The Dowry Act was initiated in 1961 with the purview of protecting females from being exploited by their husbands with respect to monetary and materialistic demands. Saddeningly, according to the National Crime Records Bureau statistics, nearly 200,000 people, including 47,951 women, were arrested in regard to dowry offences in 2012, but only 15% of the accused were convicted. The Supreme Court seems to have realised the need for amendments in the dowry act.
Why do we need amendments in the Dowry Act?
There has been a growing trend among women involved in marital discord to abuse Section 498A of IPC to rope in the husband along with his relatives: which may sometimes even include bed ridden grandparents, minor siblings, and sisters living abroad for over a decade.
Presently, the offence is non-compoundable and non-bailable which provides for immediate arrest of the accused. Conciliatory effort by the warring sides is virtually impossible.
The husband or his family members are presumed to be guilty till they prove their innocence in the court and are punishable with a jail term of up to three years.
The proposed amendments in the Dowry Act
– Expressing concern over such falsifications, the SC on the last week of July ruled that no arrest should be taken on such complaints without ascertaining the veracity of allegations. All such complaints received by the police or magistrate must be referred to the Family Welfare Committee and action is to be taken based on its reports.
– The NDA government is working on the proposal to make the section compoundable. This means that the law if amended, would have the provision of an out-of-court settlement between the warring couple if the court allows it. This is expected to significantly lower the court’s legal burden.
– Currently, if a dowry harassment case is proved wrong or it is proven that the law is misused, only Rs 1,000 penalty is slapped. But the amendment provides for a Rs 15,000 fine.
– Another new section is expected to be inserted to allow an accused to escape jail by paying a penalty.
The probable cons of the proposed amendments
In spite of laws that are supposed to serve as a deterrent, India continues to see a rise in the number of reported dowry-related deaths. More than 8,600 cases where women died from dowry-related harassment were registered in India in 2011, up from 8,391 the year before and just over 6,000 in 2002, according to the latest figures from the National Crime Records Bureau.
One is left wondering whether this ruling by the Supreme Court might serve to enhance the stereotyping of women by a certain section of the society. More women might be victim shamed and incorrectly accused of bringing false charges. But there could be a more disturbing outcome. What if women who actually require the help of Section 498A are turned down because of biased opinions of false charges?
Jyotika Kalra, member of National Human rights Commission writes, “Considering the evil of dowry, it would have been wiser had the court issued certain guidelines to stop the evil.”
Even in the 21st century and even among the most established of us all, the practice of dowry reigns like a boss. The status of the groom decides the quantum of dowry and the make of the car demanded. Failure to comply with the demands could mean either of two things: no marriage at all, or, a married life ridden with domestic violence which may ultimately result in murder or forced suicide.
Misuse of a law is a grave crime which needs to be nipped immediately but it is also the duty of the Hon’ble Supreme Court to ensure that the actual purpose of the law is not lost amidst all that.
Image credits: Google
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