This is an edited crosspost from the 50 Million Missing Campaign
498A is a significant law in India that is meant to protect married women from violence inflicted on them by their husbands and in-laws, and ensure justice in case they get killed. These cases may or may not involve dowry. The law is cognizable (i.e. a police officer can investigate and arrest without a warrant) and non-bailable (i.e. the court has the power to grant or refuse bail). The maximum sentence under this law is only 3 years.
Over the last few years there has been a very powerful, wealthy, lobby of Indian men, many living outside India (married to women from India), who have funded a strong anti 498A drive and have managed to put the law before the Indian administration for amendment. Their complaint is that many women are making false claims of torture and harassment under this law. They want the law to be made non-cognizable and bailable.
The 50 Million Missing Campaign will be sending this memorandum (letter below) to the Committee protesting this amendment. We request that you put your comments in the boxes below [HERE] supporting our protest. Your email address will not be published. You can also send an email (by Dec 30) directly to firstname.lastname@example.org.
TO: Shri Bhagat Singh Koshyari, Chairman,The Committee on Petitions of the Rajya Sabha
FROM: The 50 Million Missing Campaign
A Memorandum Protesting Amendments to Section 498A of Indian Penal Code, 1860.
Respected Committee Members,
The 50 Million Missing Campaign is an online campaign, for advocacy, support and change, that for four years has been working to raise public awareness about the various factors that have contributed to the systematic extermination of millions of girls and women from India’s population.
We are appalled that the 498A law which is meant to protect women and ensure justice in dowry related cases of violence/ death, should be targeted for change, when the need for legal and judicial protection of India’s girls and women is so dire.
We would like to submit to you the following reasons for why it is imperative that the 498A be not weakened any further, as well as some constructive suggestions (In the comment boxes below are feedback from the campaign’s supporters)
1) IT IS ALREADY VERY DIFFICULT FOR FAMILIES OF WOMEN VICTIMIZED TO FILE A COMPLAINT WITH THE POLICE
In many cases it is almost impossible for the family of the woman victimized to lodge a complaint or even file an FIR with the police. This is a problem that even the Supreme Court has acknowledged. In giving an angry directive in August 2008 Justice B N Agrawal said “In India, officials act only on huntering (flogging). India understands only ‘chabuk’ – this is the meaning of swaraj and this is the concept of swaraj (self-rule).”
In one of our cases, the victim Roopa had her husband, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law pin her down and pour acid down her throat. We managed to get her medical and surgical help, which saved her life, but her father-in-law was a sarpanch, and influential, and the local district court and police in Roopa’s in-laws’ village, in West Bengal, refused to allow Roopa’s parents to file a case. So the HRLN (Human Rights Law Network) – Kolkata, which took Roopa’s case, on basis of inaction of the lower courts and police, finally was compelled to try to file the case at the High Court in Kolkata.
2) THE SYSTEM ALREADY TAKES A VERY LONG TIME TO HEAR A CASE AND ARREST THE SUSPECTS
In one of the cases we have been supporting, that of Anshu Singh, who was only 23 years old, and was killed just 45 days after her wedding, it took Anshu’s parents 8 long months of fighting the system to get a hearing in court and get the suspects arrested. For those eight months the suspects were free to do whatever, go wherever, with no legal accountability. But if it took that long for the Singh family, that is educated, middle-class, and can afford legal help, just imagine how unfeasible it is for other families who are not.
3) MISUSE OF THE LAW IS NOT A PROBLEM OF THE LAW BUT OF THE POLICE AND JUDICIARY
One of the arguments made against the 498A is that women are apparently misusing the law to blackmail their husbands and in-laws. We at the campaign have not come across any such case. However, we are not saying that this is impossible. What we are saying is that it is reckless to modify the law that is there for the protection of many, and indeed by the number of women that are violently abused, tortured and killed, is still isn’t sufficient to ensure their safety.
The law as it is — is still grossly ineffectual. And the problem for this ineffectuality, both in the case of “false” cases filed under 498A, and the thousands of cases where it has failed to give justice to women so killed, is police and judiciary system. If cases are not filed, if the police investigations as well as autopsies are not carried out in time and according to proper procedures, how can the law be effective? It is the job of system to root out false cases through a careful and accountable process. Take other criminal activities for example – theft and assault. If people start filing false theft and assault cases, would we weaken the laws on theft and assault?
4) SO CALLED “FALSE” CASES MAY INDEED BE TRUE
This is unfortunately a very common phenomenon in India. Women who are subject to torture and attempted murder by their husbands and in-laws often return to their marital homes.
In Roopa’s case she returned to her marital home just a few days before her lawyers could file the case in the High Court. The reason women in India do so, is because they face immense social rejection by their neighbours and communities when they leave their husbands or try to prosecute them, even when they are the victims. Roopa was in the hospital for more than one month, and not one neighbour or relative came to visit her in the hospital during that time. When she was brought come they crowded around her house, like she was some strange animal on display. After that, they did not visit her, did not ask about her, and continued to spread malicious rumours about the reasons she left her husband.
Any woman who leaves her husband in India, even to save her life, gets branded a “prostitute”. These are people who have known her family from before Roopa was born, but they treated her with the most inhumane callousness. Roopa began to feel like an out-caste. She felt ashamed of herself. Most of these women, through long abuse and violence, already have very low self-esteem. In a society like India’s, where community approval and standing is such an important factor in social survival, is it surprising that most women choose to return to their husbands? In a country that tells women “Pati-parmeshvar” (Your husband is God) – and so it does not matter what he does to you, you must obey and respect him, is it surprising that women in India choose to return to their husbands at the risk of their own safety and life? In a country where for ages we have traditions and sayings like – “A daughter leaves her parents’ house in a doli (marriage palanquins) but can return only in a coffin,” is it surprising that many women choose to return to their husbands’ house?
It is not the law that needs changing, it is India’s social attitude that must be changed! It is India’s human priorities that need to be changed!
5) RECOMMENDATION IN LIEU OF CHANGE TO 498A
In view of the extensive violence that girls and women in India are subject to, one that has led to the systematic annihilation of millions of girls and women, it is critical that the criminal and legal system stands strong in combating such a gross violation of human rights of this one targeted group.
We have a whole social killing machinery here in action in India: female feticide, female infanticide, the deliberated neglect or and often abandonment of infant girls, mob molestations, rape, gang-violence by husbands and in-laws, dowry murders, “honor” killings and “witch” hunts.
India now ranks even lower than our neighbors Pakistan and Bangladesh in the Global Gender Equity Index. This is more than a national shame! It is a national calamity! Recently the Supreme Court Justices Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Mishra said “The hallmark of a healthy society is the respect it shows to women. Indian society has become a sick society. This is evident from the large number of cases coming up in this court and also in almost all courts in the country in which young women are being killed by their husbands or by their in-laws by pouring kerosene on them and setting them on fire or by hanging/strangulating them.”
Therefore, please do not weaken any of the laws – which have already proved quite inefficient in protecting girls and women.
Instead we recommend that each city and town have a separate police and judiciary wing set up to deal specifically with all the issues impacting on the safety of girls and women we’ve mentioned above. There should be police and investigative officers, psychologists, a medical team, autopsy team, lawyers and fast-track courts – all of who must have specialized training. This can also be the hub for organizing and monitoring community sensitivity, legal effectiveness, political impact and social responsibility with regards to the safety of India’s girls and women.
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Filed in: 'Honour'-based violence,India,Sex equality