“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.”
“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?”
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”. )