Context

  • The apex court had recently highlighted that misuse of IPC Section 498A needs to be addressed by instituting welfare committees to look into cases before action is taken

What is the Family Welfare Committee comprised of?

  • The committee shall comprise para-legal volunteers or social workers or retired officers or even the wives of serving officers

What is Section 498A?

  • Section 498A, which was passed by the Parliament in 1983, states that “whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine’
  • In 1983, ‘Section 498-A of the IPC was introduced with affirmed object to combat the menace of harassment to a woman at the hands of her husband and his relatives.
  • The fact that Section 498-A is a cognizable and non-bailable offence has lent it a dubious place of pride amongst the provisions that are used as weapons
  • The simplest way to harass is to get the husband and his relatives arrested under this provision.
  • In quite a number of cases, bed-ridden grand-fathers and grand-mothers of the husbands, their sisters living abroad for decades are arrested.
  • The Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Husbands help men at the receiving end of anti-dowry laws.

Facts about Section 498a

  • The rate of charge-sheet filing for the year 2012, under Section 498A IPC was at an exponential height of 93.6% while the conviction rate was at a staggering low at 14.4% only (NCRB data)
  • 498a can only be invoked by wife/daughter-in-law or her relative.
  • A typical case goes on for years (5-7 years is typical) and the conviction rate is about 2% only.
  • In most cases 498a complaint is followed by the demand of huge amount of money (extortion) to settle the case out of the court.

Rajesh Sharma vs The State of Uttar Pradesh

  • Proceedings had arisen from complaint dated 2nd December, 2013 filed by respondent.
  • The complainant alleged that she was married to appellant on 28th November, 2012.
  • Her father gave dowry as per his capacity but the appellants were not happy with the extent of the dowry.
  • They started abusing the complainant. They made a demand of dowry of Rs.3,00,000/- and a car which the family could not arrange.
  • On 10th November, 2013, appellant dropped the complainant at her matrimonial home.
  • She was pregnant and suffered pain in the process and her pregnancy was terminated.

How is it misused?

  • Police often visit the office premises of men in order to shame them and jeopardize their job situation. Police also pick up relatives of men who are not even named in the complaint, they are illegally detained by police and forced to give their statements.
  • Judges grant interim bail and then keep on extending the bail for every 5 or 7 days and thus the man is neither arrested nor free but keeps on attending court dates without any reason.
  • After giving interim bail, the cases are referred to mediation where the man is psychologically tortured to bow down before wife’s demands and if he does not do so, his bail is canceled and he is sent to jail.

What could be the effects of this decision by the SC?

  • By creating the Family Welfare Committee, the court creates one more layer between the victim and the justice system, and as a result, justice could be compromised.
  • The creation of an intermediate body that will inspect complaints against cruelty, before the complaint reaches the formal authority, to check for maliciousness is to indicate that the judiciary does not trust the very beneficiaries of this legal provision.

What steps can the Government take?

  • Drop the move for amending 498A to make it compoundable.
  • Make Section 498A bailable and non-cognizable.
  • Form committees of innocent men, who have been acquitted, as watchdogs to monitor and review orders by judiciary.
  • Insert a special provision to punish those police and judicial officers who do not follow the law properly and resort to malpractices under the cover of Section 498A.
  • Stop the extortion and blackmailing of men in the name of mediation and counseling.
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