We the Siffers

The origins of Save Indian Family (SIF) movement can be traced back to the year 2000, with a few men writing about the injustice they were facing due to the misuse of anti-dowry laws (like IPC Section 498A and Dowry Prohibition Act) by their estranged wives. Soon, many more “victims” of anti-dowry laws followed suit, writing on the internet, using pseudonyms, to create awareness about their plight. Later, like-minded individuals started a yahoo mailing group called “misusedowryact”, where members shared their experiences and knowledge, thus helping each other to deal with their individual cases, and transforming each other into “fighters”.

In the year 2003, motivated IT professionals in the group, who saw the potential of the internet, started several websites to spread awareness among the public regarding the misuse of anti-dowry laws, thus attracting many more victims towards the movement. In the same year Non-Governmental Organizations like Sangyabalya and Asha Kiran were born through the initiative of members from Bangalore.

In March 2005, the SIF yahoo group as well as the SIF blog were initiated, to serve as the collective voice of all the people who are tormented by all anti-male, anti-family laws and their misuse. This SIF yahoo mailing group grew rapidly within a span of two years, and currently has over 2000 members. It brought together victims from all corners of the world to share their woes and victories with one another. Members who were passionate about fighting injustice turned into activists. Many regional mailing groups were also started both in India and abroad.

In the last two years, we, the “Siffers”, have conducted conferences and seminars, press meets, protests, and awareness campaigns. We met with politicians and bureaucrats soliciting their attention to the blatant injustice being done to innocent men, women and children. We have been able to generate active debate in the media (newspapers and TV) regarding anti-male, anti-family legal provisions being stealthily passed under the label of “women-protection” laws.

SIF became the only Indian forum that unified individuals who were not only falsely accused of dowry-related crimes and domestic abuse but also presumed “guilty until proven innocent” by the severely conditioned legal system, media and society. SIF served as a platform for such people to vent their anguish and frustrations, obtain advice, and form bonds with fellow sufferers. It nursed the wounded spirits of victims, and revived many into unrelenting soldiers who fight against the gross violation of their human rights. SIF is the cradle that gave birth to many activists some of whom are excellent thinkers and writers. Through their writings and constant debates with netizens, “Siffers” have become a force to reckon with on the internet.

Often dismissed by the feminist driven media as a group of disgruntled men, Save Indian Family is now the largest Indian group (of men and women, including senior citizens) fighting to ensure gender equality under law, to promote family harmony and to protect Indian families from legal terrorism. The idea of starting SIF Times as an alternative media to create more awareness among the public about the issues that concern us has been informally discussed by a few activists like Gokul, Vina Raj and myself for over seven months. Finally, after the long gestation period, Niladri and Sudhir helped the idea to fully develop, patiently bore the pangs of labor, and gave the final push. Here’s to our new baby!

– Uma Challa

The Forgotten Women

According to a Telugu saying, a woman’s worst enemy is another woman. Who could prove it better than our very own National Commission for Women (NCW) and its sister organizations?

At first glance, most feminist organizations appear to be very passionately fighting to empower women. Most women’s groups parrot fabricated statistics of violence against women to justify stringent legal provisions to protect women. However, it requires a closer look to understand the kind of empowerment they are talking about, the category of women they see as worthy of protection under law, and how the laws actually affect women.

It has been shown that in close to 98% of cases filed under Section 498A, the accused are found not guilty, and that the complaints were only filed with ulterior motives. Noted activist Madhu Kishwar acknowledged that Section 498A is heavily misused, and that a significant proportion of individuals who approach “Manushi” these days are mothers-in-law and husbands who were falsely accused. While even the Supreme Court of India has termed the misuse of Section 498A as “legal terrorism”, minor girls, pregnant women, married and unmarried sisters, ailing mothers and even aged grandmothers have been sent behind bars based on mere allegations, and subjected to long-drawn trials before being declared innocent. Renowned IPS officer Kiran Bedi admitted that many falsely charged, poor and illiterate women are languishing in prison every year. Some women have ended their lives unable to bear the humiliation of being arrested. Many mothers and sisters are heart-broken to see their sons and brothers lose their youth, their health, their jobs, all their earnings, and sometimes even their lives, as they are mercilessly tortured by their estranged wives, aided by the law enforcement system. The pain and suffering of these women has not even been acknowledged, leave alone addressed by feminist organizations like NCW. It is now clearer than ever before that by promoting IPC Section 498A feminist organizations are actually protecting those women who indulge in perjury, blackmail, extortion and harassment of their husbands and in-laws. Despite having compelling evidence that more harm than good is being done to women, NCW has not made any attempts to correct misuse of the law.

As if the suffering caused by Section 498A was not enough, NCW pushed for the Domestic Violence Law claiming that it would protect women from physical, verbal, emotional, sexual and economical abuse in a domestic situation. In reality, the law provides protection only to a wife or girlfriend against domestic violence (real or perceived) committed by a man. It ignores domestic violence committed by wives and girlfriends against male partners, and also the several instances where a daughter-in-law commits domestic violence against her mother-in-law, sister-in-law or any other females related by marriage. Interestingly enough, the Domestic Violence Law also favors divorced women and former girlfriends over a legally wedded wife. It supports the encroachment of property by a girlfriend (former or present) at the expense of the right to residence of a man, his legally wedded wife and any other dependent female members of a family. So, in the name of protecting a section of women who may be making true or false allegations, the law penalizes innocent women who are related to an accused man.

Although it may not be obvious to many, women who file false cases also suffer enormously from turning legal protection tools into lethal weapons. Backed by the NCW and greedy law enforcement officials and lawyers, a significant proportion of women have misused laws and have thoughtlessly broken their marriages on the slightest pretext. Many women have been encouraged to use these laws to threaten and blackmail the husband into submission to their terms and conditions in marriage. What most people do not realize is that all such cases eventually result in divorce. Consequently, there is an increasing number of unhappy women who, misled by false notions of liberation and empowerment, shunned the simple joys of family life that no women’s organization or law enforcement official can restore.

In summary, feminist organizations like NCW have done grave injustice to three groups of women. The first group constitutes genuine victims of dowry harassment and domestic abuse whose misery remains unmitigated, but is constantly alluded to in order to justify stringent women-protection laws. It is important to note that due to a huge excess of false complaints of domestic abuse and dowry harassment, justice is seriously delayed and sometimes even denied in genuine cases. The second group consists of innocent mothers, sisters and other female relatives of husbands who are criminalized and harassed by the police and the legal system without any regard to their age, health or marital status. The third group comprises women who are readily breaking their families, misguided by dubious notions of “women’s rights and empowerment” propagated by feminist groups. These women, even if they are initially successful in bargaining huge monetary settlements, end up unhappy and lonely. Fighting endless legal battles only for vengeance, they deny their children a happy childhood, and deprive themselves of the opportunity to settle down and have a happy family.

Unmoved by the large-scale havoc they wreaked on the society, feminist organizations like NCW continue to push for more and more similar “women-protection laws”. It is high time we understand that these laws are not only anti-men, but also anti-women, anti-children, and anti-family. So, anytime you hear about a law claiming to protect women, instead of eagerly endorsing it, please spare a thought at least for the “forgotten women”.

– Uma Challa

What about MY side of the 498A story?

“Am I a coward?

My knees have circular scars from being scrubbed with footpad

I have a sambar burn on my face

I have two stitches on my thigh

Yet I had to face the threat of being in jail as an aggressor

People either laugh or sympathize but nobody says I should get justice only because I happen to be a male!

I care two hoots for laughter, I do not need sympathy but I want justice.

Will I get it?”

Says Bhargav, who not only had to face domestic violence but also the threat of a false 498A case by his wife. While such stories of male harassment are becoming very common, the society still finds it hard to empathize with a man’s plight. It hardly takes any effort to convince people if the same story were narrated by a woman.

Divesh, another harassed husband says, “I do not defy anyone labeling my narration as ‘my side of the story’, …, but my question is why this is not asked when a girl goes to register a complaint or even during gossips where they are accompanied by the unlimited stocks of crocodile tears. They are taken on face value… Is it that females speak only truth?”

It might be hard to imagine the reasons why a woman might want to harm her husband and his family and ruin her own life by filing a false 498A case.

Nakul, a victim explains:

“Why do some unscrupulous wives misuse IPC 498A?

Firstly to harass the husband, and maybe for monetary gains…”

It is true that many women are making false accusations of mental cruelty and harassment on their husbands and in-laws either of their own accord or at the behest of their family members. There are many cases where the main issue is incompatibility between the husband and wife. There are other cases where the husband discovers that the wife and her family misrepresented themselves and took advantage of his trust. In other cases, the domineering influence and greed of a woman and her family results in marital discord. Whatever the case may be, the husband and his family are in for a roller-coaster ride for the next several years if the wife so desires.

Some people might ask, “How can a lot of wives misuse the law when it’s a fact that misusing wives will lose cases anyway?”

Nakul says, “The Indian legal process is a punishment in itself, especially when it lingers on aimlessly for 5-10 years after the harsh period of police investigations (institutionalised blackmail to be frank). Since there are no legal repercussions if the wife is found to be fabricating a false 498A charge, wives use this almost by default even if they want a divorce for reasons other than dowry harassment and cruelty on the part of the husband. Even if they (complainants) lose the case, there’s nothing for them to actually lose, as the wife gets a lawyer from the state (public prosecutor), she doesn’t have to appear other than for her statements during the trial (2-3 court sessions as opposed to the innumerable sessions which the accused husband and family have to attend throughout the duration of the case). This no-lose situation is what makes the law-misusing wife confident of inflicting damages to her husband without any harm to her whatsoever.”

Nakul also points out that “in this particular criminal section of 498A, the accused is considered guilty right from the start until proven innocent (i.e. the onus of proof is on the accused), while in all other criminal cases (including murder) the accused is considered innocent until proven guilty.”

There are many heart-rending stories of innocent families being arrested without investigation and put in judicial custody. While IPC 498A is supposed to be a law to protect women, it ironically harms many more women. For every male accused of IPC 498A, there is at least one woman (his mother or sister) who is implicated in a crime that never occurred. If there are more women in the family they too are accused irrespective of their age, health condition, marital status or their physical proximity to the complainant. The entire family is ruthlessly arrested without investigation and there are no words to describe the financial hardship and emotional trauma that they have to endure. Children suffer whether they are jailed along with their mothers or are separated from them during that time. If this is not harassment what is?

Every innocent person facing a threat or charged with a crime under section 498A is extremely angry (and justifiably so) at how the Indian police and judicial systems operate in these cases. Shishir, a victim, says. “How would you feel when somebody accuses you of a crime you have never committed, the law asks you to prove your innocence and the police punishes you even before you are convicted?”

Another striking feature of these victim stories is that the complainants, in collaboration with the police make sure that the arrests are strategically planned to harass and demoralize the accused, to make them succumb to the fear of being imprisoned and to extract huge amounts of money thereafter. Shivani, a US citizen who had gone to India to attend her mother-in-law’s funeral, was arrested under section 498A (filed by her sister-in-law), during a time when lawyers were on strike in Chennai. She had to spend seven gruesome days in prison away from her two little children (one of whom was sick). Another female victim, Usha, who had traveled to India to see her dying father, was arrested along with her brother while their father was still in hospital. They lost their father while they were in police custody.

Divesh notes that “ most of the arrests that have been made are on Friday evening .The reasons are that the next two days being weekend off ensures that the husbands and his parents and relatives spend at least that many days in jail till the court opens on Monday. And if that day happens to be a government holiday then the proceedings are in suspension for a further while. The other popular days are days before holidays especially if the holiday is on Friday, then Thursday is apt for arrest as the proceedings are halted for three days minimum and the husbands and his innocent family members are in jail. I would rate these cases from past trends as more than 90%.”

What are the social consequences of misuse of 498A?

Once a family has been tortured using the 498A weapon, the chances of reconciliation between the husband and wife are nil. The divorce that ensues is another mode of harassment for the already impoverished husband because he is forced to pay a hefty alimony/maintenance demanded by his wife. As rebel notes, “An interesting ruling of the Allahabad High Court, where the wife was made to pay maintenance to her husband after divorce seemed to be a light of hope for those aggrieved and deprived husbands. But all the women had voted against this ruling criticizing the judgment as biased.”

Shishir asks, “Why are they calling it as biased? Do they usually despise providing any kind of financial support to their husband? Or do they feel that providing financial support is only a man’s domain and responsibility and not that of women? It is evident from the momentum of these women’s rights campaigns that they not only want to assert their own ‘rights’ in the society but also the want to dictate men’s ‘duties’.” Many feel that this kind of attitude on the part of women defeats any attempts of achieving gender equality.

Voicing the agony of all victimized men, Nakul says, “We are trying to see courts as our ‘parks’ and litigation as ’small talk’, so that we ourselves do not fall into the self-destructive vortex as the wasteful trials and adjournments and other self-defeating legal processes stretch out, without any sign of closure while life is kept in abeyance (can’t restart a family, can’t relocate easily, can’t be free from time waste, etc.)”

Sharat, another victim states, “According to an estimate, there are around 25,000-30,000 false 498A cases filed every year in India. This creates multi-dimensional problems to the families and society:

1) Lot of productive time, energy and money of the family are spent to proving themselves innocent.

2) Law implementers and judiciary have to spend countless number of hours presiding over a ‘civil’ matter (false in more than 90% cases) while the judiciary already has 20 million civil and criminal case backlogs.

3) Tax-payer money is spent on the government lawyer appointed to the daughter-in-law and letting her fight her vicious lie.

4) Families who have never spent a single minute with lawyers, courts and police, are forced to run frantically from pillar to post to save themselves and they are bound to get depressed with the judiciary and police system.

5) Eventually, the institution of marriage might become more like a business transaction in which a man and wife will have to document every agreement in writing in front of lawyers.”

When victims and activists against misuse of 498A and other dowry-related laws protest, they face large-scale denunciation by groups claiming to be women’s rights activists. But is their criticism justified? As one female victim questions, “Why do we need unfair laws which will “benefit” a woman if she is a daughter-in-law or wife but harm her if she is a sister-in-law or mother-in-law? When it is natural for a woman to simultaneously play all these roles how can a heavily misused law such as IPC 498A be beneficial to women in its current form?”

Shishir notes, “498A law, which was enacted to protect women from any unlawful dowry or related harassment, is now become a multi-million racket in our society. The woman who files a false case, the lawyer who guides the woman on how to file a false case and the police who make the arrest, all seek unjust monetary gains from the situation. Why do we have to keep quiet when it is our right to fight against injustice? Such draconian laws are not yet criticized by many women’s organizations which are campaigning for women’s rights and protection. The Government too has not provided any remedial measures to curb such a malicious practice, which was termed “Legal Terrorism” by Supreme Court of India.”

The appeals and suggestions of 498A victims to amend section 498A have been grossly misunderstood by some women’s organizations (lobbying for strengthening 498A and other dowry related laws) as anti-women strategies. In response, here is what victims who seek nothing but justice and freedom from these unfair laws and long-drawn criminal procedures have to say:

“I do not want 498A to be eradicated. All I want is that the husband and his family are not arrested without proper investigation. In addition, if the law is misused then the wife and her family should be booked and sent to jail.”

– Peter

“Do not change 498A. But argue for heavy punishment to women who file false cases and for lie detection and brain-mapping test on the accused (cost being paid by accused). Simple is not it?”

– Anamika

Divesh, who has been enduring harassment from his wife and in-laws for two years cries, “Arey kanoon banane wale, aap ke ghar mein baap, bhai ya bete hai ke nahi? (Makers of such laws, don’t you have fathers, brothers or sons in your homes?)”.

Lawmakers, are you listening?

– By Uma Challa

(This was the first article I wrote after being accused under section 498a of IPC. Names in this article were changed to hide the identity of victims. Yes, people fear revealing their identities even though they are innocent thanks to our corrupt and dysfunctional law enforcement system. This article was published in a 498a information booklet by two organizations http://www.498.org and “Asha Kiran”. )