IPC 498a misuse -Ensure Due Process
It is welcome that the Supreme Court has asked the Law Commission and the law ministry to review anti-dowry laws. The apex court has rightly taken cognisance of the rising number of frivolous cases throughout the country under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code. The section defines the offence of matrimonial cruelty and was inserted in 1983 to act as a deterrent to dowry violence and dowry deaths. Undoubtedly, these are heinous offences. But the degree to which Section 498A has helped correct them is uncertain.
At the same time, it has had perverse effects. Successive court rulings have reiterated the notion that it's a law open to abuse. And among the worst sufferers from such misuse have been women.
The most controversial feature of the dowry laws is that they contravene the principle of due process of law. In normal criminal cases, an accused is considered to be innocent unless proven guilty. Section 498A being a cognisable offence allows police to arrest a person and his whole family without a warrant. Moreover, these come under the category of non-bailable and non-compoundable offences.
Clearly, there exists considerable scope for the law's misuse for ulterior motives. Ironically, there is no provision to deal with false complaints except the law against perjury, which is hardly taken seriously in Indian courts. Therefore, it is important to introduce better safeguards in the anti-dowry laws in the light of changed social realities. The solution to domestic violence may not be draconian laws, but greater awareness and improved functioning of law enforcement authorities.