To,The EditorThe Daily Standard
I am writing in response to the article Dowry Disgrace India’s “kitchen accident” epidemic by Abigail Lavin published in The Daily Standard.
This article is a disgrace to journalism because it does not show any signs of proper investigation of facts. Instead it appears to recycle ideas from biased articles strewn with concocted numbers to generate paranoia among the readers regarding conditions of women in (what the western world likes to call) “developing” countries like India. India has developed economically and has simultaneously undergone several social and cultural changes, which the western media conveniently ignores, and revels in portraying India as a land of snake charmers and bride burners.
Indian Penal Code section 498a was originally introduced in 1983 to protect married women from being harassed or subjected to cruelty by husbands and/or their relatives. This law was mainly aimed at curbing dowry harassment. If harassed women indeed used the law then we should have seen a decrease in the number of cases of harassment over time. Considering the stringent consequences imposed by the law and the inordinate delays and corruption inherent in the Indian police and legal system, no ordinary citizen, male or female, would be impudent enough to risk being implicated under this law for the sake of satisfying their monetary or even sadistic desires for that matter.
The fact is that many women who are actually beaten up and harassed by their husbands and in-laws rarely file 498a or resort to other dowry related laws. A lot of them live in rural areas, unaware of the law or lack the necessary economic and moral support from their natal families. This law has been mainly misused to harass men and their families rather than to protect genuine female victims of harassment. The Supreme Court of India itself has labeled the misuse of section 498a as “legal terrorism” and stated that “many instances have come to light where the complaints are not bona fide and have been filed with an oblique motive. In such cases, acquittal of the accused does not wipe out the ignominy suffered during and prior to the trial. Sometimes adverse media coverage adds to the misery. “ In agreement with the above statement, the findings of a study conducted by The Center for Social Research indicated that 98 percent of the cases filed under IPC section 498a are false.
The number of cases that are filed/recorded in police stations or courts are the basis for the official statistics of dowry harassment. Given that the law allows women unlimited scope to fabricate lies (with no penalty of perjury) and given that women are encouraged to keep filing false cases the statistics of “dowry harassment” are bound to rise while the problem of genuine harassment is left unchecked. Talking about dowry deaths, you would be appalled to know that any death (including suicide or that resulting from poor health, accident etc.) of a wife is first construed as dowry death in India and the husband is immediately arrested without investigation unless he has the money to bribe or the political contacts to keep the police from harassing him. No wife is arrested if her husband dies unless there is glaring evidence that she indeed killed her husband. Once again, these are the “statistics” that most media is used to citing without critically evaluating the reality of the situation. The author says that “According to India’s National Crime Record Bureau, one dowry death is reported every 77 minutes”. I would like to underline the word reported. No agency has made an attempt to follow the outcomes of court trials to see how many of the people are acquitted.
Here are some statistics for the year 2004 alone reported by CNN-IBN regarding cases registered under IPC 498a (http://www.ibnlive.com/videos/27446/tortured-hubbies-victims-of-498a.html):
*In 2004, 58,319 dowry cases were registered
*1,34,757 men were arrested
*47,828 cases have reached the chargesheet stage
*10,491dowry cases were not chargesheeted as they were based on frivolous grounds.
* 5,739 men have been convicted but more than four times that number have been acquitted (24,127)
There are several thousands of cases rotting in the courts without trial or due to prolonged trials causing enormous damage to the economic, emotional and physical health of innocent citizens. Through IPC section 498a, the Indian Government is actually protecting those women that indulge in perjury, blackmail, extortion and harassment of their husbands and in-laws.
Despite documented evidence that section 498a of IPC has been heavily misused affecting more and more men and women everyday, no amendments to this law have been proposed so far. Instead another new law, the Domestic Violence Act, has been recently introduced. The DV Act claims that it will protect women from Domestic Violence which includes physical, verbal, emotional, sexual and economical abuse. According to the law an aggrieved person is defined as “any woman who is, or has been, in a domestic relationship with the respondent…” and a respondent is defined as “an adult male person who is, or has been, in a domestic relationship with the aggrieved person…”. Thus, the law only recognizes domestic violence committed by a man on a woman in a household shared in the past or present. While this law is heavily biased against men, there are many gross inconsistencies in the law that prove that the DV Act is not good for women either. The DV Act will allow legally wedded women, divorced women and girlfriends (former or present) to subject a man and his relatives (male and female) to domestic violence and legal harassment. As with section 498a of IPC, the DV Act is replete with loopholes and is bound to be misused.
The author refers to “analysts” and “critics” to qualify misinformation in the article. I am assuming that these “analysts” and “critics” are people who themselves who do not have adequate knowledge nor balanced views on social problems. It is important to acknowledge the fact that IPC 498a and DV Act are bad laws that criminalize ordinary citizens (male and female) and violate their fundamental rights. Unless urgent amendments are made to prevent the misuse of these laws, credibility of women will be lost. In addition to lost credibility, an overload of false cases will worsen the delays in the judicial process and deny timely justice to women who are genuinely aggrieved.
Unreasonable and easily misused laws like IPC 498a and DV Act are already creating a situation of fear and mutual distrust and adversely affecting interpersonal relationships between men and women India. This is resulting in more and more broken families and depriving children of a healthy childhood. There are thousands of Indian citizens who have been dragged into false cases both in India and abroad. Together, they are trying to spread awareness about the reality of the situation. It would behoove The Daily Standard to refrain from publishing biased articles that spread misinformation and mask the injustice being done to the innocent and the genuinely aggrieved.