SC on Section 498A
01, Sep 2018
Prelims level : Mains level : Paper – II Separation of power between various organs & institutions
- The Supreme Court modified its order that provided for setting up of a committee to deal with dowry harassment complaints by protecting the provision of pre-arrest.
- The Supreme Court said there was no need for the guidelines framed by it to restrain immediate arrest of a husband and his relatives in dowry harassment cases without verifying the authenticity of the complaint.
- It observed that seeking sharpness in section 498A, claiming that the otherwise “helpful instrument” in the hands of victim women has become “valueless”.
- The SC said the mechanism to screen anti-dowry complaints through district-level committees was outside provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Code of Criminal Procedure and needed to be scrapped.
- As it was not needed as it amounted to creating an extra jurisdiction by appointing FWCs that were not provided under the IPC.
- How can court frame guidelines for penal provision of Section 498A. It has to be guided as per the Indian Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure, it is the primary task of the police and the judiciary to ensure justice in criminal cases.
- There is no scope for the courts to constitutionally fill up the gaps in penal law. There should be gender justice for women as dowry has a chilling effect on marriage on the one hand, and on the other hand, there is right to life and personal liberty of the man.
- The concern over the “abuse” of section 498 A (subjecting a married woman to cruelty) and passed a slew of directions, including that no arrest should “normally be effected” without verifying allegations as violation of human rights of innocents cannot be brushed aside.
- In July SC bench had observed that in order to prevent ‘the misuse’ of Section 498A, arrest of every individual without a preliminary inquiry is not possible.
- That led to formation of three-member family welfare committee in every district will scrutinise dowry harassment cases before the local police can arrest the accused. Only if the committee saw reason in the complaint, then the husband and his relatives involved in dowry harassment would be arrested.
- It had said such complaints received by the police or a magistrate be referred to the committee and no action be taken till the committee gave its report after interacting with the parties.
- Because it cannot be denied that there are several instances of women misusing Section 498A of the Indian penal code, under the aegis of which a man and his family, if named in a dowry harassment case, will be immediately arrested.
- SC recorded that data from a National Crime Records Bureau’s 2012 report shows that while charge-sheets were filed for 93.6% of registered dowry cases, only 14.4% ended in convictions.
- The report projected that out of the 3,72,706 cases pending trial in 2012, as many as 3,17,000 were projected to lead to acquittals. Data also shows that about 25% of all arrests under Section 498A are women – mothers and sisters of husbands. There has been much discussion on the subject of women described as “disgruntled” misusing the Section to punish or exact revenge from their spouses and his family.
- In a deeply patriarchal society, even in the higher economic strata, eligible men are seen as potential earners in the transaction of marriage. Fathers of daughters are forced to “gift” money, gold, cars, etc for the favour of a man agreeing to marry their daughters. It must also be noted that the conviction rates for other crimes such as murder are also very low (some estimates suggest that murder convictions are less than 20%). Therefore, it would be prudent to be careful before assuming that every woman complaining about an abusive family or dowry harassment is “disgruntled” or wishes to exact revenge.
- Such women find it very difficult to even move on from the trauma of their lives; and society must take steps to ensure that these women have the support and legal help they need to escape the abuse that they face at home.
- It must be kept in mind that there are many, many cases still in India of dowry harassment, and many that even lead to the death of the woman.