Millennium Post

Law, not vendetta, must be supreme

When Anti-Dowry Act, particularly Section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code, was passed by Parliament in 1983, it had the noble intention of rescuing hapless dowry victims and battered wives of brute men who tortured and abused their spouses to extort money. Roughly three decades later, the landmark law had been converted into a heinous tool of extracting personal vendetta and unfairly settling scores by large section of mostly upwardly mobile urban women. While statistics don’t lie and thousands of dowry harassment cases are ritually registered every month in every corner of this country, mostly in its northern and western swathes, in 2012 alone there were about 50,000 cases of fake charges being leveled at husbands and in-laws by ‘disgruntled wives.’ Even as millions of women go through unimaginable humiliation, domestic violence and maltreatment at the hands of their in-laws, the other side of this dark tale happens to be how clueless husbands are slapped with Section 498-A of IPC, a cognisable, non-compoundable and non-bailable offence. Hence, in the light of the new facts and figures, the Supreme Court judgement striking down automatic arrest under anti-dowry law comes as a welcome intervention. The much-needed amendment observes that the clause of a priori  arrest was used as a draconian tool by not just by machinating spouses but also insensitive police officers, who ‘greatly contributed to its arrogance.’ Evidence suggests while charge-sheeting in dowry cases is as high as 93.6 per cent, conviction rate hovers at a paltry 15 per cent, indicating both the abysmally slow rate of judicial machinery as well as the possibility of a good number of them being absolutely baseless and sprung out of thoughtless and vengeful intention to harass the husband.

     Does this amendment affect gender justice in a negative way in any conceivable manner?  Not in the least. The apex court has only ensured that proper and thorough investigation is carried out before taking the extreme step sending the husband and his relatives to police/judicial custody. Not only would this ensure that conviction rates actually go up since dowry harassment is a bitter truth and ugly pathology that plagues a huge chunk of our diverse society, it would also result in innocent husbands not getting scarred for life and carry around the albatross of penolegal stigma of being charged, arrested, or worse convicted, of crimes they have nothing to do with in the first place. Misuse of Section 498-A not only imperils the thousands of women who actually go through hell in the hands of their in-laws, it also dilutes the necessary level of awareness that is needed to counter the exponentially high rate of sexual violence against women, include rape, gangrape, mutilation and murder. What we require is a concerted attempt to ensure justice is done to every citizen of this country and consolidate a legal and judicial edifice so strong and foolproof that no one is victimised because of it.           
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