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Another angle Discussing differences without malice may help resolve them
Another angle Discussing differences without malice may help resolve them

In an ego-shattering exercise “harassed husbands” are out “demanding justice”, says GEETA PADMANABHAN

In a televised Pune rally, Financial Analyst Dhaval Kadakia claimed his wife hit him if he refused to do household chores. Salim Bootwala, an entrepreneur said, “I divorced my wife in 1997. In 2006 she filed a case of dowry against me. The judge did not hear my case nor lookat the documents. On the basis of her complaint, I was sent to jail for four days.” P.R. Gokul wrote, “I am the victim, we are being harassed, you need to know the oppressors to believe me.”

In an ego-shattering exercise, “harassed husbands” are out “demanding justice”. Their main enemy is not the wife, not her greedy parents or conniving relatives. It is the legally recognised, constitutionally valid “monster” called Section 498A, IPC. Why? “Section 498A is the most vicious weapon in the hands of those who decide to be vindictive,” said Kalpana Murari, a divorce lawyer. “Under the Dowry Prohibition Act, the wife, relative of the victim or a welfare organisation could lodge a complaint against the husband and his family. This could put the family behind bars for 15 days.” The burden of proving his innocence is on the accused.

How these men fight is a lesson in “approach strategy”. They write blogs. They start websites and message boards. They have a forum. They hold meetings, training sessions and rallies. They go to the media. They listen, educate and inform. They send out fliers. They’ve set up helplines, use the RTI to gather information on convictions. They provide legal assistance. And they quote the Sushil Kumar Sharma vs Union of India case.

Supreme Court judges deciding this case felt 498A was being misused, “giving license to the unscrupulous to unleash harassment and wreak personal vendetta.” They said, “The provision was intended to be used as a shield and not as an assassin’s weapon.” In such cases, acquittal did not “wipe out the ignominy suffered during or prior to the trial.” The court asked legislatures to find ways to deal with the misuse, and the investigating agencies to function as “a watchdog and not as a bloodhound.”

“No investigation or warrant is needed before arrest and start of proceedings since the crime u/s 498A is cognisable and there is no punishment if the complaint is proved false - two major reasons why 498A is used as a pressure-tactic,” said P.R. Gokul who heads a Yahoo group of “victims-of-law” that calls itself SIFF (Save Indian Family Foundation). “Now SIFF is a registered entity, with a membership of over 50,000 people and over 20 NGOs,” he said.

Raksha, a Hyderabad-based outfit counsels men who consider suicide as an alternative for a bad relationship. “A lot of married men are desperate for help,” said Raksha president C.V.L. Narasimha Rao in an interview. Amitabh Das Gupta, President, Pune Chapter of Protect Indian Family Foundation wants “the existing laws amended to give enough powers to men.”

Not likely to happen soon. “Change this law? No way!” said lawyer Sudha Ramalingam firmly. “Section 498A came after a great battle to protect women battered within the walls of her husband’s home. Subjecting a wife to cruelty was not seen as injustice. Now bringing the culprits to book is unjust or a means of breaking the family!” She dismisses the argument of an innocent husband and his relatives being harassed by the abuse of this law as exaggeration. “Only after a preliminary inquiry is a prima-facie case made, FIR registered and the law set in motion. There are provisions for seeking anticipatory bail and proving their innocence to get acquitted.”

S. 498A is a handy tool for shady practices, men argue. Among them are [1] Pre-marital affairs. Marry the guy of parents’ choice, dissolve the marriage, collect funds and marry the old flame. [2] Extra marital relationship. [3] Extortion, serially, one marriage after another. [4] To alienate husband from his responsibilities toward his old and dependent parents [5] To obtain a favourable divorce settlement [6] To wrest child custody from the husband.

Sudha concedes that the law perhaps has teething problems. S.498A and the “Prevention of Women from Domestic Violence Act is needed today more than ever as women are getting educated and earning well but are helpless in their homes. If men treat their wives with dignity and equality there is nothing for them to fear.” Ah, then “Why is it that only men with high socio-economic profiles become victims of 498A?” asked Suresh, an entrepreneur. “Easy targets, better yield.” The World Health Organisation has explicitly cited the misuse of anti-dowry law by daughters-in-law as one of the primary reasons for elder abuse in India. Clinical psychologist Devdas suggests pre-nuptial agreements. “At some point, men will decide that a live-in relationship is better than a bash-in one,” he warned.

It’s stupid to talk of retribution. No one wants families to suffer. Discussing differences without malice may help resolve them. But you can’t help shaking your head while letting out a deep sigh. When will women learn to network so efficiently and mount a systematic campaign on and off the web?

Fact File

  • The number of cases under section IPC 498A registered in 2005: 58,319, cases dismissed at charge-sheet level: 10,491 (18 per cent), cases charge-sheeted on face value of complaint: 47,828 (82 per cent), cases where the accused were acquitted: 24,127 (41 per cent), convicted: 5,739 (9.8 per cent). For these 58,319 registered cases, 1,34,757 people underwent arrest under 498A and Dowry Prohibition Act.

  • Helpline for Harassed Husbands 9868142607, 9868142608, 9810170681

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