498A – A Ground Reality

The rationalization, which feminists give, when someone talks about misuse of 498A is that all laws are misused. And it is no big issue that the 498A is misused. This rationalization is nothing different of those people who take advantage of other less privileged. Due to this obtuse reasoning (or lack of it), they have been able to derail discussions around any changes in the existing law even when there is a detailed Law Commission report (243rd volume) on misuse of 498A.

A woman is in need – she can be sexually exploited. 
As a labourer is in need – he can be underpaid.

498A which is most commonly and mistakenly referred as dowry law in India is one of the provisions in law which has given an abundant power of legal abuse to women to harass and subdue the husband and in-laws. Most women are acutely aware that they cannot bring the case to the point that would lead to the conviction of the husband or in-laws. They even don’t want that as an end result. The only result that they are looking for is playing havoc on the husband and in-laws. The havoc can be in terms of loss of employment, loss of work, loss of money. It can be havoc in terms of lasting psychological effects of being called to Police Station, arrest, manhandling/ beating by police. This all has led to suicides and suicide attempts by 1000s of men every year.

The actions of such women are vexatious in most cases, where the woman commonly cries, “Theek kar doongi” (Would make you mend your ways) and also frivolous in other cases started to hide some action of hers which include things like adultery, theft, some other information which has come to light which puts the woman concerned in bad light. What best way to get out of this but to put the blame on ubiquitous “Dowry”.

Oh! He charged me with Adultery – he wants Dowry. 
Oh! He says that I gave wrong information about my education/ date of birth/ employment at the time of marriage – he wants dowry. 
Oh! They say, I don’t do household chores, am lazy, I have bad habits – they want dowry. 
Oh! They say, I don’t mingle with family, I am a badass, I badmouth, I use profane language – they want dowry. 
Oh! They say, I do substance misuse, am alcoholic, am smoker – they want dowry.

But what aids the rise of false cases under Dowry Cases? The main reason is it is easy to file and no investigation is done at the time of filing of case. Another reason is that husband and in-laws face the possible arrest, which can make them cave-in and give into the demands of the lady. Another reason is that the case once filed can be settled anytime, Supreme Court and High Courts have made quashing of 498A fairly easy on the basis of settlement between the parties, even when it is a non-compoundable offence (except in Andra Pradesh). The biggest losers in this entire gamut are the economically weaker men since they cannot afford legal fees for lawyers in District courts, what to talk of High Court.

It is not that higher judiciary, government or even women rights activists are not aware of the problem of this menace. Time and again advisories has been issued by Ministry of Home Affairs to be judicious and cautious. High Courts and Supreme Court have even asked for relook and rethink the “non-bailable” and “non-compoundable” aspects of the law.

Even some of the women’s rights activists are aware that false cases defeat the very purpose of stringent rules. “Increasing number of false 498A cases also is an hindrance for genuine women fighting for justice”, though Supreme Court has taken a bold step with the decision of Arnesh Kumar vs State of Bihar, it is the political non-willingness which is the root of all evil.

This entry was posted in LEGAL.

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