In a judgment in 2005, the Supreme Court of India had to say the following on IPC 498A, “As noted above the object is to strike at the roots of dowry menace. But by misuse of the provision a new LEGAL TERRORISM can be unleashed. The provision is intended to be used a shield and not an assassin’s weapon.” Another bench of the Court observed in 2014 with regards to the same section of the IPC, “the fact that Section 498A is a cognisable and non-bailable offence has lent it a dubious place of pride amongst the provisions that are used as weapons rather than shield by disgruntled wives”. In 2008, The Delhi High Court, during the course of a case, concluded that, “There is no iota of doubt that most of the complaints are filed in the heat of the moment over trifling fights and ego clashes. It is also a matter of common knowledge that in their tussle and ongoing hostility, the hapless children are the worst victims”.
Such observations by the esteemed Judiciary of the country makes it quite obvious that the injustice perpetuated through complaints filed under section 498A of the Indian Penal Code has been widely known for over a decade. However, the Parliament has shown little initiative over the years in rectifying the Draconian Law that has caused numerous enormous harassment to thousands of innocent individuals, the overwhelming majority of which are primarily men. Therefore, it fell upon the Judiciary to correct the many wrongs that have committed by misuse of this law and attempt to ensure that the rights of innocent can be protected without compromising the interests of genuine victims.
After considering the submissions of ASG A.S. Nadkarni, and Senior Advocate V. Giri, a two Judge Bench of the Supreme Court of Justices AK Goel and UU Lalit, issued formal directions on the procedure to be followed with complaints filed under IPC 498A. In its directions, the Supreme Court made it clear that no automatic arrests were to be made with such complaints and also ordered the setting up of Family Welfare Committees in every district to look into the complaints filed under sec 498A of the Indian Penal Code. The Court made it clear that no arrests were to be made before the Committee filed its brief report about the factual aspects and opinions in the matter. Additionally, such complaints are to be investigated only by a designated Investigating Officer of the area.
The regular observations of the Judiciary on IPC 498A makes it clear that it is one of the most poorly framed laws in the history of India which makes it only too easy to misuse. Moreover, the fact that the law as it was originally framed and implemented until 2014, till a case law was created by the Supreme Court of India to stop the Police from automatically and indiscreetly arresting those accused under 498A, the accused were arrested without any prior investigation and on merely the registration of complaints. The guidelines issued by the Supreme Court in July 2017 is only a further step towards curbing the misuse of the law.
The conviction rates for cases filed under IPC 498A have been abysmally poor to say the least. The All India Crimes data released by national Crimes Records Bureau (NCRB) show that in 2012, the Conviction Rate of cases under 498A was 15% as opposed to the average rate of conviction of all IPC cases of 38.5%, in 2013, 16% opposed to 40.2, in 2014, 13.7% opposed to 45.1% and in 2015, 14.2% opposed to 46.9%.
It shows that in 2014 and 2015, the conviction rate for cases filed under IPC 498A was less than 1/3rd of the average conviction rate of all IPC cases. The low conviction rate looks even worse when one considers the fact that this category features consistently in the top 10 in terms of the numbers of registered cases. To make matters worse, in 9 out of the 10 years from 2006-2015, cases filed under this category had conviction rates in the bottom three when compared with all other categories and was the lowest in 3 of those 10. To put things in perspective, while the number of convictions were consistently decreasing, the numbers of acquittals have been constantly on the rise.
Contrary to the spirit of Justice which assumes that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, IPC 498A assumes exactly the opposite as it was originally framed. It effectively fell on the accused to prove his innocence rather than on the accuser of proving guilt.
Just laws are framed based after a critical evaluation of existing reality. Such a law was formulated on the basis of the Feminist Doctrine which presumes all men are oppressors and the women oppressed. Thus, it follows that the rights of women are to be safeguarded by laws that award a disproportionate power to women to balance the ‘privilege’ granted to men by ‘patriarchy’. Such a mindset is reflected when the law automatically presumes the potential guilt of all men and the innocence of all women with regard to such allegations. The Law formulated clearly assumes that women are always truthful when they file such complaints contrary to the obvious reality that women are as much prone to lying as men.
The Feminist reaction to the guidelines set by the Supreme Court only confirm my assertions. An article on FirstPost penned by one Deya Bhattacharya, who is quite obviously a Feminist, titled ‘Domestic violence: Supreme Court verdict on Section 498A puts family honour over women’s rights’ claims, “It (the Bench of the Supreme Court) ignores the historical underrepresentation and oppression of women in all phases of life that has given rise to gender inequality within public and private spaces and attempts to read down a protective legal provision meant for women for the pre-empted violation of men’s rights.” Apparently, curbing the egregious misuse of law is victimizing women. Deya Bhattacharya concludes her article with the words, “This Supreme Court direction is regressive and goes against all that we have tried to achieve for women’s rights in private spaces in India.” It is pretty clear that Feminists are willing to sacrifice the rights of thousands of innocent men at the altar of women empowerment if their propositions could help them assume a sense of moral superiority.
The guidelines set by the Supreme Court is a significant victory for the Men’s Rights Movement in India. For long, the Rights of many innocent men have been trampled over by the Draconian Law that is IPC 498A. Although there is a long way to go yet to establish true Gender Equality for men before the Law, it is indeed a momentous decision towards the same. In this moment, I would like to congratulate everyone who has contributed towards rectifying the innumerable justice that has been perpetuated in the name of Women Empowerment and a special mention goes out to Deepika Bharadwaj who has worked tirelessly on the issue and personally highlighted the plight of dozens of men who have been harangued by the misuse of the law.