Click here for shortcuts to regional language blogs and city-specific events.
According to the latest directive of the Supreme Court, husbands or in-laws accused in dowry harassment cases cannot be immediately arrested unless a preliminary inquiry is conducted. The order is aimed to curb the misuse of the Section 498A of Indian Penal Code by women. The judgment came during the hearing of a petition filed by a person called Rajesh Sharma, who had appealed against an order of the Allahabad High Court.
The Section 498A was passed by Indian Parliament in 1983 to protect married women against the domestic abuse or dowry demands at the hands of her husband or his relatives. If the woman or her relative invoke this law, then accused were arrested straight away without adequate investigation and put in the jail on non-bailable conditions.
However, over the years, several cases where the woman or her relatives have made false allegations, had emerged on multiple occasions. The innocent husband and his family went through a harrowing time during the trial which continued for months. In some instances, even aged, bed-ridden or pregnant family members were detained by the police. Hence, the law had been often criticized for its unbalanced approach and violation of human rights.
The court observed that the alleged victims do not consider the implications and consequences of the complaint, which not only lead to unnecessary persecution of those charged under the law, but also ruin the chances of settlement. The new ruling states that the account of the alleged victim in the dowry cases need not be taken at face value. The court has also ordered the formation of ‘family welfare committees’ comprising three members in every district to handle the complaints. These members can be social workers, retired persons, para-legal volunteers or other suitable persons.
No action will be taken against the husband or in-laws till the committee investigates the case after talking to all parties and submits a report to the police or a magistrate within a month. The court, however, has made an exception – the decision will not apply to the offences resulting in the tangible death or injury. The directive has also defined the parameters for a bail and states that pleas should be dealt with on an expeditious basis, preferably the same day the appeal is filed.
The court has granted a period of six months to evaluate the new arrangement and sought a report from the National Legal Services Authority by March 31, 2018 about the need for any change in its directions. The next hearing on the matter has been scheduled for April 2018.
The decision has been welcomed by men’s right organizations, but the women activists feel that the victims (wives) of genuine cases will suffer.
We often talk about women’s rights, equality and respect in the society, and certain laws have been justly framed to safeguard them. But, when a few disgruntled women start exploiting the laws, it may have dangerous repercussions on the life of the accused.
Do you think the court has made the right decision?