Section 498-A of Indian Penal Code is considered to be most draconian provision of the IPC with respect to dowry. Critically discuss the recent (July 2017) Supreme Court order in this context and its potential implications
Section 498A of IPC provides that if the husband or a relative of the husband of a woman, subjects the woman to cruelty, he shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine. This section considers offence of cruelty as non-compoundable and non-bailable. This means that once a case is lodged, there cannot be compromise. This is seen as a big loophole because this particular section has been misused to harass the groom’s family.
There was a need to make this section less stringent and with provisions to check its misuse. In the July 2017 verdict, the SC observed that though charge-sheeting in such cases was high , conviction rate was very low around 14.4%. This implies that this section was being misused and in harassment of grooms’ families. Criminal cases were filed even against parents of husband, older members, children etc.
If we look at the draconian provision of the IPC, we should welcome the decision. But then, it is very difficult to define if the case lodged against groom and his family was genuine or fake, at least in first instance. Further, it appears that the misuse of the law is more in urban areas while in rural areas, the women and her family are generally less educated and would seek court’s help only when things go out of their hands. So, in genuine cases, the immediate arrest would provide a sense of security to such victims.
The court has also provided for creation of family welfare committee in every district where such cases would be first referred. Committee would include members like social workers, wives of officials etc who may not be qualified to deal with such legal matters. I consider this a good decision but for genuine cases, it would rather elongate the process.
As discussed above, many genuinely harassed women will now have to undergo long process to get justice. Many may not even come out. Creation of committee and thorough enquiry will certainly reduce frivolous complaints and save innocents from harassment, however, the committee may become process of trial for the women herself.
Overall, the things have got further complicated with these provisions. In my view, court could first mandate some alternative like making offence bailable and non-cognisable.
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