Spare a thought for innocent husbands
The dowry harassment law has been grossly misused. The Centre must act to make Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code bailable, writes Ritwik Bisaria.
Crimes against men are ignored amidst the noise around crimes against women. India has ministries for environment, women and child development and a National Commission for Women — but it has no ministry or tribunal for men.
Since men are ignored in the lawmaking process, lawmakers do not represent men per se, there are around 50 pro-women laws whose usage in practice amount to being anti-men.
The misuse of dowry harassment law (Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code) has invited strong observations from courts and various government committees. In Sushil Kumar Sharma vs Union of India, the Supreme Court equated misuse of IPC 498A to “legal terrorism”.
In 2003, the Justice Malimath Commission report on criminal justice reform recommended making offences under IPC 498A bailable. Many other judgments have pointed to the gross misuse of this law.
In October 2010, the Criminal Procedure Code was amended via CrPC Amendment Act 2008 to introduce CrPC Section 41A that laid down the procedure of arrests for all offences that entail seven or fewer years of imprisonment and not just IPC 498.
But only its applicability to IPC 498A is opposed by its misusers. The reason for this is that IPC 498A has evolved into a money-minting mechanism.
The steps are simple: File a case and get everyone in the family arrested. This starts the engine of money making right from arrests, release, litigation and settlement.
It is worth noting that the number of cases and arrests under IPC 498A has continued to increase, despite the introduction of Section 41A, while fewer cases have resulted in conviction.
This means that Section 41A procedures are not being followed, leading to the arrest of many innocents, the majority of whom are eventually exonerated by the courts.
Consider the following, drawn from the 2013 data of the National Crime Records Bureau: Of the 968,728 undertrials under IPC 498A, 17,542 (only 1.8%) persons were convicted. Who returns the life lost in litigation to the remaining 98.2%? Of the 222,091 arrested under IPC 498A, only 7.9% were convicted. Will the life of the 92.1% falsely arrested remain the same?
Husband suicides (64,098) are more than twice that of wife suicides (29,491) over the last 20 years. Family issues, and not financial troubles, were the major reason.
In a recent judgment, the apex court in Arnesh Kumar vs State of Bihar emphasised following the Procedure of CrPC 41A since Section IPC 498A is being used as a weapon by disgruntled wives.
The court based its judgment on the NCRB data and reiterated the need for action against police officers not adhering to the CrPC 41A procedure.
Even now such arrests happen without investigations or due procedure. Women’s organisations are contesting the court judgment in the court of public opinion.
Save Indian Family (SIF) Movement (www.saveindianfamily.in) launched the first ever helpline for men, SIF One, which received over 24,000 SOS calls in its first 120 days. The government too must act. Crimes against men must also be recorded. It must ask the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) to undertake research on men.
In 2011, the Rajya Sabha’s Committee on Petitions in its 140th Report on Amendments in IPC 498A observed that in case the gross misuse continues, IPC 498A should be made bailable and also that the misuse clause should be in the Section itself.
Backed by data shared by the court in the Arnesh Kumar judgment and NCRB figures, which declare that close to 98% cases of the total complaints filed are misused, the government should live up to its commitment to make this Section bailable and to introduce the penalty clause in this law.
(Ritwik Bisaria is moderator, Save Indian Family Online Forums and coordinator, Save Family Foundation. The views expressed by the author are personal.)