In a landmark judgment, aimed at putting an end to the misuse of section 498A of the IPC that is dowry-related offences, the Supreme Court has proposed a slew of measures. They aim to put an end to the automatic arrest of the husband and his family members.
Special committees: Every complaint under Section 498A should henceforth have to be referred to Family Welfare Committees – to be constituted at every district. No arrest shall be effected till report of such committee is received.
Enquiry: The committee would interact with the parties personally or by means of telephonic or electronic communication and give a report within a month to the authority which referred the complaint to it. There will be no routine impounding of passports or issuance of Red Corner Notice for NRI accused. Personal appearance of all family members and particularly outstation members may not be required. However, these directions will not apply to the offences involving tangible physical injuries.
Report: The report would be on “the factual aspects and its opinion” in the matter. Till report of the committee is received, no arrest should normally be done. The report may be then considered by the investigating officer or the magistrate on its own merit.
Investigating officers: Complaints under Section 498A and other connected offences may be investigated only by a designated investigating officer of the area. Such designations should be made within one month. Such designated officers may be given training for not less than a week or as may be considered appropriate. The training has to be completed within four months.
Bail: If a bail application is filed with at least one clear day’s notice to the Public Prosecutor/complainant, it should be decided as far as possible on the same day.
The anti-dowry law was enacted with the laudable object of punishing cruelty at the hands of the husband or his relatives – particularly when such cruelty drives the wife to suicide. However, complaints are mounting up over the years alleging misuse of the anti-dowry harassment law – framed in 1983 following a spate of dowry-related deaths – by disgruntled wives. The law is also being misused.
A growing trend is being observed among women involved in marital discord to abuse Section 498A of IPC to rope in their husbands’ relatives — including parents, minor children, siblings and grandparents — in criminal cases.
Therefore, it is high time such frivolous cases which violate the human rights of the innocent is checked.
This is a shift from the dominant judicial conception of women as victims who would silently suffer injustice rather than bring disrepute to their family by taking domestic conflict outside the four walls of the home. Going by the popular portrait, it is only the worst victim of abuse among women who approach the court for redress. With its latest observations, the court broke away from the reigning perception to rule that in dowry cases, the account of the alleged victim need not be taken at face value.