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It is not wise to assume that all dowry complaints come from ‘disgruntled’ women

It cannot be denied that Section 498A has been misused to victimise husbands and their families. But care must be taken to provide women who are victims of dowry harassment the support and legal help they need.

editorials Updated: Jul 30, 2017 18:06 IST
Hindustan Times
dowry,dowry harrassment,Section 498A
it would be prudent to be careful before assuming that every woman complaining about an abusive family or dowry harassment is “disgruntled” or wishes to exact revenge. It takes a lot of courage, in a very toxic set up, for a woman to muster up the courage to complain to the authorities.(Reuters)

It cannot be denied that there are several instances of women misusing Section 498A of the Indian penal code, under the aegis of which a man and his family, if named in a dowry harassment case, will be immediately arrested. A Supreme Court bench has now ruled that a family welfare committee in every district will scrutinise dowry harassment cases before the local police can arrest the accused.

There is evidence that the misuse of the law is not minuscule enough to be ignored. Data from a National Crime Records Bureau’s 2012 report shows that while charge-sheets were filed for 93.6% of registered dowry cases, only 14.4% ended in convictions. The report projected that out of the 3,72,706 cases pending trial in 2012, as many as 3,17,000 were projected to lead to acquittals. Data also shows that about 25% of all arrests under Section 498A are women – mothers and sisters of husbands. There has been much discussion on the subject of women described as “disgruntled” misusing the Section to punish or exact revenge from their spouses and his family.

But while this issue is being addressed, it must be kept in mind that there are many, many cases still in India of dowry harassment, and many that even lead to the death of the woman. In a deeply patriarchal society, even in the higher economic strata, eligible men are seen as potential earners in the transaction of marriage. Fathers of daughters are forced to “gift” money, gold, cars, etc for the favour of a man agreeing to marry their daughters. It must also be noted that the conviction rates for other crimes such as murder are also very low (some estimates suggest that murder convictions are less than 20%).

Therefore, it would be prudent to be careful before assuming that every woman complaining about an abusive family or dowry harassment is “disgruntled” or wishes to exact revenge. It takes a lot of courage, in a very toxic set up, for a woman to muster up the courage to complain to the authorities. Such women find it very difficult to even move on from the trauma of their lives; and society must take steps to ensure that these women have the support and legal help they need to escape the abuse that they face at home.

First Published: Jul 30, 2017 18:06 IST