Misuse Of Women Centric Laws In India

SOUMYA VEMULAKONDA
Article By Soumya Vemulakonda | 1st Year Law student at Bennett University, Greater Noida

INTRODUCTION

India has been a male dominated country for decades, which led to creating new women centric laws. The new laws, for instance, The Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (“DV Act”), was enacted for protecting women who have been mentally and physically harassed and tortured in the Indian society for years. The Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956 (“Maintenance Act”) is another such act which has helped women have a decent living after getting a divorce. Section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (“IPC”) was introduced in 1983. This section provides protection to married women from cruelty and dowry harassment from her husband or any relatives of the husband. Section 354, 354-A, 354-B of the IPC also benefits women against assault or criminal force and sexual harassment. The abovementioned laws aided countless women by providing them with justice and peace. 

NEED FOR WOMEN CENTRIC LAWS

The Domestic Violence Act, 2005

For centuries, Indian patriarchal society has normalized the abuse of women by their in-laws. Women are subjected to physical and mental torture, and cruelty. The significant point is, people do not realize that this is an issue and a crime under the IPC. Domestic violence not only has an impact on the women but also their children. Children are mentally affected by domestic violence and lead a traumatic life. Before 2005, women could have freely approached the court under Section 498-A of IPC but, Section 498-A is only limited to cruelty and dowry related harassment. The above section only deals with married women. Thus, for the reasons mentioned above, the need for DV Act emerged. This law aims to protect women, children from violent husbands and relatives. 

Section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code

Section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code was introduced in 1983. The aim of this section is to protect women from cruelty by their husbands and the husbands’ relatives. According to Section 498-A, cruelty includes behaving in an unlawful manner with the women which might lead her to commit suicide. This section includes dowry deaths. It also includes harassment, which concerns, harassing a woman or her relative and coercing them to perform an unlawful demand of the husband related to property or any valuable item. 

The Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956

The word “maintenance” has been defined under Maintenance Act as follows:

“Maintenance” includes-

  • In all cases, provision for food, clothing, residence, education, and medical attendance and treatment;
  • In the case of an unmarried daughter also the reasonable expenses of and incident to her marriage;
  • “minor” means a person who has not completed his or her age of eighteen years.

This particular act was formed in 1956, a time when not a lot of women were educated enough to earn a living like men. The opportunities of working as a female were also remote. Thus, the Maintenance Act was introduced. The Maintenance Act is crucial to maintain a woman and her children in the same lifestyle after divorce as they were during the marriage. The Maintenance Act ensures payment of money for food, clothing, residence, education, etc. The male is supposed to pay the women until she gets remarried.

HOW ARE WOMEN CENTRIC LAWS MISUSED

While such women centric laws as aforementioned are indispensable to protect the interests of women, there are instances where these laws have been misused by women for their own benefits. In this process, there is a good chance that an innocent man might get punished. Because of such an utter misuse, the sanctity of these laws is ruined. There are many cases in which women have misused the laws specifically made for them to satisfy their ego and their needs. Let us look at some of these cases. In the case of Sejalben Tejasbhai Chovatiya vs. State of Gujarat (MANU/GJ/3099/2016), the petitioner (the wife) did not state in the facts that she was receiving an income of Rs. 40,000 per month from the business. She also stated that she was performing all the domestic/household work but she never once received an income in exchange. Because of this false evidence adduced by the petitioner, she had committed perjury. The court said that the laws which usually favor the women have been misused by providing false evidence and for the above reasons, the court dismissed the petition. In the case of Savitri Devi v Ramesh Chand & Ors (II (2003) DMC 328), the judge has stated that, women centric laws are created for the benefit of the women who are subjected to domestic violence and other violence against women, but these laws have been misused by dragging the far relatives of the husbands into the case, even the minors and grandparents. Women are filing a case against 10-15 people at once. When the cruelty or an offence was committed by only the husband or the in-laws or both, the case should be filed against those people alone and not the whole family of the accused. The same view from the aforementioned case has been taken in the case of Kanaraj vs. State of Punjab (2000 CriLJ 2993), where the judge stated that the relatives of the husbands cannot be involved in the case unless the accusations are proved beyond reasonable doubt. If this cannot be proven the relatives of the husbands cannot be included in the case for the fault of the husband. The judge also stated that, in order to get justice for dowry deaths, the family of the deceased tend to involve as many members of the family as they can. This act can affect the prosecution and eventually weaken the case against the culprit. In the case, Narayan Ganesh Dastane v. Sucheta Narayan Dastane (1975 AIR 1534), the respondent ,i.e., Sucheta Narayan Dastane, wife of the petitioner was held guilty of cruelty against the appellant, the husband. The facts of this case prove that cruelty cannot only be committed by the husband but also the wife. The wife could also affect the husband mentally. In Rajesh Sharma and Ors. v. State of Bihar [(Crl.) No. 2013 of 2017], the court gave a few directions to avoid the misuse of Section 498-A of IPC. The court ordered to create a welfare committee in every district, which should comprise para-legal volunteers, wives of officers, social workers, and other citizen volunteers. The duties of committee members will be to look into the cases related to Section 498-A of IPC that the police stations receive. The committees will discuss the issue and provide a report to the authorities. The arrest of the accused should be kept on hold until the report of the committee is received. The above report should be viewed by the magistrate. The court also permitted the legal services authority to provide training to the committee members once in a while. In the case, Saritha v R. Ramachandran (I (2003) DMC 37 [DB]), the court stated on record that educated women who seek divorce also initiate proceedings against the in-laws (who did not subject the women to cruelty) under 498-A of IPC, which is absolute misuse of the provisions that were made to benefit women. The court also mentioned that “This is nothing but abuse of beneficial provisions intended to save the women from unscrupulous husbands”. In the case Jasbir Kaur vs. State of Haryana ([1990]2 Rec Cri R 243), the court stated that according to the facts, it did not seem that the petitioners could be convicted. This was because the estranged wife tried to include as many family members in the case under Section 498-A of IPC as possible. Hence, the court held that the prosecution of the petitioners would be an abuse of the proceedings. In the cases, Bhupinder Kaur and others vs. State of Punjab [(2003 CriLJ 3394] and State Vs. Srikanth (2002 CriLJ 3605), the courts dealt with relatives of the husband being dragged in the case even when they were not related to any of the allegations made against the husband regarding cruelty and dowry. In the case, Sushil Kumar Sharma v. Union of India and others (JT 2005(6) 266), the court stated that, “By the misuse of the provision, a new legal terrorism is unleashed. The provision is intended to be used as a shield and not an assassin’s weapon.” From this expression, the hon’ble judge intended to say that these provisions are used to aid and protect those who are in need of them and not for the use of an impure and manipulative motive. The court also stated that the role of the court is to reach the truth in the matter and not take the wide allegation without looking into the matter in a proper way, by the investigating agency.

DISCRIMINATORY TO THE MALE GENDER

Laws like the DV Act, Section 498-A of IPC, Section 304-B of IPC and the Maintenance Act are all women centric. From the aforementioned cases it is proven that, in matters of cruelty, dowry and harassment, men are not always at fault and women can be culprits too. It is proven that cruelty can emerge from both the parties in a marriage. Therefore, this issue requires provisions which are male and female centred instead of just provisions which benefit one gender. Husbands and their relatives are being dragged into cases without having their part in the wrong committed by egoistic women with an unlawful motive. This is highly unjust and discriminatory to the male gender as there is no law to protect a male from the crimes of cruelty and harassment. Although, the likelihood of males being harassed by females is lesser than vice versa, there is still a possibility as learnt from the aforementioned cases. The women centric laws are also a sign of inequality between the two genders. When the matter is cruelty and harassment, the laws should be gender neutral instead of prioritizing females exclusively. These women centric laws have also violated Article 14 of the Indian Constitution, which says, Equality before law- The state shall not deny to any person equality before the law or equal protection of the laws within the territory of India. The Article mentions the words “equality before the law” and “equal protection of the laws”. Equal protection of the laws is supposed to provide equal protection to every citizen of India irrespective of their genders. But the women centric laws violate the right to equality of the males. The laws should be gender neutral to balance the equal right and equal protection before the law. The state is indirectly violating Article 14 of the fundamental rights enshrined under the Indian Constitution by not providing laws for males as well, regarding cruelty and harassment.

NEED FOR CHANGE IN LAWS WITH CHANGE IN SOCIETY

The laws discussed  in this research were made in the years 1860, 1956, and 1983 – an era when women did not really have much of a say in anything. At that period of time, men were said to be superior to women. That must have been the reason why all these laws are female oriented. But laws should be ever dynamic and must keep pace with the evolving social milieu. Laws should be amended in tune with the new normal. In today’s world, women are also harassing males and subjecting males to cruelty; as has been already established. The laws should be amended according to the present needs and situation in India. For instance, in India, homosexuality was not a thing according to the rules of the society a hundred years ago. Nevertheless, people are gaining awareness about this particular issue and altering their point of view about homosexuality. Owing to this, and in keeping with the times, the Supreme Court of India decriminalized consensual gay sex and homosexuality in 2018.  In the same way, the society and the legislature should recognize the crimes of cruelty and harassment being committed against males (especially married men). We may have more amendments like these in the future as well because with time, people’s mindset changes and with these changes occurring, changes in the law become inevitable. If changes in the law do not occur, our social milieu and the laws would not be consistent with each other. Laws and society should always run hand in hand. With a change in one, change in the other becomes indispensable.

CONCLUSION

First Remedy: The misuse of these laws are an abuse to the legislation and the purpose of these laws. The change in these laws can be brought by lawyers. Lawyers have the power to argue before the court about the demerits of not making these laws gender neutral. They have the opportunity to initiate the change and stop egoistic women from harming the purity of the institution by misusing the laws that are supposed to act as a shield. Before making amendments, a solution to this issue should be created. The court should create mandatory guidelines regarding the misuse. These guidelines shall be followed by every lawyer before prosecuting the male and make sure that no misuse is taking place. If the solution is not proportionate and powerful enough to stop the misuse, the only way is to amend.

Second Remedy: Women oriented laws, particularly Section 498-A of the IPC, should be at least considered for amendment. All of the genders deserve equal protection under the eyes of law. There have to be some laws that provide remedy to men as well. As there are no laws for men, they have no option of seeking protection under the law. Even if men approach the courts, the judges are mostly favourable to the women from the very commencement of the proceedings because of the history of our nation concerning domestic violence. How would we react if this situation was of females not having any laws supporting and protecting them from domestic violence? If the roles were reversed, the legislature would definitely work on providing women protection. Therefore, by understanding the current situation and by taking the aforementioned cases into consideration, the society is looking forward to some crucial amends especially for Section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code.

This article was written by Soumya Vemulakonda, a 1st Year student at Bennett University, Greater Noida. She may be reached at L20BLB001@bennett.edu.in. The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the views and opinions of Hello Counsel.

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