The dark side of dowry law

HYDERABAD: The existing laws on dowry and domestic violence could well be salvaging several women from bad marriages but civil lawyers note that like any other law these too are being abused. They aver that there is a rise in the number of cases where women or their family members are ‘misusing’ these laws to harass their husbands.

There are more cases of harassed husbands now, say lawyers, given that there is better awareness among women on their legal options. Take for instance, a recent case of a husband kept behind bars for 10 days in response to a case of harassment filed by his wife under section 498 A of IPC that makes cruelty by husband or his family towards a married woman a cognizable and non-bailable offence. The man had incidentally filed for a divorce earlier, a decision being opposed by his wife.

P Vishwajanani, a family court lawyer, says that such cases where women have wrongly used the law in their favour has been on the rise. “In some cases, these laws have become a source in the hands of women to either move out of marriages, extract money or even teach their husbands a lesson,” says P Sundaraiah, a family court lawyer.

While atrocities against women have not exactly dipped even with such laws, observers note that their misuse has left some men bitter. One such case (of a man harassed) in 2002 had the AP High Court comment that the laws were “indeed being misused“, recollects a civil lawyer. In another case, the court commented that a certain provision was being used to “enhance the bargaining capacity apart from putting the husband and his family to social inconvenience“.

Sundaraiah recalls an “unfortunate” case where a man was kept behind bars for 50 days and then declared innocent. Mahesh Raje, another lawyer, cites a case where a woman used the dowry law to cover up for an extra-marital affair she was having. The woman’s husband had lodged a report of his wife gone missing when she eloped with her lover. When she returned, she filed a case against her lover for rape and against her husband for employing the “rapist” as she had not brought enough dowry. The court ultimately acquitted both men of these charges after the proceedings.

Bhaskar Benny, a family court lawyer feels that some opportunity should be given to men before they are readily taken to jails. While some say the solution lies in making these laws less stringent, it is certainly not possible in a country like India where women remain the largest victims of all forms of violence.

Some suggest counselling before arrest, while others say offences should become bailable. However, S Umapathi, IGP, Criminal Investigation Department says that would work against the cause of women. “In a country where one in every 20 cases reported is a case of harassment against women, the law cannot afford to be made bailable,” he says. He pertinently notes, “Out of the total number of harassment cases, only ten per cent get reported. An arrest provides immediate relief. Making it bailable will only lead to even lesser cases reaching the notice of police.”

Nevertheless, there is a certain level of panic among men when it comes to these laws. C V L Narasimha Rao, an advocate, founded a Harassed Husband’s Association in 2000 and has witnessed a number of such cases since then and provides “moral strength and legal advise to such victims”. “A lot of people even go into depression even after they are acquitted of the charge. The pain is much more than one imagines,” he says but feels no amendment in the law is needed and only the existing laws must be used to full force.

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