New Delhi: Bowing to pressure from harassed husbands, mothers- and sisters-in-law and observation by various courts about rampant misuse of the anti-dowry law, Section 498A of IPC, the government has issued directives to states not to make immediate arrests in such cases.
In a letter to state chief secretaries, the ministry of home affairs (MHA) has asked state governments to issue directives to the police not to arrest the husband and his relatives without checking the genuineness of the anti-dowry complaint.
The MHA wants arrests to be the last resort and has asked the state police to ensure that the law doesn’t become a tool by disgruntled women to settle scores with her husband and in-laws.
“Representations have been received by the government alleging misuse of IPC 498A. In some cases, every member of the husband’s family has been arrested, irrespective of whether or not they had a role in inflicting cruelty on the married woman… Cases have been reported where momentary anger resulted in invocation of Section 498A, which resulted in arrest of the family members, shutting down any possibility of reconciliation in future,” the MHA letter said.
The MHA quoted from Delhi high court and Supreme Court orders. One specific apex court order said no arrest need to be made only because it is lawful for the police officer to do so.
“The power of arrest without warrant should be exercised only after a reasonable satisfaction is reached, after some investigation… it may not be necessary in all cases to immediately exercise the powers of arrest. Recourse may be initially taken to dispute settlement mechanism such as conciliation, mediation, counselling of the parties,” the MHA said.
Recourse to filing charges under Section 498a IPC may be resorted to in cases where the conciliation fails and where there appears a prima facie case. Since the police’s role is under a cloud, the MHA said counselling should be done only by professionally qualified counsellors.
The National Commission for Women is fuming while harassed husbands are sceptical. “The government must ensure compliance of this order at every level. In smaller towns, the police show ignorance about the orders and harass families,” said Swarup Sarkar of Save Indian Family , an organisation of harassed husbands.
“To protect one woman, the law was being misused to punish many other women in the household,” said Dr Anupama Singh of Mothers And Sisters Initiative, an organisation of harassed mothers- and sisters-in-law.
A senior MHA official said the government had tried to amend the section to make it compoundable — can be withdrawn — but faced stiff opposition from women’s groups.