Memorandum on the occasion of Women’s Equality Day 2007
Women’s empowerment and equality have become the buzz words in India today. On the occasion of Women’s Equality Day 2007, men and women of Save Indian Family Foundation highlight and protest the gross violation of human rights being perpetrated in the name of women’s equality and empowerment.
While the blatant misuse of laws like IPC 498A and Domestic Violence Act has become commonplace, women’s organizations and the Government are still touting them as tools for ensuring empowerment and equality of women. In reality, these laws are not about equality at all, as they are specifically designed to treat men and women unequally. In fact, not even all women are treated equally under these laws. A brief look at the assumptions of these laws is enough to understand why they are unfair.
Indian laws addressing domestic abuse wrongly assume that victims of domestic violence or marital cruelty are always women; the aggressors being always a man and his family members. While the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “all are equal before the law, and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law”, Indian men are accorded no legal protection whatsoever from physical, verbal, emotional, sexual, and financial abuse by their wives. Ageing parents-in-law are not accorded any protection from abusive daughters-in-law. How is this equality under law?
Women-protection laws assume that women are always honest victims, and, hence, requiring proof of their claims is unnecessary. Thousands of innocent husbands and their relatives (men, women and children) are being arrested under IPC Section 498A every year based on unsubstantiated allegations of disgruntled wives. While any reasonable person would agree that abused women need protection, placing unconditional faith in the statements of a woman, and confining the accused husband and his family in police or judicial custody, prior to investigation, is one of the worst forms of discrimination. How can these laws be promoting equality when they clearly discriminate against husbands and their family members?
Laws claiming to protect and empower women presume that the accused man and his family are guilty until proven innocent. Specifically, Section 498A of IPC allows punishing the accused by imprisonment even before guilt is established. This goes against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that “everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law”. How can laws that violate this basic human right and deny due process to the accused be considered empowering to anyone?
There is ample evidence to show that women-protection laws in India are disempowering innocent men, women and children. Due to excessive number of false cases even genuinely abused women have slim chances of getting timely justice. The laws have turned into weapons of family destruction, and have largely empowered women who indulge in perjury, blackmail, extortion and harassment of their husbands and in-laws. The laws have empowered money-hungry lawyers and corrupt officials in the police and the judiciary.
Women’s activists have time and again opposed amendments to IPC 498A saying that it is the only provision that provides a quick solution to women facing marital problems, since civil remedies take a long time to redress their grievances. Recently, the Domestic Violence Act, which was promoted as a quick civil remedy has also been designed to violate the rights of men and their family members. Blatant misuse of IPC 498A and Domestic Violence Act has been noted by various police and judicial authorities, and the need for amendments to check misuse of the laws has been voiced from many quarters. However, in the name of ensuring speedy justice to one section of women, women’s organizations are trivializing the injustice done to falsely accused men, women and children whose lives are literally destroyed due to the legalized harassment.
The Government has to recognize that all citizens of India should be treated equally under law and that all citizens are equally entitled to justice. The Government has to understand that arresting innocent citizens and forcing them to endure long-drawn trials cannot be justified under any circumstances, nor will it redress the grievances of genuine victims of domestic violence. It is high time the Government acknowledges that IPC 498A and Domestic Violence Law are not only anti-men, but also anti-women, anti-children, and anti-family. It is imperative that the Government makes the following amendments to IPC Section 498A and Domestic Violence Law to minimize the misuse of these provisions. Specifically, the Government should
· make Section 498A of IPC bailable
· make Section 498A of IPC non-cognizable to prevent arrests of innocent citizens based on mere complaints unsubstantiated by evidence or investigation.
· make IPC 498A and Domestic Violence Law gender neutral, and provide equal protection for men and women from domestic violence
· impose heavy penalties on people misusing IPC 498A and Domestic Violence Law as weapons for settling personal scores in marital disputes
(On behalf of Save Indian Family Foundation)