A woman whose mother was jailed for several months and brother continues to be behind bars under the alleged offense of “Dowry Death” raises some pertinent questions.
Is a Married Woman’s Death always due to Dowry? Can that be the only reason behind suicide of a married woman?
As a woman, that’s my question to everyone.
India, a land of cultural diversity and huge population. A large portion of our population is still illiterate, uneducated and unaware of their rights. There is another problem of Patriarchal society in most parts of India. So men make rules there…. Yes that’s all what we think when it comes to relationship of a man and woman. While this is still true in parts of society where women are not educated and informed but the same does not hold good for our huge growing urban population where women are not only learned but very well aware about their rights . Like every country our constitution has made laws to avert criminal activities and out of those laws there are some extremely strict ones like 498 A, 304B, 376, 3/4DP act designed for providing protection to women as our constitution believe they are the weaker sex .Under these laws designed to protect and prevent crimes against women, we are staring at another gigantic problem today- Misuse of Law.
Let’s try and have a look at some alarming statistics:
As per NCRB:
- The overall male : female ratio of suicide victims for the year 2013 was 67:33. However, the proportion of boys:girls suicide victims (upto 14 years of age) was 53:47
- Nearly 70.8% of the suicide victims were married males while 66.6% were married females.
- Family problems have accounted for 24.0% of total Suicides in country during the year 2013.
- Every 9 min a Married Man Commits Suicide, Every 17 min a Female Commits Suicide
- Since 1998, around 5.2 lakh women have been arrested under Section 498A
- In 2011 : Only 25.9 % of rape cases were convicted, 74.1 % were acquitted
Every time a married women dies in her matrimonial home(not literally like you would see in the case below) within 7 years of her marriage under unnatural circumstances (Burning/Suicide/Injury) and it is reported, it is presumed to be a dowry death. While you see in the statistics above that quite a huge number of girls commit suicide in their own homes because of various reasons, a married woman, our law assumes would end her life owing to dowry only! Mental health of the woman, sadness because of any reason, suicidal thoughts because of any situation – are irrelevant and unworthy of consideration if the woman’s parents allege “Dowry Death”. Death is a very painful occurrence – for any family – be it of a man or a woman. But when it’s a woman – putting everything under the ambit of dowry – How fair is my question.
Read this story:
A boy and a girl who are studying together to be dentists in the same college, fall in love and decide to get married. Both their parents being very broad minded willingly agreed even though both are from different castes. They get married while the boy is still completing his master’s degree on the girl’s family insistence as it was only few months before the boy would complete his post-graduation. They start living with the boy’s mother in a metro city as his father passed away 10 years ago. Suddenly after marriage the reality sinks on girl when she knows she’s not living in hostel anymore. The discipline and housework needed to maintain a household doesn’t go down well with her. The boy starts his own clinic which does not get a very good response. He struggles hard to earn enough as his wife is not happy with his income and lack of ability to afford international honeymoon/ holidays, expensive jewellery , servants and expensive house like her other friends and her brother. Great friendship turns into constant arguments and nagging after marriage. One such horrible night they both get drunk, fight and the boy ends up hitting the girl. He immediately realizes his mistake and apologizes, but she asks for a written apology.
He writes an apology note and dates it and signs it and gives it to her. Two years pass in between and they are blessed with a beautiful daughter. The boy is still not able to meet his wife’s expectations on income and lifestyle. As a result he starts doing multiple jobs and consequently is now even lesser available at home. He even goes to work on weekends to earn extra money so that he can take his wife and kid on international holiday and buy a new house as desired by his wife. The girl’s family lives in another city couple of kms away from her in-laws house and the girl obviously chats with her mother everyday who constantly reminds her of such a poor choice she’s made in her husband . She also visits them frequently when she gets bored sitting at home as she has chosen not to work. Like many times one day girl tells the boy please drop me to my parent’s house. They have come back from US and have got loads of gifts for me. He goes to drop her and is humiliated by girl’s mother over his limited income. He leaves her house telling “your mother insulted me so I shall not step into your house again. Please let me know when you would like to come home and I shall come and pick you up.”
Days pass and then weeks and the girl refuses to come back to him. She gives him 6 months time to get a better job and house if he wants her and the baby back. While it’s been barely 2 months since he dropped her to her parents’ house, he gets a call from his mother-in-law in the afternoon while he is at work to tell that his wife has committed suicide by hanging herself from the ceiling fan in front of her six-month old daughter while her family was at home too!!!
When he reaches their house with his family he and his mother are beaten up by the girl’s parents. The relatives take both mother n son back to their home. 10 days later the police grabs both mother and son and put them in Jail in the same city where girl allegedly committed suicide. The boy and his mother are informed that the girl’s parents have complained that she was continuously harassed by her in-laws for dowry demand of Rs.10 lakhs and hence she ended her life in the middle of the day in presence of her mother, brother , sister-in-law and daughter by hanging herself from the ceiling fan.
According to the police the documents taken as evidence of dowry death are:
1. Bank statements from the girl’s own account where regular debits of 1000/2000/5000 have been made. Is that Dowry?
2. The apology note written by her husband , that he is very sorry for hitting her in his drunken state years ago.
3. Biggest evidence- statements from Girl’s family members!!!
No questions asked – why suicide in their own home/ if she was depressed any treatment from doctor/if demand of dowry was made why no complaints since last two months while she was at her own home/how no one noticed when she committed suicide- NOTHING. No questions asked. Not even a single question asked from the boy as well. These 3 evidences are enough to tag it a dowry death and shove the boy and his old mother into Jail. There is not even a concrete statement against the boy’s mother but she is thrown in Jail basis a statement! This old mother is a woman too but – she is a mother in law, supposedly the monster always!
Lower court rejects the mother’s bail plea. When plea goes to High Court, lawyers are on strike. Poor woman who’s going to be 60 in next few weeks get thrashed by jail inmates over trivial issues, suffers cold in winters, eats sour dough and battles for three months until strike gets over and she gets a bail. In the meanwhile the arrest reporting in newspaper are sent to her school where she was teaching and they decide to suspend her on basis of media judgments. Boy is still in Jail. He’s spent more than 5 months but is still waiting for a hearing date coz of strikes and court holidays and other procedural delays.
This guy is not the only one in jail booked in these sections. Personal vendetta and Revenge RIDES HIGH on these biased laws.
Let’s ponder over few things in this story:
In a case of an unnatural death of a married women within 7 years of her marriage, how are in-laws only ALWAYS responsible? For women from less educated and poor communities, one can understand the argument of presumptive evidences since dowry is a crime which is committed indoors. But what about a highly educated woman (doctor, engineer, dentist, banker etc.) committing suicide at her parental house , hundreds of kilometers far from her in-laws house assumed as DOWRY DEATH and her in-laws dragged from their homes and thrashed in jail? I need to understand how can our system accept the reason for death as DOWRY if the marriage was between a boy and a girl who studied together, dated for years and then got married? These above informed individuals in our story if would have preserved an apology note written 1.5 yrs before the girl’s death what stopped them from taking an action on it until now? Who can believe in this story that the girl was so timid and shy to report dowry abuse? What were the family members doing while she was preparing to hang herself? Is it something that they said to her which provoked her to end her life? Could it be a case of fight between girl and her brother’s wife?
In Urban societies marriages fail more because of social pressure, lifestyle comparisons with friends and cousins. There is also a medical condition highly neglected by everyone in the society which is “POST PARTUM DEPRESSION “ that affects women after delivery of a child. 80%of women go through it and it’s the responsibility of immediate family members to make the environment cordial and engaging in more fruitful activities to help women battle it seamlessly. Else, in some extreme cases women have known to take crazy steps like suicide, hitting everyone around them, getting extremely abusive etc. I recently read an article in a weekly magazine published abroad, about a confession of a woman who wanted on to kill her baby because of that depression (thankfully the kid was saved by the FATHER).
If a married women commits suicide at her parent’s house after leaving her in-laws house for months and leaves behind a small child we need to question her immediate environment- her parents that what did they say that provoked her to take extreme step. If domestic fights is known as common in households then let also accept that they can not only happen between husband n wife or daughter in law and mother-in-law they can also happen between brother and sister, between girl and her brother’s wife between mom n daughter, between father and daughter. When a family member dies everyone is affected from husband to parents to kids but holding only husbands and in-laws responsible is fair by what standards?
Parents never want their daughter to die but assuming that her in-laws wanted her to die is also not right.
Girl’s family uses her death as weapon to satiate their anger. And they are assisted by some highly corrupt and greedy police officers who see this rage of girl’s family members as an opportunity to make extra bucks and aid by framing cases on grave sections like 498A/ 304B. The judiciary treats all apples and oranges as same. A case of dowry demand alleged by an uneducated women and her family belonging to under-developed sections of society is looked in the same light as an allegation from a highly educated, informed, rich and influential family.
The reason for existence of such a big system of police, lawyers and on top of all of them JUDGES is to treat each case differently. See if it was possible for such an educated, informed wealthy family with daughter married to her longtime boyfriend be tortured for Dowry all this while. Am at no point saying it’s completely impossible for such things to happen but, let’s admit it’s not very likely for it to happen too.
Whatever be the case – is it so difficult for police to look at all the angles of the case and then decide the case on it’s MERIT? Does a case by a woman MEAN that you do not need to investigate a CRIME at all?
Where these laws were originally designed to protect women , the other side of the coin is that it is being more misused to harass the boy and his family. Women and their families today are so well aware of not just the implication of these sections but also the loop holes in the legal system. Moreover we have law and order experts available to provide these “consultations” to the parties ready to pay the right fees. They know just few “steps” and police will book anyone in the section you want and put them behind bars. The so called “efficient” court proceedings and procedures followed to get the bail plea and trial do the remaining damage. Court holidays and then never ending strikes (Allahabad HC lawyers were on strike for almost a month from Dec 2014 to Jan 2015 followed by strikes from Agra Layers which is on until now, yes almost two months) the unfortunate people who are in judicial custody do not even get a hearing for weeks or months. To top it the judges in lower/session courts will not take any chance in reviewing the merits of the case, they will not bother to see that there has been no proper investigation done before arresting accused. The judges will not use their expertise in law to see if the evidences submitted are pertinent or not. They rather rely on the Police – Investigating officer / Circle officer (who is not a law graduate and hence not at all an expert) shoddy evidence collection and statements received from girl and her family. The judges reject bail applications just because accused has been booked in a section which is pertaining to crime against women so he (and his family members in cases of DOWRY allegations) are assumed definitely guilty. Everyone is petrified to make the right decision in favor of the husband in case of a girl dying because everyone is scared of the hype being created by media, judiciary take a lot of time to make decisions and our overtly enthusiastic media passes judgments well in advance based on the personal opinions of reporters. And, the same media very conveniently forgets to print acquittal in case of false allegations.
Mostly even High court does not give respite to husbands. MEN are always always assumed guilty.
As a woman, my question is why does our system allow such things to happen to men? Is it that according to Indian Legal System, the MAN is only a beast . He has no other thing to do in life except torture women. How can the law assume every individual and each case same? The supreme court has given a 9-point guidance before arresting individuals in dowry related cases, but how much of it is actually followed? Why is the whole system structured in a way that every accused is assumed Guilty until proved innocent under CAW? Why do we not have a system which demands much stronger evidences submitted in the court for issuing arrest warrants to the accused. In dowry cases, the flexibility of term “ presumptive evidence” is grossly misunderstood and that is precisely the reason the laws are being misused by a huge amount of population to their personal benefits. Statistics on married men committing suicide and fake cases is not only alarming but a shameful repercussion of our biased laws and the legal system which refuses to understand that “ JUSTICE DELAYED IS JUSTICE DENIED”.
Recently on 21st January 2015 supreme court gave a landmark judgment (Criminal Appellate Jurisdiction Criminal Appeal No. 1592 of 2011 Shersingh@ Partapa Vs State of Haryana ) that Prosecution to prove that a “ dowry death” has occurred. But again in this case the problem is also that the accused had been suffering from 2011 and only reaching the stage of SC has he been heard. Why do we leave the job of dissecting truth from stories to SC. What about the sufferings of accused in custody until that stage? Every minute spent in custody is grueling and plays a havoc on physical and mental health of individuals in custody. The cases reach SC after passing from district courts and high courts and all these have qualified learned lawyers and judiciary. Why can’t the same learned individuals take the same strong stands on fake cases and misuse of laws as esteemed Supreme court?
Though there is such gross abuse of 498A, women rights activists always quote dowry death cases citing data from NCRB. If this is the way dowry deaths are registered and tried, I am not sure the exact truth behind those dowry deaths. No matter what the reason, if the woman takes her life , her in laws would invariably be held accountable. Whether they have done something or not. No matter how cruel the woman to the husband, her family can never be implicated. But as soon as you utter dowry, entire family of a husband is summoned, arrested and put to trial. How fair is this?
Yes I know truth eventually triumphs but that Eventually is a very long time. Who is responsible for the mental and physical harassment accused go through in Jail. Our jails are no comfortable abodes. I challenge everyone reading this article to even try and live in those places for even an hour and eat that food which accused have to tolerate for months/ years. What is the guarantee that when these innocent people finally get justice they would not be so agitated against the system that they will either turn into criminals killing whoever responsible for their wretched state or they will kill themselves out of the severe depression for their immediate past. After spending months in jail, their career is finished, and mind is highly unstable.
1. People be so fearless in putting false allegations?
2. Police be so fearless in arresting people based on those false allegations??
If killing someone, demanding dowry, asking special favors, mentally harassing someone are all HEINOUS CRIMES, why isn’t PUTTING FALSE ALLEGATIONS, arresting people without doing proper investigation also be considered a HEINOUS CRIMES , coz that completely changes life of innocent people? If u put an innocent in jail, you have already executed his heart and soul. Now the one who comes out is a highly mentally unstable individual who is has no hope left in life.
I would like to conclude by saying that yes, not only our laws are highly biased and partial but so is our entire legal system. SAVE HUMANS from these biased laws only by doing proper investigation on all complaints. A fair, thorough investigation and timely hearing can mitigate all the flaws in the law. We all have daughter and sons.
I am as worried for my daughter’s welfare as much as I would be for my Son. My fight is against illegal/ inappropriate arrests, improper investigation and delayed justice…..