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Late Syed Ahmad  – Victim false 498A – committed suicide

Late Manoj  - Abused by wife, threatened of false 498A – committed suicide

Late Nirmala– Daughter in law threatened of 498A – committed suicide

Late Lokesh - Deserted by wife, threatened of false 498A – committed suicide

Late Anuj  – threatened of false 498A – committed suicide

Late Ravi – 5 Lac demand to settle 498A – committed suicide

Late Arun – Wife adulterous, threatened 498A – committed suicide

Late Amit  – 5 Lac demand else 498A – committed suicide

Late Mahendra  – Daughter in law filed false 498A – committed suicide

Late Harkamaljeet – Sister in law demanded 50 lacs else 498A – both committed suicide

Late Aarti – A young 20 year old girl threatened by sister in law of a false 498A – committed suicide!

The names mentioned above are few of thousands who are dying at the altar of a law that was meant to save people from dying!

I am a filmmaker and currently making a documentary on Misuse of section 498A of IPC. Last year, I was travelling to Bangalore to cover story of Syed Ahmad Makhdoom. He committed suicide and left a seven minute suicide video narrating his ordeal of being falsely implicated in a dowry case and denied access to love of his life - his son. In uncontrollable tears, he expressed his inability of meeting extortionist demands of his estranged wife and her family. I was in the train and preparing notes for my next few days of shoot when I got this call - "5 suicides have happened in Bangalore in a single day. 4 out of them had a dowry related dispute or threat" told my friend. I was speechless but slightly unmoved as during the making of this documentary, I have come across several cases of the like.

Young, middle, old aged men, women, senior citizens and even kids have committed suicide due to threats of or being implicated in a false dowry case. These are not patients of depression and never had a streak of depression. These are people who were pushed to the brink by a draconian law that shatters hope of one thing every human being want - peace! It ruins reputation build over ages and leaves indelible scars on anyone who falls into this trap without being at mistake.

During the course of my film, I met several lawyers, victims, hearing gory stories of the misuse of this law and the sufferings of lacs every single year. Women cell officials told me how they have a tough time grasping white lies spoken by people who abuse this law. 498A has been debated, discussed, pondered over till death by various courts, legal luminaries, police, civil society and even women organizations. Everyone is aware of the damage this single law has caused to institution of marriage and also to people who believed in the judicial system in India.  Supreme Court of India in Sushil Kumar Sharma vs Union of India observed this menace as Legal Terrorism and said "the intent of the law was to be used as a shield and not assassin’s weapon". Such strong words from the supreme temple of justice should have awakened senses of the law makers but it did not.

Several guidelines have been issued by Supreme Court, High Courts, Senior police officials to take extreme precaution in cases related to dowry and avoid unnecessary arrests. The corruption however is so widespread that bargains are happening at every level despite the guidelines. Justice Malimath Committee recommended immediate changes in the law. Law Commission of India has delved into the issue in two of its reports - 243rd and 237th. People in the highest ranks in judiciary and police have recommended making the law bailable and compoundable and also define the meaning of relatives to avoid harassment to unsuspecting relatives of the groom.

All has however fallen on deaf ears. The pressure from women organisations is so strong that it's made a coward of everyone. No one dares to question a false case even if there isn't an iota of justification to the allegations made. 1,97,000 people out of which 48000 are females got arrested in 2012 alone on 1,06,000 complaints. 2 people on 1 complaint on an average. NCRB data suggests rounding up of even kids continue unabated. Senior Citizens, whose earning of life - their home/property - is at stake in several of these cases are running helter skelter asking for Justice to no avail.

Many people tell me - things have changed. Yes! Things have changed only for the worse. The problem has seeped deep down even in smaller cities. Any woman knocking on the door of a lawyer is advised a 498A and settlement. Behind every FIR there are several FIRs in form of legal notice that initiates the bargain and end in a mutual divorce post a settlement. Fearing government jobs and humiliation in the society, people are paying a huge price for committing mistake of marrying their sons. Those who fail to bow down to these demands have next few years making endless rounds of the courts. Those who are a little weak hearted, are resorting to the unthinkable - suicide.

The irony is these suicides have no label. These are not called reverse dowry deaths. Many of them are not even reported as parents of the groom are so shattered that they are ready to suffer in silence rather than take any action against the ones who have already destroyed their small world. Those who dare complain, face a system that once they saw as super active in arresting them but no blinking an eye now that a man has died. Most of them are passed as accidental deaths! Worst - feminists pass them as farmer suicides on TV debates.

Yes, there is violence against our women. Yes, there is cruelty inflicted on them. But I believe, these deaths are least that the law envisioned as a fall out of this law. As you read this, there are lacs suffering in homes, police stations, Jails, women cells and courts for a crime they did not commit.

When would this change? Who would take any stock whether the law has been able to bring any change that it intended to in the society or not? Looking at soaring expenditures and magnanimous weddings, the answer is perhaps no! Huge collateral damage? YES!


Deepika Narayan Bhardwaj

Twitter: @DeepikaBhardwaj

Journalist/Documentary Filmmaker

Martyrs of Marriage – Documentary on Misuse of IPC 498A

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