Misuse of dowry law sparks concern – TOI
Section 498A was inserted into IPC by an amendment in 1983. Under the section, offenders, including husband or any other family members, are liable for imprisonment as well as a fine. The offence is non-bailable, non-compoundable and cognizable on a complaint made to the police officer by the victim (wife) or by designated relatives.
While for long the section helped destitute women to fight against harassment, in the past one year courts have come across various incidents where women have misused it to harass the members of their matrimonial homes. The courts have not only voiced their opinion against the practice but have also gone to the extent of calling it “legal terrorism”.
The Union law ministry recently launched an exercise to tone down the provisions of Indian Penal Code dealing with matrimonial cruelty, including cases of dowry harassment. If the changes are implemented, dowry harassment (Section 498A) may soon become a bailable offence. The changes are aimed at protecting family life and checking the alleged misuse of the law.
Is the step touted by the government to check the “alleged misuse” of the law going to help or is it a step backward for women? Legal experts believe that the “overuse” of the provision is being misrepresented as “misuse” and if Section 498A is toned down, the larger female population is going to suffer because of a few bad cases.
Lawyer Minakshi Lekhi said, “Section 498A is misused. Nobody denies it. But in most cases it is not even invoked. In more than 90% of the cases where dowry harassment actually happens, the provision is not used. The Centre’s plan to tone down the law is not going to help women.”
Legal experts agree that more misuse is seen by women who are literate and have knowledge about the law even as illiterate women are the real victims. “It can be said to some extent that there has been misuse but the solution is not to tone down the law. It is for courts to take such wrongdoers to task even if that is a woman,” said lawyer Pinky Anand. She added that a “knee-jerk reaction” is required to tackle with the
Even trial courts think that it is for the judiciary to tackle the menace. “Courts cannot be a party to any kind of exploitative situation and it is necessary for every complainant to remember that it is only an honest complaint which succeeds in law where contents are supported by facts on the ground and persons, who are not connected with the harassment, should never be arrayed as accused,” said additional sessions judge Kamini Lau, in a recent order while discharging a man who was wrongly booked under Section 498A by his sister-in-law.