6 Jan 2008

Harsher dowry laws on the anvil: Going from bad to worse

Looks like the legislature is going really out of its mind. When the entire nation is crying fowl of the stringent provisions of matrimonial laws and pointing out to their growing abuse with even Supreme Court agreeing all together, the legislative branch of the country looks fully prepared to embark on a Radical Feminist movement. A great day for the country indeed.

As Times of India reports [click here for the full article], the nation should be prepared to find its men looking for more lawyers even before they marry and get their acts straight. Thanks to the recommendations of the National Commission for Women, we are all set to face a backlash on the legal front. The Commission, which it seems looks only at the rural areas and recommends to make harsher laws to save, according to them, the exploited rural women, seems to forget that the laws equally apply to the well-informed (too well I suppose) women, which the article rights quotes the Delhi High Court to state, that Section 498A was being used "to convert failed marriages into a crime and people are using this as a tool to extract as much monetary benefit as possible." I am pretty sure of the same being true.

But then we Indians sometimes wonder what are we made of that we find ourselves to chose such law makers that seems to do so well when they shut their hands in inactivity and let the rest of the country do their jobs but when it comes to action from their perspective, they seem to find themselves atleast a 100 years back and hand out laws like reservation, dowry menace and all to us. The inactivity on the part of enforcement of laws such as Sati-prohibition, child-marriage etc. does not concern them and almost every fortnight we find such incidents being reported in the newspapers, but falling in deaf ears of the people concerned.

I was simply shocked when the Hon'ble HRD Minister (just on the lines of his predecssor, who was accused of saffronizing the national education) handed out the worst dictum of the decade; more reservation. The issue has not settled still with the Supreme Court incumbent upon the matter, but it surely goes on a long way to show that such ideas are in fact the outcome of 'ivory-castle-day-dreaming'. I simply do not understand why these law-makers do not go to the masses to find out their problems but simply shut their doors once elected. How do they expect to know the problems of the people they are making laws for when they themselves have never faced them nor make any attempts to understand them.

And the best part is that when the masses cry fowl, they even seem to stuff their ears more with words of their sycophants and ill-informed advisors. I would really like to praise Mr. Lalu Yadav here, who knowing very well that he was heading a market-governed ministry of railways, handed out the decision making to the better informed and engrossed IAS officials, who turned it out to a profit making entity, instead of poking his own nose into it. Results at the national level would be much better if the other ministers atleast listen to those serving the bureaucratic lobbies. After all, it is the profession which employs the best brains of India, then why stifle their latent under the hands of unwise, if not illiterate ministers?

The recent idea behind a more stringent dowry law seems to be no different from the rest; cut off from the ground-realities. I hope there is some wiser mortal somewhere in the chain who is aware of what devastating effect this change would bring and cuts the nip in the bud. But then in this country, anything and everything is possible and so I will not be shocked to find that this proposal does become the law. Still hoping though ...


abhindra said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
abhindra said...

My learned friend, I appreciate your enthusiasm and your style of keynote delivery. While not putting any biased view without any concrete figures I can say that while working in a social sector, I have come across few ground realities, that the cases reported under 498A is less then 1% then the actual violence against women (VAW). Moreover rate of conviction under 498A is 2%. So, when we talk about misuse and put statistics in the purview then we can conclude that 98 out of 100 women lie about violence.
In Gujarat State some 214 odd cases were registered under much hyped Domestic Violence Act in two years span and majority have not went into the merits. If an activist of so called feminist organisation have to shout out her lungs for three hours in front of a protection officer to file a complaint under DV act then God forbid a sole destitute.
I am not able to understand that When the Apex court & legislature forms stringent law for Ragging then the step is welcome and when it is for married women then suddenly a patriarchal debate reopens. Can’t we look the senior students in case of ragging as the husband & in laws and the bride as the junior?
I am totally in with you if VAW does not include slapping, trashing with belt and other forms of hitting for which victim need not be hospitalised.

Forget violence, it actually hurts when the parents of the deceased girl stay quite and the bride burning case gets closed mentioning accidental death.
And when we talk about framing of the laws then I doubt if those Legislatures do anything more then debating over the subject otherwise the work in done by the Bureaucrats in confluence with academicians & stakeholders.

By this, Please do not perceive me as a feminist or a socialist. It’s just that I can’t relate to Hypocrisy.
-- Abhindra Maheshwari

Tarun Jain said...

well abhindra, it is really nice to know the facts from the ground realities indeed. In fact this only strengthens my case.
You also acknowledge the fact, giving out statistics and figures on your support and which I take to be correct, that the law is not working as the way it should. If this huge-implicating-carrying Section 498A of IPC is unable to deliver a verdict of a society with empowered women and still the fate of many languishes without support of legal enforcement, then there is more reason to do away with the provision.
For, then this Section is not fulfilling the mandate of protecting women, as it should and also is rendering itself susceptible to abuse, making its existence fail on all counts.
So in fact you give me additional reasons to support my stand. However I would like to add a bit to this original position.

Firstly, instead of simply increasing the harshness and rigours of this provision, as the legislature presently is contemplating, I do not think any worthwhile change would be made out. For by increasing the punishment the legislature cannot expect overnight enlightenment of the rural and otherwise right-ignorant women to invoke the law for their betterment.

Secondly, instead of just the punitive side, a lot needs to be done on the reform side. I mean unless the law provides for the societal feelings to come through and instead acts simply on a carrot and stick approach, no purpose would be served. Instead, in my view, the provision needs to be reformed to allow the couples to come to terms with each other and ensure that either they fall in or fall through. More assistance (like family counselors etc, which are working reasonably well in family courts) should be set in the system such that the social institution of marriage is not rendered a battle-field in the hands of the unmindful and feeling-less to the detriment of those who really need the protection of law. After all one dirty fish spoils the pond.

K.V. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
K.V. said...

The staement delivered by the Hon'ble Supreme Court in Sushil Kumar Sharma vs Union of India , that "many instances have come to light" where the complaints of dowry harassment were found to be "not bona fide and have been filed with an oblique motive."

Though its true upto some extent but it does not mean that the law in force known as Dowry Law should be put on the backseat. Only in few cases the matter has been found malafide but still the majority of the cases cry the truth. So for few u cant ignore the the rest which indeed are great in numbers. The consitutionality of section 498A of IPC can not be challenged. The system followed by us is not concrete which several times creates chaos. We are federal but quasi in nature, seperation of power is there but the judiciary is supreme. legislative can interfere in the enforcement of law and even judiciary can malpractice in making of law. Nothing is concrete here and that's the only problem which has raises storms in this matter.

We have the worst democratic system in this world, the holy Constitution of India says that we the people of India are supreme. I don't think it sounds good enough. Here we the people of india are those few hundred people who seat in the assembly, who frame laws and give it a shape, might be not even knowing what does it mean to them and what will be its effect on the other strata of the society.

The very learned people of the assembly raise the stupid topics not for the betterment of the society but just to increase the numbers of their votes in the upcoming election. On one hand you propose India to be the world power and on the other you do your level best to increase the total percentage of Reservation in all fields. Why to try to push them who are not even able to stand and when you have good enough people who can handle this, so be fair and give chances to those who deserves not to those who only dreams.

The step taken by the Delhi High Court to reform the Dowry Law can be considered good as what I think law should be changed from time to time. As the need of the society changes from time to time so the law prevailing for last few decades needs amendements. The punishment given for dowry death must be increased to ten years and its not par with culpable homicide not amounting to murder but its more grevious in nature, as there are intentions and motives, ofcourse malafide.

What I think to make all this perfect we need a competent investigation department for such cases, who can find out the truth as in most of the cases the truth are supressed or not revealed. The judiciary is blind and it has no right to use it own senses completely depends upon the evidence produced by the parties and the investigation authority. And unfortunately the judgements are based on these only. So no matter which law has been framed, what was the intention behind framing it and for whose benefit it was constructed, if you don't have a correct approach you cant get the justice

Tarun Jain said...

Well K.V. I am surely glad to see such an elaborately written piece of thought and perhaps even agree with a part of what you say. The laws which we have are certainly not the best ones that we can manage and in fact they have not been successful enough to bring the right message to the public such that the ill-famed practices and in fact evils of dowry, dowry-death etc. can eb uprooted from the system. But then that is certainly not a reason to impute others for the fault. Remember it is people like you and me and in fact everyone we see around, who comprise the policy of this country and who chose the law-makers in the general elections (and certainly I do not agree with the fact that those chosen few are the very leaned people who cannot make decisions for if you say so, then you and all others including me are the most foolish people because knowing that they cannot take decisions we made them sit on those posts) and therefore if we have decided to put our faiths in them, we also have to bear the brunt of their mistakes and fallacies. People across India chose congress in the last national polls for the parliament. Now when this congress comes out with the idea of reservation, they cry that it is not covered by the popular mandate. If this is the case, then you should have thought twice before giving votes to such people who do not represent the political mandate.

Same is the case with dowry laws. They have been brought in the picture with a thinking that harsher laws can bring an end to the problems of might and kind. But then they forget that punishment for murder is death and simply because the fact that killing is punished with death has not reduced the number of killings every year. They forget to remember that crimes are committed not by taking into account the punishment that is imposed for the crime. But in fact crimes are committed because people want to commit it. The fact of weak investigating agencies etc. which you point out are only aggravating factors but are not the causes for such crimes.

So even if you make a demand for dowry punishable by death, I doubt that people will stop demanding dowry. What is instead required is a change is mindset of the people, which certainly cannot be achieved just by punishing (remember that the carrot and stick approach cannot function simply with the stick with no carrot). In fact the institution needs to be redesigned to give better guidance to the families and the folks to institute marriage not as a life time change for the groom to get rich at the expanse of the family of the bride but in fact to find a partner for life to share his mental, physical and psychological needs and issues.

So no matter how far you go by criticising judges, police agencies and whom so ever we want, unless we change the grass root understanding of the issues and like there can be no change whatever in the gravity of the problem simply by increasing the level of punishment.

K.V. said...

Well my dear friend talking about democracy in our context what should i say,its well known to all of us. Democracy is supposed to be the free will of the society, to choose a person among yourself for yourself. But mind you to choose a person as your representative you will be given few options, and you have to exercise your free will to them only. This is what you call a democracy. Fifty one percent of the society rule the rest, this is what you call democracy. And who says that we the ‘general people’ elects our representative, politics is a game, based on settings and power. It has nothing to do with the general strata of the society. Power is almighty, only they can fight a election who have the power to face it. And mind you i am not talking about the exceptions i am talking about the majority, so please do consider this fact. We just choose the policy maker but do you think we play any role in making the policies except electing the policy makers, i would be glad to know if you can give any data about participating the general people in making policies and laws. Dont you remeber the effects of Mandal Commission on the general people, and again if you think that general people like us participate in making of laws i really dont have words.
And trust me most of us are foolish in choosing our representatives and thats why we suffer,but its ok. We should take it as punishment, we deserve this. But what to do, how to practice our rights, most of us are unaware of it. Absolutely Congress party emerged as the leading party and formed the government in coalition. Now if we see the data we find that the INC(Indian National Congress) got 145 seats out of 543. BJP got 138 so whom to form the government and here begins the real game, how many MPs can you get from the rest and so the INC wins at last as it was able to get supports from RJD (23MPs) , DMK (16MPs), NCP (10MPs), PMK (6MPs), JMM ( 5MPs), LJP (4MPs), KC ( 2MPs), IUML ( 1MP), KJPDP (1MP), RPI (1MP) and AIMIM (1MP). Now these will make the rules as they are in majority and we have no option but to cry because people like us has chosen them. So they have a full right to make mandates on reservation. Why reservation is so mandatory for us, i think most of the people will say for the better upliftment of the lower strata of the society. Are only OBCs, SCs and STs are facing the drawbacks of it ? Are they only group who needs to be helped ? What about other people from general ward who are not sufficient even to take care of themselves, dont they deserve a better hand from the ruling parties as they also have practices their right in chosing them. So why there is a demarcation line drawn between the general and the rest. And if you think that all of the general ward is sufficient enough to take care of themselves then i have just to say that please go and check the statistic. If you really want to do something better for the lowest strata of the society then make reservation for the lowest strata of the society despite of the fact that to whom class and caste they belongs. And this will be the best way to serve the needy.
Now coming to the rest part i.e increasing the punishment in dowry cases. I completely failed to interprete the statement given by you that ‘ crimes are committed because people want to commit it and they dont ever take the punishment as a consideration before committing it’. Before an act is done there are several other factors which work along with the main motive or intention. And in most of the cases they are forced to do it and not want to commit it and if they dont take punishment into their consideration then we really need to amend our punishment procedure as punishments are inflicted as a punitive measure too, and their main concern is to create a considerable amount of fear in the minds of the offenders and to set the example for the newcomers in this field. Yes it is true that awarding death sentences in murder has not been able to reduce the numbers of murders every year but it does not mean that a crime of such a grevious nature should not be inflicted with the harsher punishment. And arguing for not increasing the punishment in cases of this nature with a clear intention to kill someone for few rupees or for some material things, that punishment can not reduce the amount of such act i must feel pity for the victims and suffers in such cases, trust me i do. We were talking about the enhancement of punishment from that of Section 299 of IPC dealing with the topic Culpable homicide not amounting to murder. So according to you, the punishment should be same for acts having the intention and motive of grave notion and also for action done in absence of such a grave notion. Then i think we need to go through the Criminal Procedure too as it also needs some fresh space.
And now coming to the proper investigation deparment,i never said that they are either the cause for such crimes or they are the aggravating factors, what all i said was in respect of the statement delivered by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the matter Sushil Kumar Sharma vs. Union Of India, that in order to find out the true natureof fact we indeed need a reasonable department who can just find out the truth,thats it and nothing else.
But i agree to you that in order to reduce the number of crimes we need to amend the grassroot level of the society,and i think its the real way to get rid of all these bad things. But trust me my dear friend that is the toughest thing in this entire world because for that we need a great support from all of us, we need to fulfil the needs of the society and once the basic needs of the society is fulfilled all of these offences will begin to vanish but for that we all will have to wok together for the betterment of ourselves. So lets begin it...

abhindra said...

That’s an irony that Huge implicating section 498A and the conviction rate is less then 2%. The law is not working so scrap it—this is such a narrow solution to a problem.
If we are bad at hockey we will convert hockey field in a cricket stadium.

And the apathy is that Lawyers over here have become social thinkers.

And when you talk about redesigning the social structure you cannot ignore the interim process. I am not denying that there is a wide need of social change and the mindset has to be changed but this is a slow process which has been initiated long back. Abolition of sati, widow remarriage, community group marriage are some of the landmarks of the process. The Problem is that in this fast pace world we want everything revolutionized in economic pace.
I hope one day everyone’s mindset will change but then also we will need laws. Laws in any system are the regulating factors and not the deterring factors.

Coming on the political part I don’t understand why we always have to club everything with the politics.

It is good to see a problem as a whole but the essential part for a solution is to break it and then work on individual in correlation with each other.
When we are talking about stringent laws, we just cant ignore it on the ground that the implementation machinery is not effective.

And friends, how do we amend the grassroot level of the society??? And by amending grassroot level if one means low strata or rural population then I doubt your perception. The urban, educated female faces domestic violence with no lesser degree and gravity. Its just that the cases doesn’t come out.

And dear TJ, there are few attributed theories of punishment which I need not tell you. Punishment does not only have a deterrent effect but also reformative. So the argument that capital punishment for dowry will also not stop people demanding dowry doesn’t seem to be coming from a lawyer like you.
Moreover, it is the murder committed for dowry which needs to be addressed and not the dowry demand, when we are talking with respect to recent amendments proposed by the ministry.
And I will like to read some Criminal Psychological journals which says that Crimes are committed because people want to commit it. Will appreciate if you can suggest some to me.
-- Abhindra

Tarun Jain said...

well interesting comments and perspectives indeed from both Abhindra and KV. I would agree to most of them but then again we make pills to cure the diagnosed diseases and not to make more diseases. So if the law which is there to cure the menace of dowry is not working and instead is leading itself susceptible to abuse and unable to cure the disease it is meant to cure, then there is a serious need to amend the law first and replace it with a law which is meaningful and works in the context of the problem.