Section 498A of Indian Penal Code was biased against husbands and his family as it automatically presumed the complainant to be an innocent victim.
Such progressive discrimination was considered necessary due to rising menace of dowry which led to almost one dowry death every hour, on average, and where violence against women was normal
But lately, both the Supreme Court and the Women and Child Development Ministry acknowledged that the law was being misused too often. According to National Crime Records Bureau data, less than one in five charge sheets filed has resulted in conviction
- The SC moved to ensure that innocent men and their relations are spared the threat of summary arrest
- It has issued fresh guidelines prohibiting the immediate arrest of family members, except in cases involving physical injury or death
- The SC wants the establishment of family welfare committees in every district, to which all complaints are to be referred
- Its members will interact with the complainant and the accused, and submit a report within one month
- WCD Minister has asked the National Commission for Women to be accessible to men who claim to be falsely accused
Why the change was needed?
- The automatic assumption of guilt was becoming a big problem
- Also, the police proceedings, seizure of passports and issuing of Interpol notices precluded any chance of a compromise. Hence the principle of fairness demanded the change
Why it can be a problem?
- WCD Minister has recommended a more stringent filing process which insists on identity proof
- Though it will open a window to the victims of false claims, but it should not open the door to false counter-claims
- Police can proceed only after the family welfare committees have submitted their reports
- But given that the woman in question may fear severe bodily harm, the period seems very liberal
- Also, the court has prescribed that bail applications must be decided on the date of filling of application. Courts may be more inclined to grant rather than withhold, since bail is a right, this can again increase the risk to the complainant
- It is true that the working of Section 498A was tilted in favour of women as a progressive intervention
- Hence a course correction was required in the interest of equality before law and the prevalence of misuse
- Law must retain its progressive bias in favour of wronged women, without inadvertently wronging men. In practice, it will prove to be a tough balancing act, an impossible feat in the absence of police reforms