The Supreme Court’s recent directive to check the abuse of the anti-dowry law is indeed welcome. Last week, it said that arrest or coercive action should happen in dowry-related cases only after the allegations have been verified.
A Bench of Justices A.K. Goel and U.U. Lalit has taken into account the phenomenon of women invoking the draconian Section 498A of the IPC in marital discords. Such is the abuse that even minor children have been made accused. “It is a matter of serious concern that large number of cases continue to be filed under Section 498A alleging harassment of married women… Many such complaints are not bona fide. At the time of filing of the complaint, implications and consequences are not visualized. At times, such complaints lead to uncalled for harassment not only to the accused but also to the complainant. Uncalled for arrest may ruin the chances of settlement,” the Bench said.
This, however, is not the first time that the Supreme Court has taken note of the harassment that innocents have to face because of 498A. Three years ago, too, it had directed the police not to “automatically” arrest the accused in dowry cases. Unsurprisingly, it had elicited adverse reaction from the so-called women’s rights activists. I say so-called because many of the victims of 498A are women whose rights these activists trample upon.
At that time, Ranjana Kumari, Director of Centre for Social Research and Member of the National Mission for Empowerment of Women, had said, “Misuse can be of any law. If you don’t have a good system to protect and implement the law, it is not the responsibility of the women who are facing the crime. Last year, up to 1.7 lakh cases of cruelty by husband and relatives were registered. And if you look at the dowry deaths, it is more than 8,000. What does that mean? Dowry is definitely a major issue in this country. I wish the court had made some observations on dowry killing.”
‘Any law can be misused’—this is the standard justification of a government that introduces an illiberal law. Similar arguments were made when the Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi governments were defending the freedom-curbing 66A, which was eventually struck down by the Supreme Court in 2015. Therefore, to say that a bad law should be continued, and continued without any mitigating measures, just because we “don’t have a good system to protect and implement the law” is condonation of something manifestly wrong. The social oppression of women is a sad reality of our society; and poor law enforcement, as Kumari said, is a factor responsible for it. But the solution doesn’t lie in bringing in and ruthlessly executing bad legislation. Two wrongs don’t make a right.
This fact was underlined by the apex court last week. It said, “We are conscious of the object for which the provision was brought into the statute. At the same time, violation of human rights of innocent cannot be brushed aside.”
Hopefully, the Supreme Court’s directive will lessen the severity of the obnoxious anti-dowry legislation.