Since its inception in the year 2000, Save Indian Family Foundation (SIFF) has been working to spread awareness among the public regarding the increasing misuse of women-protection laws such as IPC 498A. We 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.
Recently, SIFF made its first public presence outside of India by setting up an exhibit booth at the Telugu Association of North America (TANA) Conference 2007, held between July 5-7 in Washington D.C. This was a very important event for SIFF given that Andhra Pradesh is a leading state in terms of the number of cases filed under Section 498A of IPC.
During our two month preparation we designed banners and placards for display, flyers, information brochures and bookmarks for distribution, and an informative power point presentation to be played in the background to catch the attention of visitors. We also showed the documentary “IPC 498A – Death Trap”, made by none other than the Telugu actor and founder of Bhaaryaa Baadhitula Sangham, Sri. CVL. Narasimha Rao.
Three SIFF volunteers spoke to around 250 visitors during the two days that our exhibit was in place. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that at least 50% of the people had heard of the misuse of anti-dowry laws against husbands and their families, although their knowledge was mostly superficial. The rest of the visitors, mainly those who had settled abroad for 20-30 years, were new to the subject. A few individuals had good knowledge of the issues and exhibited a clear and logical approach towards the problems we described. NRIs who had recently visited India had a lot to say about misuse of anti-dowry laws. At least four women said that “the issue was all over the media”.
We made it a point to inform everyone that IPC 498A was a criminal section, which is non-bailable and non-compoundable, and that arrests are made on the basis of allegations without any investigation or evidence. Some visitors said that they personally knew one or two families who had been falsely implicated under allegations of dowry harassment. There were a couple of visitors who had themselves undergone the trauma of fighting a false case. One of them said that 14 members of his friend’s family were arrested under false charges.
It was interesting to note that when couples were asked if they had heard of the laws and their misuse more women than men answered in the affirmative. Many men seemed to be completely unaware of the laws. Some visitors who initially walked past the exhibit reading our placards, returned to ask what some of them meant. They were especially interested in knowing what “legal terrorism” was. We told them that the Supreme Court of India termed the misuse of IPC 498A as “legal terrorism” and that Indian courts have declared IPC 498A as the most abused provision. We mentioned the World Health Organization’s observation that misuse of IPC 498A was the prevalent reason for elder abuse in India. We also emphasized how NRIs are specifically vulnerable, and how they are being harassed by the Indian law enforcement system.
We encountered only 6-7 individuals who said that “women are almost always the victims” , and that “a woman would never do anything that jeopardizes her marriage”. Only a couple of them persisted in maintaining that position even after we pointed out the statistics of misuse (against men, women and children) and explained how the laws that claim to protect women are actually misused to harm more women. Those that persisted said that “unless you arrest the mother and sister of an accused NRI, you cannot bring him back to India to face the charges”. A few people felt that “this kind of law balances out the wrongs done to women historically”. Most of them understood that this rationale was flawed when we pointed out that punishing innocent people cannot bring justice to real victims and that two wrongs cannot make a right. Emphasizing that the number of people affected by false cases is rapidly increasing helped them understand the gravity of the problem. We also mentioned that an overload of false cases will prevent genuine victims from getting justice.
A significant number of men and women observed that “these days women are not hesitating to misuse the laws to harass their husbands and in-laws”. Many people expressed concern over the rising number of marital disputes among Indian couples and the consequent rise in divorce rates and single parenting. A lot of elders lamented the blind subscription to western values and destruction of family and kinship ties in the younger generation. Referring to the frequent denial of parenting rights to fathers, a visitor commented that “a bad father is better than no father at all, and the negative consequences of fatherless families are already evident in the United States”. A few visitors observed that “women’s organizations are the reason behind the current disappointing state of affairs”. One of the them even said, “Mahilaa sanghaalu would have made a huge noise if you had set up the same booth in India”.
Around 15 of our visitors were interested in doing something to make a difference. They include software professionals, a social worker (Sri. GVVSDS Prasad), and a Telugu actor (Sripada Venkata Subba Rao). We were also approached by a law student in the US, who was interested in learning more details regarding women-protection laws and their implementation in India, as part of her research.
Most visitors were glad to learn about our self-help group and the support we provide to victims of anti-dowry laws. Even visitors who were initially wary felt reassured once they learned that we were only fighting against misuse of women-protection laws, that we provide voluntary assistance and that we did not seek donations.
We distributed our information packet to the TANA Press, Telugu One, and TV Asia. The TANA Press took video footage of our booth. We were delighted to meet with former Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Sri. Nara Chandrababu Naidu, and handed him our information packet.
Overall, our attempts to spread awareness at the TANA Conference were very fruitful. Our sincere thanks to the TANA Conference Organizing Committee for providing us this opportunity, and special thanks to Sr. Satya Surapaneni and Sri. Satish Vemana.
– Uma Challa
Save Indian Family Foundation
Materials (Please copy-paste links in a new window and load if the files do not load upon clicking):