Supreme Court’s Recent Directive on Dowry and Assam
The silent disaster
A few days back, The Supreme Court asked the government to relook at the anti-dowry law (Section 498A of Indian Penal Code) stating it has been misused by women to lodge false or exaggerated complaints against husbands and their relatives accusing them of cruel behavior. Expressing concern at the increasing number of complaints under Section 498A, the Bench comprising Justices Dalveer Bhandari and K S Radhakrishnan said that “It was high time that the legislature considered and made suitable changes in the law taking into account public opinion”.
Before diving into the probable consequences or outburst, let’s see what Section 498 A is. It is:
• Cognizable – The accused can be arrested and jailed without warrant or investigation
• Non-Compoundable – The complaint cannot be withdrawn by the petitioner (chances of living together again are lost)
• Non-Bailable – The accused must appear in the court to request bail
It is evident that this law is biased to a large extent as the burden to prove innocence lies completely on the accused. In other words, a single complaint of a wife can land the husband and his entire family behind the bars. The Supreme Court’s directive marks a paradigm shift in the social think-tank where women had traditionally been seen only as silent sufferers to one where some urban unscrupulous women do wreak havoc taking the shield of the laws, misusing the provisions of the state to the maximum.
But the most disturbing fact is that when on one side when some urban educated women are using these laws as weapon to unleash personal vendetta on their husbands and innocent relatives, the real sufferers of the evil of dowry, the rural Indian women are not even sensitized about their rights, and the system fails to make use of these laws for which and who it was designed.
Yes, the Supreme Court’s directive does come as a welcome relief for many thousands of falsely accused among the average 40,000 accusations per year in India. But, in a country where news agencies reports statistics like one dowry death taking place every four hour, the issue would never solve by adding or plucking out some teeth of the existing Act. Any kind of social legislation against dowry would always remain ineffective if it is not properly backed by public support. Where social concern is missing, law can be only a mere poor substitute. Unfortunately, the anathema of our society is that when such evil practice against women has continued, it is ironic that the active cooperation of womankind is ensured by an elaborate system of socialization which legitimizes the violence by the power structure within the family. One may ask how. The answer is – In most dowry deaths, it is the mother in law who has contributed to the menace.
And now coming to our own Assam, someone had rightly said “The Actual news of our country is to be found in the middle pages of a newspaper and not the headlines”. However these pages are often “rightly neglected” or buried under the sensations of the political warfare’s, economic tsunamis or sports gallantries that prevails the headlines. And one of such truthful news that most of us seems to be ignoring is Dowry in Assam.
Many at times, the urban Assamese are found claiming with pride that the dowry is not prevalent in their society, culture or “value system”. But what is surfacing poisonously amidst the self-flattering cries of “No dowry system in Assam” is the fact that almost every local newspaper, since the last few years have been carrying at least one or two news of dowry deaths every day in Assam! Unfortunately, the news of dowry death is being so neglected by the media so that the news gets a place of few lines that too in very inner pages. The question is if the Assamese is silently ignoring this growing menace in their society? We read such instance every day, yet we tend to shy away from the issue stating “It’s not something we do.”
If the Assamese do not take pro-active measures right in this stage where the menace is just starting, there is no way we can stop our culture getting plagued with such nuisances all throughout. The Assamese anyway are known to be smart followers of “more wrong than right things”
It is high time for law makers/law enforcing agencies/judges to pay heed and review these laws in public interest to check the growing misuse of these laws to ensure impartial justice and to protect the pious and sacred institution of marriage. And when the rest of the country would wake up (probably) to this fact in near future, Assam has a bigger responsibility of avoiding and controlling this disease right now, before it’s too late. It’s now or never.
WRITER: S P Das