(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
September 28 , 2008
Dowry: Women’s Organisations Caution Against Diluting Section 498
A DELEGATION of nine national women’s organisations jointly lashed out at the government for attempting to dilute section 498 A making it compoundable/ bailable and other dowry laws and called for remedial measures at a joint press conference in New Delhi on September 16, 2008. Earlier in the day they met Renuka Chowdhury, minister for Women and Child Welfare and submitted a memorandum
It said that these proposals seek to amend/dilute the law as it is alleged that false complaints are being filed. Our organisations have dealt with, and continue to deal with, several thousand complaints of dowry harassment, dowry death and domestic violence on a daily basis, it said and pointed out that Sec. 498 A was incorporated under the IPC after a sustained and long struggle by women’s organisations and others. However, dowry related torture and domestic violence has continued to escalate even after Sec.498A and Sec. 304 (B) (dowry death) were incorporated in the law. Currently, according to official NCRB statistics, about 70,000 cases of torture under Sec. 498 A are filed every year all over the country. However, very few complaints result in convictions. This is mainly because of the poor implementation of the law by the police and other authorities as well as certain loopholes in the Dowry Act. Any dilution of Sec. 498A will further weaken the efficacy of the law to deal with the issue.
It is also our experience that women victims of violence do not file complaints under this section unless they have suffered prolonged harassment and torture in their marital homes, said the memorandum. It is only when they are not able to tolerate the daily, repeated violence that complaints are filed. Even then, we have found that the women who make complaints under Sec. 498 A have to face the brunt of gender bias, corruption and inefficiency in the criminal justice system. They have faced several obstacles in using the law as detailed under:
The police take an extremely long time to even register the complaint, if they do so at all. They have to make repeated trips to the police station to convince them to register the FIR.
In Delhi and other metropolitan cities like Mumbai, special methods have been devised to deal with these cases. In Delhi, Crime against Women Cells have been instituted by the police to deal only with dowry harassment cases and cases under Sec.406 IPC. Instead of registering an FIR under Sec. 498 A and/or Sec. 406 IPC (criminal breach of trust for return of streedhan) and the Dowry Prohibition Act, these cases are first referred to the Crime Against Women Cells. Here, women are forced to attend conciliation proceedings while their complaints are put on hold. In the meanwhile, no recovery of even their streedhan and dowry is made and valuable evidence is often lost as the in laws have time to get rid of/ hide the streedhan etc., specially jewellery and other valuables. The case is registered only when the conciliation fails and there is no compromise. This often takes a long time.
Even when their complaints are registered, proper investigation is not carried out by the police. The statements of the complainants and other members of the family/relatives and other witnesses are either not recorded or recorded in an extremely shoddy manner. Other evidence which may be vital to the case is not gathered.
Victims and their families have complained that the police and sometimes the courts seem to be biased against them and treat their case as an ordinary domestic squabble.
Victims have also complained that the police often do not act without bribe or other influence and have also complained that often their husbands are able to either bribe or influence the police.
It is relevant to mention that a lot of women who file complaints are forced to compromise by being told that they will not get justice from the courts either in terms of punishment or other rights like maintenance.
The women’s organisations, therefore felt that if Sec. 498A is made compoundable it will only result in the women facing yet more pressure to compromise. In any event, if a compromise is reached in these cases, these are getting recognised by the courts, including the High Courts, who readily quash the criminal proceedings.
The proponents of these proposals are mostly interested parties and those being dealt with under this law who feel that dowry harassment is not a crime. The NCW has also been reported as stating that, while it is not for any change in the law per se, in cases of complaints under Sec. 498 A the police should undertake a preliminary investigation and if necessary, counseling should be done in order to save the marriages. We feel that if these recommendations are implemented the entire law will get diluted and misused. The police do not need any directions to be cautious about these complaints as they already take a long time to even register an FIR and start an investigation.
Complaints under Sec. 498 A should be dealt with as complaints under other serious crimes are dealt with. A perusal of judgements under this section shows that there are hardly any cases in which the accused have been held guilty under Sec.498A on its own. It is only in cases in which death has occurred that the accused, most often, get punished for cruelty and harassment under Sec. 498 A. This shows that rather than being misused, Sec. 498 A is being under used.
If there are any false complaints under Sec. 498A, these should also be dealt with according to law on a case-by-case basis. It is relevant to mention that several laws in our country are being misused by certain sections in our society. However no one talks of amending these laws. We therefore request you not to take any steps to dilute Sec. 498A. Instead certain aspects of dowry laws need to be strengthened to ensure that women can live a life free from violence.
The signatories are: All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA),
All India Women’s Conference (AIWC), Centre for Women’s Development Studies (CWDS), Guild of Service (GOS), Joint Women’s Programme (JWP), Muslim Women’s Forum (MWF), National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW), War Widows Association (WWF) and Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA).