ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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In the Name of Justice

Courts should fix a broken justice system instead of trying to “save” the Indian family.

The Supreme Court has not done Indian women a favour. On the contrary, in its attempt to fix what it considers the “misuse” of a law, it has ensured that even the women who turn to it when in trouble will now think twice. On 27 July, the apex court further diluted provisions of Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). It was introduced in 1983 because provisions of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 were considered not strong enough to prevent the torture and even death of young women over dowry and other demands. Unfortunately, the Court appears to have accepted the charge of “misuse” of this provision mounted by groups like Save Indian Family who publicise every instance where a woman has not been able to substantiate her complaint as a “false” case.

In its ruling in the Rajesh Sharma and Ors v State of UP and Anr case, the Supreme Court has sought to address this apparent “misuse” of Section 498A. Based on 2012 data from the National Crime Records Bureau that the conviction rate was only 14.4% for cases under this section (not at all unusual given conviction rates for other crimes), the Court appears to have concluded that this indicates a high incidence of “false” cases. To check this, it has ordered all states to set up three-member Family Welfare Committees at the district level that will be the first stop for any woman who wishes to file a criminal complaint against members of her family under Section 498A. This “civil society” committee, comprising “para legal volunteers/social workers/retired persons/wives of working officers/other citizens” will first look at the case, present a report to the police within one month and only after that can the police proceed. While formulating this apparent solution to the problem, the Court appears not to have considered what happens in the meantime to the woman who has complained. Where does she go to escape the violence in the home? Furthermore, how can we assume that this “civil society” committee is above biases, cannot be bribed and nudged to give a ruling in favour of the perpetrators? Although the Court has asked for a re-evaluation after six months, the very premise on which this order is based is wrong because of the presumption that women’s complaints are not genuine and need an additional filter.

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Updated On : 24th Aug, 2017
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