Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Bihar orders change into Section 498(A) process

The Section 498(A) of the IPC is meant for prevention of crimes against women, something that this country has struggled with for quite some time now. If you read the actual Section, it talks about: "Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine". This was meant to ensure that a woman subjected to harassment in her matrimonial home can take legal measure to protect herself. However, as with any law that favors one side of the dispute, it is subjected to misuse (and there are numerous complaints about the law being misused - refer to this link).
The main complaints against this law (from whatever I have read so far in various articles, web sites, and email) is that:
- the law has allowed the daughter-in-law to subject the entire family of her husband to its provisions
- the police do not investigate the case, but based on the complaint, have been known to drag all the accused (including elderly people and children)
So here is an update from a directive sent out by Bihar police:

There have been talks about misuse of laws relating to crime against women for quite some time now. Bihar police’s CID also admitted this when it directed all the SPs in the state to ensure proper investigation into FIRs lodged under Section 498(A) of the IPC before going in for arrest of the accused. “Sometimes such cases are framed against in-laws or others just to harass or settle old scores. Hence, the precaution against arrests,” ADG (CID) Yashwant Malhotra told TOI recently.
In his letter to district SPs, government railway police, range DIGs and zonal ADGs/IGs, Malhotra said it has been observed that in cases relating to crime against women, particularly those registered under Section 498(A) of the IPC, all the in-laws of the alleged victim are named as accused. And they are arrested without proper investigation into the case, thus marring the interests of justice.

This is actually a mixed step (in reality). One would like to think that, as per judicial and legal standards, the practice of doing an enquiry and then only proceeding against the named people is the right step. If one considers the law to be a just tool, then this is the right step.
However, there needs to be careful attention paid to the actual implementation of the law, since now proceeding on the basis of a complaint would be subject to the individual police officer of the region, and rural and semi-urban regions are known for police officers bucking under pressure, especially when the families and people involved are known / powerful.
What do people think ? Making sure that the provision is subject checks and balances is a good thing, but do people think that this could lead to a much watered down enforcement of the provisions meant to protect women ?

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 6:03 AM