A recent Supreme Court judgment has brought back into force the provisions of Section 498 (A) of the Indian Penal Code that authorizes the police to take action directly against dowry-harassment complaints.
Last year, however, another Supreme Court had ushered in changes. “The family welfare committee can enquire into the complaints regarding dowry, and if the charges are found proved against the accused, the police can take action,” the bench comprising Justice A K Goel and U ULalith ruled last year.
The Women Lawyers’ Forum ‘Nyayadhar’ of Mumbai had appealed against this judgment. The Supreme Court bench of Justice Dipak Mishra, A M Kanvilkar and D Y Chandrachud, who enquired into this appeal, ruled that the courts do not have the right to frame new laws and struck down the provision of constituting family welfare committees and making enquiries.
“Dowry is an unmitigated torture, which affects women.” – High Court lawyer Ajitha
“Dowry is an unmitigated torture, which affects women. However society doesn’t seem to think that the affected women should get justice. Instead, it believes that even if a woman undergoes physical or mental torture due to domestic violence, she should put up with the situation silently for the sake of family welfare and their own future. This is absolutely wrong,” says Madras High Court lawyer Ajitha. “A woman knows that if she files a false complaint, her own future will get affected, and so no one will do such an act deliberately” she adds.
Ajitha argued against the idea that an emphasis on arrest goes against principles of natural justice and gives more powers to the police who are not always scrupulous in the exercise of those powers. “If we think whether there should be an arrest at all in such cases, one feels that it may be necessary as it may act as a strong warning. It is only in about 50 cases out of 1000 that police resort to arrests, while in many instances the police themselves speak to both the sides and try to bring about reconciliation. Sometimes the courts grant anticipatory bail to the accused. People are arrested immediately, only when they are accused of physical torture of the woman-victim. So arrest should be seen only as a part of the legal process,” she explains.
To our question if the police will be honest in their approach, she replies “They work as per the law. If there is found to be any doubts in the enquiry, people can appeal to higher authorities. There are so many complaints of corruption against the police, still no one has dared to abolish the police force till now,” she points out.
“This is a powerful judgment in favour of women who undergo dowry harassment. This may instill fear in the minds of people who demand dowry like the husband and parents-in-law. But the majority of rural women are not aware that such a legal provision exists and hence they end up tolerating all sorts of violence inflicted on them by the family members,” says Gurumurthy, another High Court advocate, but cautions that this may also present an opportunity to the modern women living in cities and towns to settle scores or harass the husband’s families.
“This gives the police the authority to arrest a person based on complaints, and this may make the police powerful and increase corruption. Both parties may feel that the enquiry is not fair. The woman complainants may end up facing many problems and embarrassments in life, while the children too will suffer badly. Taking these into consideration, the court should not have ordered the removal of the ‘family welfare committee,” feels advocate Gurumurthy.