For decades, the fairer sex has fought for basic rights in a largely male dominated society that leaves no stone unturned to show woman her rightful place, which is essentially below men. The on -going debate that stemmed from a Supreme Court order asking the National Commission for Women (NCW) to set up a commission for wrongfully arrested men has brought feminists, women’s activists and social lawyers into the picture who are questioning the very foundation on which such an order has been passed. A Commission that was initially set up to provide relief to women who are victims of Domestic Violence and Dowry Allegations will now be dealing with cases of wrongful arrests against men. This seems to be the major driving force behind the order and its controversial nature.
What is 498a?
Section 498a is a section of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) that was passed through a Central Government Act in 1983 to protect women from cruelty and harassment. Ever since then, there have been cases of misuse of this section to extort the husband’s family of money. Since the filing of an FIR under this section costs nothing and wrongful arrest has no penalty, this section, at times, has been misused by the women and their families for money and property. On the contrary, there has been a larger number of cases of women finding relief through this Section.
Raised in the Parliament by BJP MP Anshul Verma, the issue pertaining to men’s laws and gender-biased justice has caused furore over years of efforts of Women’s activists undone by one simple Supreme Court order that states that there shall be no immediate arrest under Section 498a. While none of the opposing parties to this order have denied that this section is misused, the problem at hand is larger since cases of wrongful arrest are only 5% of total cases filed under Section 498a, according to National Crime Records Bureau(NCRB) data. Recently, BJP MP Anshul Verma publicly claimed on NDTV’s Agenda that there have been 27 lakh cases of wrongful arrests from 1998 to 2015 to which Karuna Nundy, a Supreme Court advocate responded that NCRB data shows only 5% of wrongful arrests. Interestingly, he also claimed that “dowry deaths are serious” and that the SC must look into them but what he was standing against are “dowry allegations” and hence, their misuse. As raised by an audience member, Srishti Kapil, a Third Year student in Literature at Sri Venkateswara College, the argument that a woman must die for the Law to take her seriously brings all other arguments to rest and why India needs Section 498a more so than ever. Since most number of cases reported under Section 498a have been dowry related, it is important to note that India, with an ever increasing population reports the highest number of dowry deaths in the world according to NCRB data.
While BJP MP Anshul Verma and his move seems more minority leaning, we must note that the Sex Ratio of India places women in the minority which then leaves the whole argument contested. By stating that there will be “No automatic arrest in 498a”, there is room for further Domestic Violence since there is no way that the Court can ensure fair treatment to the woman by her family once she is sent back home after filing a plea. Comprehensive amendment took place to include dowry as a punishable offence but which now, stands on loose grounding in light of recent developments in Women’s laws. A Memorandum has been sent to the Chief Justice of India by 16 Women’s Rights organizations to review the 27th July, 2017 judgement in the Rajesh Sharma v/s State of U.P delivered by Bench of Justices Adarsh Kumar Goel and Uday U. Lalit.
In the event of all the Supreme Court orders being executed, Women’s Rights and Safety will be rendered worthless and years of efforts in acquiring this brand of justice will stand undone. What the Law must recognise is that, gender-biased laws are not accounting to the present day situation which is relatively better than earlier times, but providing justice for decades of ill treatment and lack of justice and egalitarianism for the fairer sex. Even today, in the 21st century, in a country like India which claims to be the second largest economy in terms of purchasing power, if an economic indicator such as the Sex Ratio places women in the minority then the country needs more laws pertaining to women rather than the few being altered only to serve the minority cases that are at the hands of its misuse.
To that effect, the Supreme Court must look into the order and resolve to find a better solution than to dilute the only weapon that a woman has which is Section 498a.
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