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In news: The Supreme Court has ordered a number of safeguards to prevent widespread misuse of dowry prohibition provision under IPC 498A. The ruling comprised that the immediate arrests, which were an integral process followed by police in dowry harassment case, will not be part of process anymore. The police will have to conduct a preliminary investigation before making any arrest like in any other cases.
What is dowry and why it is a social evil?
Paying and accepting gifts associated with a marriage is known as a dowry. It is prevalent in most Indian families where parents of the bride give cash, clothes and jewellery to the family of the groom. As the demands grew over time, women were subject to harassment, beatings and were even burned to death for failing to bring adequate wealth into the husband’s family. The practice was outlawed in 1961 but the act of giving at weddings is still a common practice.
Under laws introduced in 1983, a complaint allowed for immediate arrest of the accused, often the husband and his family.
What is IPC Sec 498A?
Passed by Indian Parliament in 1983, Indian Penal Code 498A, is a criminal law (not a civil law) which is defined as follows,
“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. The offence is Cognizable (register and investigate the complaint), non-compoundable (complaint can’t be withdrawn) and non-bailable (you have to appear in court and get bail from the judge).
It was observed that there have been a trend among women involved in marital discord to abuse IPC sec 498A.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau statistics, nearly 200,000 people, including 47,951 women, were arrested in regard to dowry offences in 2012, but only 15% of the accused were convicted.
One argument- (Against men)
A total of 24,771 dowry deaths have been reported in India from 2012-2014. Activists suggest reason behind low conviction in dowry-related cases is delay in judicial process. In spite of laws that are supposed to serve as a deterrent, India continues to see a rise in the number of reported dowry-related deaths. More than 8600 cases where women died from dowry-related harassment were registered in India in 2011, up from 8391 in 2010.
Thus, dowry problem still remains a great evil in the society, whether it is rural or urban areas.
Another argument- (Against women)
498a can only be invoked by wife/daughter-in-law or her relative. Most cases where Sec 498A is invoked turn out to be false (as repeatedly accepted by High Courts and Supreme Court in India) as they are mere blackmail attempts by the wife (or her close relatives) when faced with a strained marriage. In most cases 498a complaint is followed by the demand of huge amount of money (extortion in name of maintenance) to settle the case out of the court.
Possible safeguarding options
The court also ordered setting up of a family welfare committee in every district by District Legal Services Authorities (DLSA) to scrutinize dowry harassment cases before the local police can arrest the accused. The committee will submit report in one month to authorities. Such committees may be constituted of para legal volunteers, social workers, retired persons, wives of working officers and others who may be found suitable and willing
Based on its report, the police would decide whether or not it should act — the assumption being that this would filter out frivolous cases and instances of the law’s misuse.
As said by SC judge CK Prasad in 2014, the police should not make any arrests under 498A without subjecting the complaint to the 9-point checklist provided under Section 41 of the IPC. Sec 498A should not be used as weapon by disgruntled women.
In 2003 the Malimath Committee on Criminal Justice Reforms too suggested that Section 498A be made bailable and compoundable (where the case can be withdrawn and settled by mutual agreement between the parties). “…a less tolerant and impulsive woman may lodge an FIR even on a trivial act… innocent persons may languish in custody,” wrote Justice Malimath.
In a genuine case of dowry harassment, Sec 498A will be used with full authority. But in case of false complaints, violation of human rights of innocent cannot be brushed aside. This is to stop the undesired arrests. The police have the tendency to arrest and then it becomes source of extortion of money. In dowry cases, there is bigger chances of misuse.
Dowry is a big social evil and it needs to be eradicated and every measure under the law should be taken to prevent it. But here the question is not of dowry prevention. It is using arrest as a source of punishment. The police can’t arrest a person unless investigation is complete.
While there are fears that these safeguards could dilute the much required provisions in the law to save the victims of dowry, there is another view that these safeguards were necessary so that the law is not misused. The fact remains that dowry is the biggest social evil of the country and apart from laws, there is a need to bring in social change.
Connecting the dots:
What is dowry prohibition law? Differentiate it from IP Sec 498A and critically examine the inter-relatedness of both in cases of women protection.