Great Indian Curry

The 498a and Dowry Prohibition Act – The Tales of Role Reversal

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It’s hard to reckon that the men in our society, could also be potential victims of assaults, tortures, defamations, false accusations, and wrongful convictions. Why? Because India is still a majorly patriarchal society where men hold the baton, unfortunately. It is, therefore, unsettling to agree that these men could be vulnerable too. The thoughts of these men being oppressed rather than being the oppressor don’t ring a bell in our society.

The Reverse Theory – The 498a and Dowry Prohibition Act

The 498a clause that dealt with ‘matrimonial cruelty’ was added to the IPC in 1983. Over and above the Dowry Prohibition Act, that already existed. Victims of dowry harassment and assault, therefore, had a strong legal option to knock off their suppressors. Women, who decide to fight back, could access strong legal tools to literally squash their suppressors.

Here’s the Twist – The Tales of Role Reversal

As per http://www.498a.org/faq.htm 

“Any Indian wife and her relative can file 498a on her husband, his parents, sisters, brothers, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, wives of brothers, and other relatives. 498a (dowry harassment case) leads to arrest without any verification or investigation.” 

That is a dangerous piece of law. Men and their families could be dragged to jail, without a shred of investigation or verification.

This law handed over an unchecked power to women with malicious intent. Women who threatened men with 498a, stripped them of their honor, made them submit to long lists of demands, forced them to cut off ties with families, often left them bankrupt, and seldom drove them to cowardly suicides. Hence, in a role reversal, these women were now the suppressor. The men in their lives were suppressed. 

Laws needed to be “Gender Neutral”, but it wasn’t. However, conventional society and conventional laws were fundamentally aligned to provide cover for women. Most “women rights commissions” unanimously branded all men as culprits. As per the National Crime Records Bureau, 54% of the cases filed under 498a were proven to be wrongful accusations in the year 2015. Take a note.

Where Are the Real Victims?

The millions of real dowry victims especially spread across the rural areas, never had the courage or knowledge to seek justice. Tucked away far from the shades of modernity, they lacked any awareness around 498a. With limited access to social, print, and News media, these women are often too jittery in reaching out to the greater world seeking legal avenues. Burdened under the mountains of patriarchy, social pressure, khap and panchayat raj, these women keep tolerating the harassment and abuse.

An Example Case Study

I have personally known a friend who traveled between Indian and New Zealand six times in four months just because his newlywed wife “didn’t like it in New Zealand”.  The whimsical trait of his wife kept growing to a point that the couple was facing severe financial turmoil and differences of opinion. Which is when the friend filed for a divorce. His wife tactfully cried foul on every social media, sought help from Women Rights councils, local political leaders, and drowned the husband in a pile of far-fetched acquisitions. Of course, I am unaware of the wife’s version of grievances. But I have known the friend for 20 long years. The couple wasn’t staying with the in-laws. So that angle is off the table. The friend was staying in New Zealand for the last few years. Faced with mounting social pressure and astronomical alimony claims, he opted for a one-time settlement that literally left him bankrupt, after having earned in NZ Dollars for 5+ years. 

Legal Empowerment Should be Gender Neutral

Laws that empower the suppressed should be gender-neutral. While the world seems very compassionate towards women in distress, the men in similar situations are conveniently branded as “coward” and “weak”. Why? Because every media and social channels portray men as herculean meat-balls, symbolising power, force, and vigor. Men, therefore need no legal protection. Our obsession with dare-devil male Heroes and beautiful yet vulnerable Heroines never seem to end.

The truth is, the weak and suppressed should be protected irrespective of gender. Laws such as 498a should be tailored to protect the suppressed – without the possible discrimination of male or female.

16 replies »

  1. Well, unlike other countries, India has a majority of its population staying around the rural areas, still reeling under male domination and patriarchy. And after years of “how it has always been”, a majority of these women accept their “voiceless” existence as a “way of life”. These women never get a fair share of justice. Since many of them are yet to realize that their fundamental rights are being violated for centuries. These laws were devised to uplift and empower such women. But women from these areas hardly have access to mobiles, the internet, or a medium to vent their troubles and agonies. In fact, they have no clue of such rules that could be leveraged. Yet, the abuse of these laws mostly happens across cities where socially aware and connected individuals have misused the fine prints to defame, accuse, malign and extort the male counterpart.

    But, yes. Things have been changing.

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  2. Obviously there is the possibility of abuse with this law. It’s impossible to generalize from specific cases; I would hesitate to accept that, overall, its sole effect has been dishonest charges against men and that women have not benefited from its protections in the majority of cases, despite the cases where women have used the law unscrupulously.

    I also don’t agree that laws should always be gender-neutral (or anything neutral). The principle of equity should apply, i.e., society disadvantages some people, so we try to give them extra protections or a head start to level the playing field. In view of men’s greater physical strength and aggression, it is appropriate to have laws that would protect women from that disadvantage, not even getting into the societal disadvantages they might encounter.

    But clearly it’s unfair to “arrest first, investigate later”. And criminal law at least in Canada, has a strict standard of “beyond the shadow of a doubt,” with the burden of proof on the Crown (state)/ ./
    Police here began the practice of “arrest first…” after a tragic incident where they did not fully comprehend the danger the woman was in from her husband, did not arrest him, and he killed her. Since then, it’s exactly as you describe.

    So I guess I’m saying that the only thing I find wrong about this law is the presumption of guilt, rather than of innocence. Women have to be protected where they are vulnerable, but it is clearly unjust to simply flip the situation and make the man vulnerable! Very interesting article.

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  3. Well yes. The process of rectifying the injustice has probably taken an ugly toll on many men, who weren’t the cause of these injustices. The real victims and culprits are hardly receiving the necessary attention.

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  4. Well, the country had been reeling under gender inequalities, but the scenario has changed remarkably over the last decade owing to the social media, press and News media being more aware and open. Empowerment is good as long as the person respects and understands the essence of it, irrespective of Gender. The 498a is a piece of law that has no boundaries and tangle elements to it. And people with devious intents can wreck havoc leveraging laws such as these.

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  5. Thanks, Vani. Glad you echo our sentiments. While unchecked power such as 498a can be judiciously used to pull up the fallen and helpless, the same law could be devastating when leveraged by the devious mind. Irrespective of gender.

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  6. Thanks, Vani. Glad you echo our sentiments. While unchecked power such as 498a can be judiciously used to pull up the fallen and helpless, the same law could be devastating when leveraged by the devious mind. Irrespective of gender.

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  7. I feel the dowry system is very deep rooted in Indian culture. Only thing that could help both sides is a legal contract (prenup) signed on the wedding day like in western countries.

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  8. Correct. The Prenup thing is gradually coming up in the cities and towns. But the majority of the true dowry victims still suffer silently, especially across the rural areas where the access to social media or News outlets is still less.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Well the dowry problem has moderately come down, especially with at stringent laws such as 498a in place. However, there has been a massive amount of cases that the 498a has been leveraged by women to devastate their husbands and in-laws.

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  10. Very well written 👏👏👏
    Laws should be ‘gender neutral’, I have seen many women around me threatening the man in their life “I will file a case against you, I will make sure that you and your family rot in jail’ and finally the husband has to give in and fulfill every demand to maintain his social image…

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