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Dowry Act misuse quite common



CHANDIGARH: A first information report (FIR) was lodged in Patiala against a husband and his entire family in June 2001 for allegedly demanding dowry and subjecting his wife to mental and physical torture.

The high court, however, quashed the FIR registered against the two sisters-in-law and two brothers-in-law taking the stand that they were not residing with the accused husband and thus could not have harassed the wife as alleged.

In a similar incident in Sunam (Sangrur district of Punjab), the high court had quashed the complaint against the maternal uncle, aunt and the blind grandmother of the husband even though the wife had named them in the FIR.

These and several other such cases have raised a debate on whether the stringent and well meaning provisions of the laws governing dowry and cruelty against women were actually being increasingly misused to settle scores.

‘‘Husbands and their families are harassed by the stringent and outdated Dowry Act as majority of the cases these days are either exaggerated claims or are simply fabricated. This results in endless mental torture to the boy’s family who have no way out,’’ says Neena Tiwari, president of an NGO, Nari Jagriti Manch, which has started ‘‘crime against men’’ cell five months ago to provide counselling to the ‘suffering’ husbands.

More and more ‘victims’ coming for advice and counselling suggests there is an upward trend of men searching for an outlet to give vent to their harassment. The NGO had received about 50 such complaints in the first month of its operation and since then month after month these complaints are piling up.

‘‘The law is certainly one sided and its exploitation by the girl and her family is rampant,’’ says Rajinder Kumar Singla, a high court lawyer. The reason behind this abuse is ‘‘to teach a lesson to the husband’s entire family.’’

He says that the problem of abuse worsens because of the fact that the FIR is registered on the prima facie evidence wherein it becomes easy to rope in anyone whom the girls accuse. There is little that the accused can do to prove their innocence, he adds.

The lawyers and social activists say generally the quarrels begin from minor adjustment problems in the matrimonial relationship which are given shape of dowry and torture because of the strict repercussions in form of issuing of non bailable warrants.

‘‘In a modern society women have become quite advanced and the definition of cruelty as in Section 498 of the IPC is diluted. It is quite common for trivial matters to be flared up and the law is abused,’’ said Deepali Puri, a city-based lawyer.

Other legal experts, however, say it is very crucial to exercise caution while dealing with such cases as the truth may differ from case to case. Remarks Sheela Didi, a veteran lawyer and social activist, ‘‘There are all kinds of cases and quite a number of them are genuine too where the women are really the victims and law comes as a protector. We cannot do away with the present law because when a woman comes with a complaint she always has a problem.’’

The legal experts and social activists are one in suggesting that in today’s social set up where things have drastically changed, the real solution lies in being tolerant and making an effort to make adjustments in a relationship. But young couples are finding this the toughest thing to do.

Says Madhu Anil, a social activist, ‘‘Egos have to be contained by both the spouses otherwise this upward trend of the Dowry Act abuse will continue.’’