The police can no longer “automatically” arrest the accused under the “dubious” anti-dowry law, the Supreme Court ruled Wednesday, expressing concern over the misuse of Section 498A of IPC by disgruntled wives against in-laws and husbands.
The court asked state governments to ensure that the police didn’t go on an arresting spree -- as was the practice -- in dowry harassment cases.
The attitude to arrest first and then proceed with the rest was "despicable" and must be curbed, it said. The police would have to give reasons and proof to magistrate before making an arrest, the court said.
A bench of justice Chandramauli Kumar Prasad and justice Pinaki Chadra Ghose said Sec 498-A was introduced to combat harassment of women at the hands of husbands and his family. “The fact it 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 bench said.
Driving home the point, the court, quoting crime statistics, said nearly a quarter of those arrested under Sec 498A in 2012 were women, most of them mothers and sisters of the husbands.
Added to the Indian Penal Code in 1983, 498-A provides for maximum imprisonment of three years and fine while the maximum sentence under the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 is two years with a fine.
“As the arrest curtails freedom, brings humiliation and casts scars forever, ...we believe that no arrest should be made only because the offence is non-bailable and cognisable,” the court said, asking the police to shun their colonial mindset.
Magistrates, too, would have to put on record that the reasons given by the police justified detention, the court said said. The failure to do so would invite departmental action and amount to contempt of court.
The order came on a petition filed by a man from Bihar seeking anticipatory bail in a dowry harassment case filed by his wife.
Concerned over its abuse, the Law Commission and Parliament’s standing committee on home affairs had recommended that offences under Section 498A IPC be made compoundable i.e. husband and wife should be allowed to settle the dispute between themselves.