Ayesha Siddiqui, a woman from Hyderabad, recently filed cases under IPC Sections 498A (dowry harassment), 420 (cheating) and 506 (criminal intimidation) against Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik, which resulted in quite an uproar in India and abroad.
The tempest subsided just as quickly as it picked up as soon as Shoaib divorced Ayesha and reportedly parted with Rs. 15 Crore as a “peace offering”. What they both did not realize is that they have inadvertently, yet, very effectively exposed to the entire world, the huge extortion racket run in India in the name of IPC Section 498A (anti-dowry law).
What the episode also did is to make blatant mockery of law, justice and most of all, the common man who places his faith in these elusive concepts and the institutions that are meant to uphold them.
Making a timely and apt gesture, Akhil Dubey of Lucknow performed his “Sraardha karma” to mark the anniversary of his death as a “decent common man” and being branded a “criminal” in the eyes of the world. I am sure lakhs of people in India echo Dubey’s sentiment.
Kumar, a young man who had just begun his life as a scientist was arrested under Section 498A of IPC. He was not only prevented from being beside of his ailing father, but he was not allowed to even see his own father’s dead body or attend his last rites just because his wife made a complaint alleging harassment, and, unlike Shoaib, poor Kumar could not afford the price of “buying peace”. His passport was seized, he lost his job, reputation and everything he built for himself. He was acquitted of all charges 4 years later but the question remains as to who will bring back his lost years and his dead father who yearned for him in his last moments?
Yaksh, another young man was rejoicing the birth of his baby girl after his wife Prema suffered two consecutive miscarriages. Eight days later, misfortune struck yet again and the couple lost their baby. Prema, who could not bear the trauma, took her own life, leaving Yaksh devastated. Unlike in the case of Shoiab Malik, nobody conducted detailed investigations to figure out if he even deserved to be arrested. Before Yaksh could recover from the shock of Prema’s death or even begin mourning the loss of his wife and child, he found himself locked up in jail, for 10 whole months without bail, based on a false case of dowry death filed by his in-laws.
In the recent times, there is a rise in the number of arrests and detentions not only under Section 498A but in the name of crimes against women. The “investigation” is driven by women’s organizations who blackmail the police and the judiciary through the media. 1 lakh men are arrested annually just under IPC Section 498A (dowry harassment) alone, and many more for rape, murder and other “crimes against women”.
Satyam Babu, who has a brief record of committing petty crime, theft to be specific, was held accused by the police in the murder case which shook the state of Andhra Pradesh in 2008. Satyam Babu has been in jail for 2 years without bail, and has also been chargesheeted. Recent news revealed that he has been through so much abuse in custody that he is now unable to even walk and his health has been deteriorating to the point where his dear ones fear losing him forever in no time. As Satyam Babu’s mother and sister beg and plead the authorities to treat him fairly, save his life and allow him to defend himself, even the mother of the murdered girl has been shouting from rooftops that Satyam Babu has only been framed in her daughter’s kiling. Unlike Shoaib Malik, hapless Satyam Babu is unable to “buy freedom”.
The above are just a couple of examples of the heartrending stories of the numerous detainees and undertrials in India. As much as 70% of the jail population is made up of undertrials, 96% of them being men, mostly arrested for petty offences or false cases.
In cases of rape, murder or dowry death, the period of detention could have overshot the sentence that would have been awarded to them in case of conviction. Even those who can afford bail are sent to judicial custody for a duration ranging from 2 days to a several weeks.
Whatever the reason for arrest may be, the majority of prisoners are not aware of their rights. They suffer because of rejection of bail, delays in bail or trial proceedings. Many languish in jail only because they could not get proper legal aid, lack the means to bribe or are just victims of a judge’s whim, but most of all because they are not a celebrity like Shoaib Malik.
In this era of political correctness and quest for sensation, the media and public are hypersensitive to allegations of exploitation and abuse of women. First comes the media’s business motive of jerking the last drop of tear out of the viewers’ eye or whipping up anger. Then comes the fact that a shocked nation, glued to news channels absorbs every factoid about “crimes against women” leading to skyrocketing TRPs. This whets the temptation to continue the witch-hunt and a no-holds-barred trial by media.
The police and courts have come to function under external pressure of women’s organizations, money, muscle power and the desperate need to pacify media hounds. Police make arrests in a hurry without credible evidence, and courts take years to begin, conduct and conclude trials. Justice is no longer viewed in the context of our enacted laws, but more in the context of political correctness and media hype.
As the prevailing corruption and maladministration repeatedly cause miscarriage of justice, the general public is looking at taking law into their hands as the best alternative. The public is exhibiting a lynching mob attitude and obstructing due process of law in cases involving criminal or sexual allegations on men.
Sadly, the law enforcement and judiciary treat the strong, rich and famous with kid gloves, and the law-abiding common man, like Dubey, Kumar, Yaksh and Satyam Babu with an iron fist.
As people like Shoaib Malik promote misuse of law, legal terrorism and extortion, there will only be more crime, more misusers of women-protection laws, and more and more innocent men sacrificed on the altar of injustice.
Shoaib Malik may have bought his peace, may get happily married and have the last laugh, but the joke is on the common man.
All India Forgotten Women’s Association and True Equity Network (TEN) India demand the Government of India to take urgent action and:
1) Release the 1.25 lakh undertrials in the country by the end of July 2010, as promised by the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh on 26 January 2010.
2) Stop discriminating between the common man and celebrities/influential people accused in crimes.
3) Implement strict measures to stop custodial torture of prisoners and detainees.
4) Prevent trial by media and lynching mob “justice”.
5) Prevent women’s organizations from blackmailing through media and sabotaging police enquiry and judicial process.