24th July 2008
Ms. Priya Hingorani
49, Lawyers Chamber,
Supreme Court ,
New Delhi -110001
Ms. Manali Singhal
84, Lawyers Chamber
Supreme Court ,
New Delhi -110001
Subject: Recommendations to stop misuse of women-protection laws, to promote gender equality and to provide relief to the genuinely aggrieved
I am writing on behalf of All India Forgotten Women, an organization dedicated to promoting true gender equality and fighting against the misuse of protections and privileges granted to women. At the outset, we would like to thank you for setting up a committee to review women-protection laws. We would also like to use this opportunity to propose amendments to IPC Section 498A, which has turned into a lethal weapon of blackmail and extortion.
It is an established fact that IPC Section 498A is heavily misused. Several authorities have noted that in close to 98% of cases filed under IPC 498A, the accusations are false and that the complaints were only filed with ulterior motives. Several authorities have noted the widespread misuse of this law.
• The Supreme Court of India termed the misuse of IPC Section 498A as “Legal Terrorism”.
• The Delhi High Court termed IPC Section 498A “the most abused provision”.
• 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”.
• News reports revealed that many falsely charged, poor and illiterate women are languishing in prison every year.
• News agencies have also reported many cases where individuals have ended their lives unable to endure the humiliation of being arrested and the trauma of fighting false cases, which typically span 5-7 years.
• The National Human Rights Commission noted that the Tihar jail is overflowing with people falsely accused under dowry cases.
Noted women’s rights activist Madhu Kishwar acknowledged that IPC Section 498A is heavily misused, and that a significant proportion of individuals who approach “Manushi” these days are mothers-in-law and husbands who are falsely accused of marital cruelty and dowry harassment. Renowned IPS officer Kiran Bedi admitted that many poor and illiterate mothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, who are falsely charged under anti-dowry laws are languishing in prison every year.
A look at the National Crime Records data shows that every year, over 1 lakh innocent persons (one innocent person every 5 minutes) are arrested under IPC Section 498A. Every year, close to 30,000 innocent women (one innocent woman every 20 minutes) and 4,000 innocent senior citizens (one innocent elderly person every 2.5 hours) are arrested under IPC Section 498A. Every year close to 350 children (one child per day) are arrested under IPC Section 498A.
Discriminatory laws like IPC Section 498A are harming men, women and children of India. Due to misuse of IPC Section 498A numerous families have been broken beyond repair and are suffering immeasurable economic hardship and emotional trauma. In addition to penalizing innocent citizens, a large backlog of false cases pending in courts prevents genuine victims of abuse from obtaining justice. The country has already incurred a huge social cost in addition to the enormous financial burden imposed on the public exchequer.
In light of the above-mentioned facts, members of All India Forgotten Women, hereby, recommend the following legal amendments to IPC Section 498A to ensure that family harmony is promoted, the innocent are protected and justice is delivered to the genuinely aggrieved irrespective of gender.
1. Ban Police involvement in marital counseling and pass directives to resolve all marital disputes under civil law.
Marriage is a civil matter and should be treated as such. Marital issues should be dealt with utmost caution so that harmony is restored between disputing spouses. Allowing Police intervention in everyday marital issues and allowing them to indiscriminately file criminal cases on the accused husband and in-laws is resulting in destruction of families.
2. Make civil and criminal laws applicable to men and women equally.
Spousal abuse is not gender-specific, and the assumption that victims of physical, verbal, emotional, sexual, and financial abuse are always women is wrong. According the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “all are equal before the law, and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law”. Hence, IPC Section 498A should confer equal protection upon men and women against all forms of marital cruelty.
3. Make Section 498A of IPC bailable.
Section 498A, being non-bailable, 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”. Abused women need protection, but placing unconditional faith in the statements of a woman and confining the accused husband and his family in police or judicial custody, until bail is granted by a court, is not the way to accord protection to women.
4. Make Section 498A of IPC non-cognizable.
Innocent citizens are being arrested everyday based on mere complaints without requiring evidence or investigation. Even children and senior citizens are not being spared. IPC Section 498A, being a cognizable offence, violates a citizen’s right to due process.
5. Allow no arrests without written permission of Senior Police Authorities.
It has become routine for lower cadre Police personnel to make arrests of innocent people based on mere allegations, without proof or investigation. The law needs to be amended so that no arrests of any of the accused (man, woman or child) are made without proper investigation and written approval of police officials of the rank of DCP or above.
6. Punish those who misuse IPC Section 498A.
Misuse of the process of law not only costs the public exchequer dearly, but also destroys the personal lives of many innocent citizens. Misuse of law and abuse of the judicial process should be treated as a serious crime, and persons who misuse IPC Section 498A as a weapon for settling personal scores in marital disputes should be severely punished.
7. Ensure that “dowry-givers” are promptly prosecuted.
The family members alleging “dowry torture” or “dowry killing” of their daughter should be promptly prosecuted if they admit or are found to have given dowry because according to Dowry Prohibition Act, giving dowry is also a crime.
We hope that you will take our recommendations and suggestions into serious consideration and promote justice and fairness irrespective of gender.
All India Forgotten Women