Several women’s organisations came together on Monday to protest against the recent Supreme Court order to set up committees at the district level to keep a check on the number of “frivolous” complaints being registered under Section 498A (dowry harassment) of Indian Penal Code.
Activists from organisations such as All India Democratic Women’s Association, Jagori, National Federation of Indian Women and others demanded a review of the July 27 order saying it “overlooks” the continued oppression of women.
“The recent order is nothing but a dilution of Section 498A and simply reflects the patriarchal mindset. We have appealed to Chief Justice J.S. Khehar to review the judgment,” said Maimoona Mollah from the Janwadi Mahila Samiti.
‘Harassment of in-laws’
Section 498A states that whoever, the husband or a relative of the husband, subjects a woman to cruelty (for property or dowry) shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years. Such an offence is cognisable and non-bailable under the law.
While pronouncing its judgment in a dowry harassment case, the Supreme Court had observed that there was a need to reduce the growing instances of “abuse” of the said provision as innocent family members, including senior citizens, were often harassed under Section 498A.
To keep a check on false cases, the apex court had directed constitution of a Family Welfare Committee in every district and barred any arrest till the committee submitted its report.
Pointing to the court’s decision to exempt only cases involving “tangible physical injuries or death” from being referred to such committees, the memorandum submitted to the CJI stated: “Mental torture and abuse and infliction of physical violence, which may not be evident, has not been considered by the judgment though Section 498A expressly covers both mental and physical violence. This is an error that the court must correct.”
Stressing the fact that a large section of women find it difficult to come forward and report incidents of domestic violence, Ms. Mollah said, “In a lot of instances, women do not even tell their parents about the abuse they are facing. Why would they lie to the police then?”
Calling the ruling a big setback, Maya John, the convenor of the Centre for Struggling Women, said: “The women’s movement at large is highly disturbed by this development and is preparing ground for stiff opposition.”