Sunday, May 07, 2006

IPC 498a: Is it a shield or a weapon of assassination ?

The story goes like this. In old bygone days, there was a king who was sincere, committed to his people but was weak in terms of his ability to defend his kingdom against his superior neighbors. In order to safeguard himself , He decides to pray Lord Shiva and prays hard, long hours that stretches to days and months, with sustained dedication and penance. Lord Shiva, a kind and merciful god gets pleased with King’s prayers and bestows him a boon that could protect him from any threats. King is now happy and relieved. He is free from any worry from any external threat and can concentrate on the betterment of his kingdom. But soon, he is devoured by the thought that he is invincible. He becomes arrogant, and instead of using the boon as a protection, he become aggressor and use it to instill a fear in the mind of anyone against his wishes. He now becomes tormentor, evil and curse to the society.

Indian Mythology is replete with similar stories.

Something similar is happened to Indian Penal Code 498a. A law that was designed to protect woman against her harassment by her husband and his family for demand of Dowry is now turned into an act of ‘terrorism’ and ‘blackmail’.

Indian justice system proclaims 'no matter how many culprits go scot free, no single innocent will ever go punished '. A noble thought indeed !! and this very thought has led to many murderers, rapists, cheaters walk out of any punishment by just casting a doubt in the mind of judiciary. But Indian penal code 498a goes very against the above premise. "In the eyes of law everybody is INNOCENT till proved GUILTY.' However victim families trapped by Indian Police under section 498A are; "GUILTY till proved INNOCENT".

What exactly is 498a?
Passed by Indian Parliament in 1983, Indian Penal Code 498A, is a criminal law (not a civil law) which is defined as, “Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine. The offence is Cognizable, non-compoundable and is non bail able.

What are its implications?
Once a woman makes a written complaint of dowry harassment to a nearby police station. The husband, his old parents and relatives who reside in the house are immediately arrested without sufficient investigation, without verification and put behind bars on a non-bailable terms. Even if the complaint is false, they shall be presumed guilty until they prove that they are innocent.

498a can only be invoked by wife/daughter-in-law or her relative. Most cases where Sec 498A is invoked turn out to be false (as repeatedly accepted by High Courts and Supreme Court in India) as they are mere blackmail attempts by the wife (or her close relatives) when faced with a strained marriage. In most cases 498a complaint is followed by the demand of huge amount of money (extortion) to settle the case out of the court. This section is non-bailable (you have to appear in court and get bail from the judge), non-compoundable (complaint can't be withdrawn) and cognizable (arrests without investigation or warrants). There have been countless instances where, without any investigation, the police have arrested elderly parents, unmarried sisters, pregnant sister-in-laws and even 3 year old children. In these cases unsuspecting family of husband has to go through a lot of mental torture and harassment by the corrupt Indian legal system. A typical case goes on for years (5-7 years is typical) and the conviction rate is about 2% only. Some accused parents, sisters and even husbands have committed suicide after time in jail.

This draconian law has even stirred countries like USA, Canada who have issued caution notice against the citizens who wish to marry in India. Canadian circular says “Growing numbers of Canadian citizens have been caught up with misuse of India’s Dowry Prohibition Act. This law, which was enacted to protect women and makes demanding a dowry a crime, is sometimes used to blackmail men through false allegations of dowry extortion. Individuals facing charges may be forced to remain in India until their cases have been settled or pay off their spouses in exchange for the dismissal of charges. To avoid such problems, you are advised to register your marriage in India along with a joint declaration of gifts exchanged, as well as consider a prenuptial agreement ”. USA circular says “ A number of U.S.-citizen men who have come to India to marry Indian nationals have been arrested and charged with crimes related to dowry extraction. Many of the charges stem from the U.S. citizen's inability to provide an immigrant visa for his prospective spouse to travel immediately to the United States. The courts sometimes order the U.S. citizen to pay large sums of money to his spouse in exchange for the dismissal of charges. The courts normally confiscate the American’s passport, and he must remain in India until the case has been settled. There are also cases of U.S.-citizen women of Indian descent whose families force them against their will into marriages to Indian nationals”

Every year 1000s of innocent Indian husbands are charged with false DOWRY cases. Their innocent parents, young sisters & mothers are arrested, jailed without warrant. Some have died. Some have committed suicide unable to bear injustice. Statistics about National Suicide is alarming. While national Suicide rate is:11/100,000 , For males in the age group of 30 to 44, the Suicide rate is a whopping 508 per 100,000 persons; for women it is 220. The suicide rates among men in the age group of 45 to 59 is a shocking 1,812 per 100,000 persons and among women, nearly 550. All of this is as the result of 498a harassment. Most interesting statistics is about suicide rates among divorced males is 164 per 100,000 persons, but for females the rate is only 63 per 100,000. In case of separated men it is about 167, for females it is only 41 per 100,000 persons.

Supreme Court of India on 498A has commented that " The law was intended to strike at the root of dowry menace. But by misuse of the provision a new legal terrorism is being unleashed” The provision that was intended to be used as a shield has turned out to be assassin's weapon.
This article is compilation from following blogs that have commited to stop the menace of 498a misuse :


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