Marry shades of grey!

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Harassed husbands? The SC’s recent observation calling for a review of dowry laws (on the grounds that they are often misused) might have women’s organisations up in arms but more and more ‘harassed’ husbands have been raising their voices after being falsely implicated. Sriranjitha Jeurkar investigates why many dowry cases no longer remain plain black and white today

My name is Kumar. I am 28 years old. I wanted to marry a poor girl, so that I could help a poor family. When I told my father about this, he suggested that I marry the daughter of one of his distant relatives, from a town in Andhra Pradesh. I believed that when he had chosen nothing but the best for me until now, he could not go wrong in this decision either. I agreed. I didn’t know much about the family, except that the girl’s father was a bus conductor. We demanded no dowry and even agreed to foot the wedding expenses.

It was a perfect wedding. My wife and I lived together for a month and she went back to her home for some rituals. That’s when I realised I had contracted a sexually transmitted disease from her. I was too embarrassed to tell my parents. When I asked my wife about it, she confessed that she had had an affair with someone else and had married me due to pressure from her family. “You didn’t ask for dowry, so we thought you had something to hide too,” she said.

I was shocked. But I wanted to save my marriage, so I asked her to come with me for treatment. She wasn’t interested. She told me that she would give me a divorce by mutual consent if I gave her Rs 5 lakh. And she didn’t want to discuss the matter with her parents because she was afraid they’d take away the money from her.

Still, I was glad she had told me the truth. I told my parents. Then my company sent me abroad for a project. We applied for divorce by mutual consent, and before I left, both of us went to the family court on six occasions. After I returned to India, she went back home saying that her mother was ill, and didn’t return — not even to attend the hearings. All of a sudden, she started saying that she didn’t want a divorce, and demanded that I pay her Rs 25,000 a month as maintenance. She claimed that I was earning far more than I really was, that my family had a lot of property (which is untrue) and said we had thrown her out of the house because she refused to bring Rs 2 lakh from her parents. She claimed that her family had spent a sum of Rs 10 lakh to conduct the wedding. She even went to the extent of saying that we had forged her signature on the divorce petition!

She filed a dowry case, and I was named as an accused — along with my mother, dad, cousin and aunt. I was taken into custody and stayed there for seven days, despite my family producing documents, which refuted her claims. She told me that if I paid her Rs 10 lakh in cash, she would withdraw the case. But she also had another demand —that I give it to her in writing that I am impotent.

My aged parents had to wait for three months to get bail. We were stripped, and our fingerprints taken, as if we were petty criminals.

Until then, we knew very little about the law, and even less about Section 498A. My parents, at one point were on the verge of committing suicide. Due to all the stress, my performance at work suffered. I was terminated. Three years later, the case is still on — and I am still looking for a job. I received three job offers — all of which were withdrawn once they conducted a background check and found out that I had a case pending against me. My future looks uncertain, but there’s one thing I’m sure about: I have lost faith in the institution of marriage. I will never marry again.

Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (Dowry Prohibition and Prevention of Marital Cruelty) is aimed at protecting the woman from harassment — from either her husband or her in-laws. But the loopholes in the law have led to misuse by women across the country. The common perception, that a helpless woman is abused for dowry by her husband’s family and the law is her only saviour — is being turned on its head.

Bangalore-based advocate Shankarappa, who has been practicing law for the last 18 years, handling many high-profile cases, says that he has seen at least 120 cases of dowry harassment in his career, “But unfortunately about 100 of the complainants had falsely implicated their husbands and husbands’ families.”

Advocate M T Nanaiah says that approximately 80 per cent of the 600 dowry-related cases he has handled over 32 years have turned out to be false implications. “Most of the remaining 20 per cent cases are mostly small disagreements that arise in every household. They get converted into dowry harassment cases.”

No warrant, no investigation

What is it about the anti-dowry law that makes such blatant misuse possible? First, the entire case hinges on the statement or allegations made by the wife.  A single oral complaint can land the husband’s family in jail. No investigation or warrant is needed before police arrest the husband or his family, or begin proceedings. It is non-bailable; the accused must appeal before the court to seek bail. It is not compoundable: the complaint cannot be withdrawn. Worst of all, there is no punishment against the petitioner if the complaint is proved false. Besides, legal experts argue, since the police do not require any proof before arrest, it takes away a basic human right.

“Once a woman lodges a complaint, the husband and his relatives are implicated. Even the police register complaints without investigation. They drag the husband, aged in-laws and even young children to the station. The charges may be proved false later, but a criminal record is a criminal record, after all,” says Shankarappa.

Lawyers say that most women who file false dowry complaints do so for a few common reasons: to get out of a marriage; to get money, or a favourable divorce settlement; if they had a premarital affair, and were married off by force; for child custody; if they want an attitude change in the behaviour of the husband or the family; to take revenge on their husbands, or in most cases, to get out of a joint family setup.

And ironically, the law that aims at helping women, ends up harassing women too. The Save Indian Family Foundation contends that on an average, 30,000 women are jailed every year in connection with dowry cases. “Once the woman files a complaint, the mother-in-law, sister-in-law are also arrested. Why restrict the law to protecting only the wife? What kind of protection do these women have?” asks Philip, whose family was falsely implicated in a case. Virag Dhulia, a member of the Bangalore Chapter of the Save Indian Family Foundation — an organisation that provides support to harassed husbands — narrates his horror story. “A few months after our wedding, my wife went back to her parents’ home and didn’t return. She said she wouldn’t return unless I agreed to live away from my parents. Then her family filed a dowry harassment case against us,” he says.

Dhulia recalls how his parents, who are in their sixties, suffered for months — the fear of being arrested, anxiety about the regular court visits, and the outcome of the case, the shame and humiliation, all adding to their health problems.

In what is probably the first such instance in the State, Dhulia has filed a complaint against his wife for giving dowry. “My wife has, in her complaint, stated that she and her parents gave me dowry in the presence of their relatives. According to the Dowry Prohibition Act, taking, giving and abetting the giving of dowry is a crime — the giver and taker are equally culpable. I have not accepted dowry; but if as per her claim, she says she has given dowry, then she is guilty too.”

He says that at first, the police refused to file an FIR. “Then I went to the ACMM Court. The magistrate there took cognizance of this complaint and asked the jurisdictional police to investigate into the matter and file a report,” he explains.

Even four months after the court’s order, no action has been taken, Dhulia alleges. “I have now filed an RTI application to get information about the progress of the investigation, but have still not received any info.”

Help is at hand

The social stigma was what prompted Arun Murthy, yet another ‘498A victim’ to set up Sangyabalya — a helpline for ‘husbands and families victimised by the anti-dowry laws.’

The helpline was set up in 2003, after Murthy’s sister-in-law filed a dowry harassment complaint against his younger brother. “She was from an orphanage, and she said we had demanded dowry. It was ridiculous,” Murthy says. After his entire family — including his mother and sister were implicated — Murthy’s brother, a hardware engineer, lost his job and became a mental wreck. “I saw how the system works — people are arrested on Friday evening, so they cannot get bail. They have to stay in jail till Monday. And consider this — if you are a government employee, and you are in jail for more than 24 hours, even if under false accusations, then your job is in jeopardy.”

Murthy then wrote to a newspaper, and received many calls from other victims. That’s when he set up a helpline for these harassed husbands. A few months later, Sangyabalya was registered as an NGO.  “A lot of people are on the verge of suicide after being arrested. We give them moral support.  Sometimes, the lawyers take them for a ride, so we extend legal aid too. But most importantly, it is a collective voice for proper representation of our problems,” he says.

The Save Indian Family Foundation, another organisation that aid people implicated under Section 498A, was first set up as an online community, but later evolved into an NGO. The Foundation now has set up helplines for men in distress. The members of the Bangalore chapter meet at Cubbon Park every Saturday. New members who approach the Foundation are given moral support, and legal advice. “Usually when someone is implicated like this, he tends to feel that he is the only one facing such a problem. When they come here and see that they are not alone, then they feel that they have some support.”

Members of the foundation, who come from various backgrounds — from software to government service — study the law and help each other with inputs on how to fight their cases.

There are several other organisations working for these ‘harassed husbands’, but most of them have common demands. “The problem arises from extravagant marriages. The giving and taking of dowry should be tackled. No one makes it a point to stop this at the source. After all, prevention is better than cure,” says Dhulia.

Murthy agrees, “There should be a mandatory registration of marriages with a record of all gifts exchanged. These gifts are referred to as dowry when things go wrong. And such disputes are family matters. There should be proper counselling available, before the woman goes to the police.”

He adds, “The law in itself is not bad. What we need is thorough checks and balances to ensure that it is not misused. We assume that women are all white and men, all black. We must acknowledge that there are shades of grey everywhere.”

But most important, these organisations say, is to make provision for action against those who file false complaints, and to ensure that no arrests are made without proper evidence. “Once the complainant sends her husband and his family to jail, chances of reconciliation are few. She thinks its a victory. But that’s the only victory, things go downhill from there,” Murthy says.

That probably underlines the need for a thorough review of the law as it exists now. The loopholes have to be plugged, activists say, and soon. For the welfare of the women, so that genuine victims of dowry harassment do not suffer because of those who have misused the law. That is the only hope, for the welfare of hundreds of women across the country.

(Some names have been changed to protect identities.)

Review necessary?

Justice J D Kapoor of the Delhi High Court had recommended a review of the dowry laws. He suggested that Sections 406 (misappropriation of dowry articles) and 498A (harassment for dowry) be made bailable and if necessary, compoundable, in cases where no grave physical injury has been inflicted.

He had observed, “There is a growing tendency to come out with inflated and exaggerated allegations roping in each and every relation of the husband and if one happens to be of higher status or of vulnerable standing, then he or she becomes an easy prey for blackmailing and bargaining.” Some suggestions of the judge are:

Such cases should be investigated by civil authorities, and cognisance taken only after findings. Only police officer above the rank of ACP should investigate harassment and misappropriation of items. A DCP should investigate dowry death cases.

When minor, schoolchildren are named, they should not be arrested or sent to court.

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Bridegroom complains of dowry harassment!

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AFTER BRIDES, it is now the turn of bridegrooms to complain about dowry and seek action against in- laws.

A case has come to light where a man complained to the police that his in- laws gave him dowry he never demanded.

Nishant Saini had married Anjali Dargan in 2007, but the marriage boat rocked within six months when Anjali walked out of the house in which they were living and slapped a dowry case against Saini.

She alleged Saini had taken Rs 1.45 lakh in dowry, given in two instalments of Rs 1.2 lakh and Rs 25,000. Saini, however, refuted the allegations. In a counter- complaint to the police, he blamed his in- laws for forcing him to accept the money he said he never demanded.

But the police refused to lodge a complaint. He then complained to the Delhi Police chief, seeking action against his wife and in- laws. In 2008, Saini moved court. He charged his wife and in- laws with committing an offence under the Dowry Prohibition Act.

The Act stipulates that anyone who demands or gives dowry can face punishment. “ We urged the court to direct the police to register a case against the bride and her parents,” said Pradeep Nawani, the lawyer for Saini.

The court directed the investigating officer of the case to file a report. Four months after the order, the officer failed to submit a report and told the court no case can be registered against the bride or her parents.

The court slammed the officer and directed two senior Delhi Police officers to take action against her.

Guidelines set by the Delhi High Court state that the police, before arresting a person under the Dowry Prohibition Act, must investigate the case and the bank accounts of the bride’s parents to verify if the sum of money they claim to have given in dowry.

Also, according to Supreme Court guidelines, a station house officer is duty- bound to register a case if it is a cognisable offence.

Jaipur men victim of false dowry cases

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JAIPUR: Two cases of dowry harassment and domestic violence are registered everyday with three Woman Police Stations in the city. Thirty alleged dowry deaths were reported in the district in 2008. Amid hue and cry by the NGOs and other social organizations over the alleged misuse of sections related to dowry harassment and domestic violence, there is another aspect which goes unnoticed most of the times. There are many people who have to suffer at a very young age due to such cases. Their career is ruined and they are left with no other option but to suffer from delayed judgments and biased police investigation.

“There are many cases pending in courts in which young professionals, including doctors, engineers, software engineers, etc. are involved,” said Ashwani Bohra, an advocate who prefers to fight cases from the groom’s side alleging misuse of IPC sections related to domestic violence and dowry harassment.

Giving an example, he said that dowry harassment and domestic violence cases were filed against one of his clients – Amit Jain who had completed his MBBS and was to appear for MS entrance exam. But due to the case, which is pending in the court, he could not sit in the examination and his promising career as a doctor has been ruined,” said Ashwani.

A physically-challenged person, Rameshwar Meena, a resident of Chaksu in Jaipur, was finally disposed of all the charges against him by his wife recently. When the trial was going on, he cleared an exam for second grade schoolteacher, but due to the trial, his career seemed to be in limbo.

“It was a horrifying experience. I was accused of beating up my wife and fake medical certificates proving me a brutal person were prepared and produced in the court. I was alleged of demanding a motorcycle from my wife which I never did as there is no use of motorcycle for me as I am handicapped,” said Rameshwar.

“In most of the cases, the FIRs are lodged by giving distorted facts and police either act lethargically or adopt a biased attitude which cost dear to the groom and his family,” Ashwani added.

Now, hubby files a dowry case

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Extra news

The man claimed that he was given dowry though he did not ask for it

A husand facing a dowry case, has sought to turn the tables on his wife and in-laws by filing a case against them alleging that they had given him dowry though he had not asked for the same.

Virat, a software engineer, alleged that a false dowry case was registered against him. He was imprisoned for two days and later released on bail.

Virat, however, continued to claim that he had not taken any dowry and alleged that his wife had filed a false complaint against him just to get him into trouble.

However, as per the law, giving dowry is as much a crime as demanding it and hence, attracts equal punishment under Section 3 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961.

Police records clearly stated that his wife and in-laws had given him dowry and he had not demanded it. Based on their statements, Virat filed a case against his wife and in-laws for giving dowry.

The case has been admitted in the Xth Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Court (ACMM), Mayo Hall, in Bangalore. The judge has ordered the police to investigate the matter and file a first information report (FIR).

This is a first of its kind case in Karnataka where a husband has filed a case against his wife and in-laws for their ‘confessional admission’ of giving dowry ‘reserving his right to defend himself against allegations’.

Talking to DNA, Virat said that the misuse of the Dowry Prohibition Act and Domestic Violence Act should be stopped or it can get many innocent people into trouble. The central government should examine the laws and make necessary amendments to avoid such misuse, he added.

Virat’s case is now sure to arm organisations battling for harassed husbands.

In the last few years, several outfits have emerged to fight the injustices being meted out to married men.

Multiple cases, containing false and baseless allegations under Section 498A and the Domestic Violence Act, are being filed against husbands and their parents and relatives, these outfits have alleged.

Invitation to Dharna Against Legal Terrorism

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Is the pain of a mother / sister less when she her son / brother dies than when her daughter / sister dies?

Save Indian Family Foundation invites you to a peaceful protest against the rampant and blatant misuse of pro-women marital laws against men resulting in large scale suicides of married men.

Our Demands:-

  1. Clear the Pendency of cases in Family Courts.
  2. Give more judges and more Family Courts.
  3. Make all gender biased marital laws Gender Neutral.
  4. Check misuse of these laws.
  5. Stop Treating Men as FREE ATM MACHINES
  6. Check High Rate of suicides of married men.
  7. Establish National Commission for Men, and
  8. Men’s Welfare Ministry,

To address the above problems as well as scores of others.

Date: 14 February 2009

Time: 9: 30 AM to 2: 00 PM

Venue: In front of Gandhi Statue on M.G. Road, Bangalore

Invitees: All citizens of India.

Supported by:-

  1. Save Family Foundation, Delhi
  2. MyNation Foundation, Delhi
  3. Gender Human Rights Society, Delhi
  4. Rakshak Foundation, Delhi
  5. Mother’s and Sister’s Initiative, Delhi
  6. Protect Indian Family Foundation, Mumbai
  7. Indiya Kudumba Pathukappu Iyakkam Chennai
  8. All India Forgotten Women, Hyderabad
  9. Rishtey, Hyderabad
  10. Save Indian Family Foundation, Nagpur
  11. 11. Bharat Bachao Sangathan, Kolkata.

Contact:

Virag – 9986378801 (English)

Panduranga Katti – 9432853272 (English)

Shiva Shankara – 9743183369 (Kannada)

Prakash – 9880436929 (Kannada)

9342853272 www.saveindianfamily.org 9845143274