Friday, February 06, 2009

Misuse of dowry laws

The prevalence of dowry in today's society is an open fact; most people see it in operation either in their own marriage, or in the marriage of their family members; or you see it on operation in the case of acquaintances. So as an example, I have seen dowry in operation in the case of a family friend where her in-laws insisted on a car as a part of the marriage (and even specified the type of car that was requested). They had accepted that this was a price to be paid for getting their daughter married (and one should fault them equally for being so desperate to get their daughter married). Of course, in all cases of dowry, the boy's side is always evaluating the value they can get for their boy and have no qualms in demanding the same.
A lot of this dowry expectation is now baked into society, and there do no seem to be any easy solutions (people giving dowry expect that this is the price they need to pay to get their daughter married, and those demanding dowry do not care that such expectations are illegal in law). To make the scale more even, the Government of India has introduced a number of laws that seek to even the scales, and empower women. However, in trying to even the scale, the laws give a lot of power to women, and in some cases, there has been misuse. There have been many reported cases where the threat of usage of such laws (and consequent police action) is used as a level to force settlements; it has been pointed out in court cases and by many pro-male organizations. And when the Chief Justice of India points this out, you can be sure that this is a deep matter of concern:

Dealing a blow to women's rights activists who have been stringently defending the Section 498A provision of the Indian Penal Code, Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan on Saturday said that in some cases this section — that deals with matrimonial cruelty — was being `grossly misused'. Elaborating on false cases being filed in recent times, the CJI said that relatives not involved with a matrimonial dispute were unfairly implicated. "In some cases, 498A is grossly misused,'' he said. Balakrishnan was speaking at a seminar, `Marriage laws -- issues and challenges', organised by the National Commission for Women.
The IPC section allows for immediate arrest of the husband and in-laws by the police on the basis of a woman's complaint and has been controversial.

The various laws that were supposed to empower women, even though trying to balance the scales, do not maintain the old adage of all people being equal before the law, and that everyone is presumed innocent until proved guilty. Unless the law allows for a better investigation and penalties for misuse, misuse will continue.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:59 AM