Many Indian women desire to marry successful Indian men living in foreign countries. In India, marriage with an Overseas Indian is perceived as an opportunity to enhance one’s own lifestyle and career potential, with the help of the spouse. There are several reasons why some of these marriages turn sour and result in divorce; For example, unanticipated cultural differences, infidelity, difficulty obtaining immigration documents, concealed or undiagnosed medical conditions, unreasonable expectations, incompatible personalities, domestic violence, and marriages forced by parents.
No matter what the reason for marital discord may be, women of Indian origin have been rampantly misusing IPC 498A to threaten, extort money from, and wreak revenge on Overseas Indian husbands and their families. The perception that Overseas Indians are affluent and more likely to part with money under duress makes them easy targets for threats and blackmail. Women of Indian origin are resorting to Indian laws despite several legal safeguards available to them within the jurisdiction of their respective countries of residence.
The reason for this trend is that Indian anti-dowry laws and laws against marital cruelty have several loopholes, and the Indian law enforcement system is replete with corrupt officials who, for their own monetary gains, embolden women to take undue advantage of the credibility granted to them by law.
The methods of implementation of these laws violate the basic human rights of accused individuals:
1) A wife’s word is deemed to be the truth by law, and a single line of complaint accusing the husband and his family is enough to arrest the accused without investigation, under a non-bailable offence.
2) An accused husband and his relatives (even those who never lived in the same household) are presumed guilty until proven innocent, and are forced to undergo long-drawn trials, spanning 5-7 years, just to prove that they did not commit any offence.
3) There is no penalty for a woman filing a false complaint, and thereby harassing innocent people, extorting money, and misusing the judicial process.
Misuse of IPC 498A has been acknowledged and condemned by various authorities in India:
- The Supreme Court of India acknowledged that there are many instances where women are filing false 498A cases, and termed the misuse of provisions of this law as “Legal Terrorism”.
- The World Health Organization, in its Report on India clearly cited Section 498A as one of the major reasons for the “Increasing Abuse of the Elderly in India”.
- The Center for Social Research (India), in a study on the implications of Section 498A of IPC, indicated that 98% of dowry cases are false and baseless.
In addition, the preponderance of false cases against Overseas Indians has prompted the Governments of United States and Canada to issue travel warnings to individuals traveling to India to get married to women of Indian origin. Misuse of the provisions of Section 498A, has far reaching consequences on the personal and professional lives of innocent Overseas Indians and their India based families:
A false criminal case destroys their reputation in their social and professional circles, and imposes immeasurable economic hardship and emotional trauma on them.
- Some lose their hard-earned overseas jobs, and are forced to relocate to India to fight long-drawn legal cases in order to prove their innocence.
- Overseas Indians, who unwittingly land in India for various reasons are arrested, ill-treated and exploited by the police and the legal system.
- The passport of a falsely implicated Overseas Indian is invariably seized as one of the conditions for granting bail, and subsequently, the accused is required to furnish enormous amounts of security in order to retrieve his/her passport.
- Overseas Indians who choose to remain abroad due to the fear of legal harassment are either declared “proclaimed offenders” or threatened of being declared “proclaimed offenders”.
- Many Overseas Indians have been forced to make “out-of-court” settlement of cases in India, and part with huge amounts of money due to the threat of “legal harassment”.
Recently, the Government of India has been issuing Red Corner Notices, through the Interpol, seeking the extradition of several Overseas Indians, thus equating innocent citizens with dreaded international criminals. An article (above) dated 23 October, 2006, in Deccan Chronicle, a regional newspaper, states that in Hyderabad (India) alone, 300 Red Corner notices have been issued. The title of the article reads, “Interpol aids AP husband-hunt”, giving a very false impression of the issue at hand. The author of the article labels husbands who have been only accused of harassing their wives as “crooked hubbies”. This article quotes CID deputy-inspector general S. Umapati as saying, “in some cases, NRI husbands patch up with their in-laws after notices are issued”. This statement itself is an indication of the flagrant misuse of the most serious instrument of Interpol for blackmail and extortion of husbands in petty marital disputes, disguised as criminal cases. Umapathi also stated, “Even if one such NRI husband was brought back to face trial, it would send a strong message”.
The fact of the matter is that all falsely accused Overseas Indians would gladly face trial to prove their innocence if a fair and speedy trial is made possible. The statements made by law enforcement officials, and parroted by the media, are based on mere allegations of a wife but not on investigation of facts. As mentioned earlier, Overseas Indians who go to India to fight their cases find themselves at an impasse as they are made to surrender their passports and remain in India for indefinite periods of time waiting for a trial or fighting prolonged trials. Meanwhile, their hard earned careers abroad are destroyed, and they are subject to severe economic and emotional turmoil in India. How would any Overseas Indian knowingly submit oneself to such legal harassment however well-intending and law-abiding one may be?
The blatant misuse of Interpol services to harass innocent people not only reflects poorly on the Government of India but also makes a mockery of the Interpol, by diverting its attention, time and resources away from serious cases of International crime.
Please speak up against such blatant violation of human rights in the name of women-protection laws. Ask the Interpol to:
1. conduct a thorough investigation into the myriad requests for Red Corner notices, particularly those based on charges related to dowry harassment and Section 498A of IPC, emanating from India.
2. refuse to honor these requests unless the Indian government provides clear and convincing evidence that an international crime has been committed.
3. note that false criminal charges are a crime, and therefore consider investigating, or charging those who issue these false requests.