and after years of prosecution, in most the cases the men are found innocent but the years of tortures they had received, break them psychologically and professionally and at the end they choose death and take the extreme step of committing suicide.

The Supreme Court's ruling is a welcome move for all such men who are falsely implicated by their wives and will surely put a restraint over women trying to practice this. But, ample care must be taken to ensure that even men don't misuse the law for their vested interests and not plead guilty.

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