Which is a Bigger Crime?

Which is a bigger crime – Murder of a common man or murder of his faith in Law and Justice?

On the morning of 30 May 2010, Hyderabad woke up to the news of a gruesome homicide where a husband and his family members assaulted and killed the wife and her family members. The reason for the extreme act was ongoing marital disputes between the couple but primarily, it was the case of dowry harassment filed against the husband and his family, and the arrest, humiliation and trauma they suffered as a result.

“I am glad someone did what I could only have dreamt of”, said Govind, who has been fighting false accusations of dowry harassment for the last 3 years. “Murdering your wife and going to jail is better than being jailed on false accusations of abuse”, responded Raj. “I have heard of husbands or their family members committing suicide, but THIS is real justice because, no court will punish a woman or her family members for lodging false cases and sending an entire family to jail or driving her husband to suicide”, added Praveen, venting his bottled-up emotions.

Appalled or repulsed by these reactions?

Welcome to the world of those wrongly jailed under Section 498A of IPC on the basis of a mere complaint of a wife which is treated as “prima facie evidence” of the alleged crime!

Those falsely accused and jailed under this criminal section are overwhelmed with such deep sense of sorrow and indignation that almost everyone has either considered suicide or murder. The meeker ones who cannot even imagine blood on their hands secretly wish that the misusers of the law are simply struck by lightning or run over by a bus.

Hundreds of individuals do, in fact, commit suicide every year, and more recently, several cases of murder are coming to light. There are many more cases of murder followed by suicide as in the case of Amit Budhiraja in Bangalore a couple of years ago.

Why would ordinary citizens prefer murder over judicial process? Is there a greater incentive in taking law into one’s own hands compared to availing legal options today? The answer is unfortunately a resounding yes.

It is a fact that today, our society and law enforcement receive a murderer with much more respect, even if it is only inspired by shock and awe, compared to a decent human being who has been falsely accused of dowry harassment or dowry death. In addition, murderers, like those in the recent Hyderabad episode, perhaps have some sense of personal closure upon finishing off their offenders and voluntarily submitting to the slow and inefficient judicial process which no longer inspires fear or respect in their minds.

Compare this situation to that of a decent, law-abiding individual who is dragged to jail just for being a man or his kin. He loses his job and 4-5 years of his career running around courts for a crime he never committed, his reputation and dignity are destroyed beyond repair, he is faced with the choice of either spending all his hard-earned money fighting a long-drawn legal battle to prove his innocence or succumb to the blackmail and extortion by his wife, her family and the entire state machinery which supports them, AND in the end, when he and his family members are finally pronounced NOT guilty, he has to watch the mischievous wife and all her accomplices walk away scot-free!

While the Hyderabad episode is not an isolated incident, it is certainly the worst imaginable consequence of criminalizing marital relationships and giving free rein to legal terrorism. It is certainly horrifying that five persons were murdered at once, but what is worse is that the incident bears witness to the murder of a common man’s faith in the country’s law enforcement and judicial system.

It may only be a matter of time before more and more law-abiding citizens will be forced to shun their personal inhibitions, morals and scruples and resort to “instant justice”.

Robert Kennedy once said, “Whenever men take the law into their own hands, the loser is the law. And when the law loses, freedom languishes.” While this is true, our present situation warns us that whenever laws undermine basic freedoms, the loser is the man. And when a man loses his basic freedoms, he will be forced to take law into his own hands.

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