In every four minutes, a false dowry case is lodged in India. Innocent husband and their relatives are facing arrest and harassment in such fabricated cases. This all is made possible by section 498A of the Indian Penal Code. A number of false cases under section 498A are lodged every year.
On 6th February 2008, a 30 year old man, Pushkar Singh, committed suicide by hanging himself with a ceiling fan at his home. The incident took place in Jankipuram area of Vikas Nagar (Lucknow, India). Pushkar Singh wrote a suicide note addressed to Allahabad High Court in which he alleged that he was framed in a dowry case by his wife and her relatives. He had to remain in judicial custody for four months in connection with this case. Pushkar Singh in his suicide note pleaded himself innocent and made his wife responsible for his act. Singh was married two years back and was residing at Allahabad with his wife. But after one year of their marriage his wife left him and started living with her family. However before leaving, his wife filed a case against him under section 323, 498A and 504 of IPC. In his note Pushkar Singh wrote that, “I was sent to jail after a false dowry case was lodged against me by my wife Vinita and her family, who had demanded Rs 14 lakh as compensation. Neither my father nor I had seen such a big amount in our lives. We even sold our house to contest the case.” Singh further appealed to his wife in the note as, “I would also like to request Vinita not to harass my family in future. It was my mistake to marry her and I am repenting it by sacrificing my life.”
A large number of false cases under section 498A are registered every year in India. According to section 498A-
“Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.
Explanation—For the purpose of this section, “cruelty” means—
(a) Any willful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health whether mental or physical) of the woman; or
(b) Harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her meet such demand.”
It’s very easy for a wife or daughter in law whose demands are not fulfilled, to make a false written complaint of dowry in the police station. The husband, in-laws and relatives are arrested even without sufficient investigation and put behind bars and presumed to be guilty unless they prove their innocence even if the case is a false one.
Most of the cases under section 498A are just blackmail attempts by the wife and sometimes they are followed by huge settlement amounts.
In a significant case on April 2010, the Bombay High Court has held that a false case filed under section 498A by a wife for harassing her husband and in laws amounts to cruelty and is a sufficient ground to seek divorce. The hon’ble court observed that – “we fail to understand the logic behind the reasoning adopted by the family court to hold that a singular complaint of this nature under section 498A IPC resulting in arrest and detention of family members and relatives thereby causing embarrassment, humiliation and suffering does not constitute mental cruelty”.
Section 498A IPC is in fact an anti social element in the penal laws and has destroyed the life of many innocent husbands. The draconian features of this section are; – firstly, it is a non bailable offence i.e. no investigation required before arrest. Secondly, relatives of the husband even if they are totally unaware of any incident can be dragged into the case. Thirdly, the offence is non compoundable i.e. the complaint cannot be taken back. Fourthly the accused is presumed to be guilty unless he is proved innocent. Fifthly, marriage generally comes under civil laws but section 498A deals such situation under criminal law.
The consequences of a false case under section 498A are also very destructive. The in-laws of the wife are labeled with criminal records even if the case is a false one. Sometimes innocent husband out of frustration and shame chose to commit suicide. A case under section 498A cannot be withdrawn and thus the chance of living together again becomes negligent. It often becomes difficult for both husband and wife to find another life partner. In most of the cases husband loses his job after a 498A case has been filed against him. Moreover the parents of the husband are also arrested in most of the cases and their life turns into a hell out of depression. A dignified life turns into a shameful life.
However it is a matter of fact that dowry deaths are still in existence in India. Dowry death cases are mostly reported from the rural areas where as false cases under section 489A are largely reported from the urban areas. It seems that there is a difficulty in diminishing the effects of section 498A as there are still cases of dowry deaths. What can be the solution for this two contradicting situations?
Inserting some exceptions in the legal provision under section 498A IPC may improve the situation to some extent. Moreover the recent decision of the hon’ble Bombay High Court can give a new direction to the dowry laws. Inclusion of some legal technicalities section 498A is the need of the hour to prevent the misuse of such a significant legal provision.
The Supreme Court of India and various High Courts have time and again showed their concern over the misuse of the anti dowry laws. The Supreme Court has even termed the anti dowry law as ‘legal terrorism’.
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