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Save Indian Family Foundation hails Supreme Court recommendations to stop misuse of dowry laws.

Rajesh Vakharia

On Thursday, Supreme Court of India recommended additional measures to stop the filing of false dowry cases by women. In the process, it has spoken about protection of human rights of the men implicated in these cases.

The top court has asked State Legal Services Authorities to create of family welfare committees to look into the complaints of dowry harassment and submit the report to the magistrate in each case. These guidelines also stipulate short period time within which bail has to be granted to a husband accused in these cases. Earlier, men and their families used to run around courts for 5 to 6 months to get bails. This will drastically reduce the number of arrests in a section 498a case.

This is a welcome move by the Supreme court. It has also allocated a 6 months observation period to see if these new recommendations are effective or not. However, these guidelines are not enough to simplify the matrimonial disputes and reduce false cases in the courts.

Every year about 500,000 marriages are breaking in India and last year about 125,000 cases are filed under section 498a or anti-dowry law. In the younger age group of 25-35 years, almost 5% of couples are getting divorced now. The worrying news is these numbers are increasing year on year.

Save Indian Family Foundation (SIFF) runs a helpline (+91 9278 978 978) for men facing domestic violence and false cases of section 498a. Thousands of these men call the helplines run by men’s support groups like SIFF every year. SIFF also runs men’s community centres at Delhi and Bangalore.

Unreasonable Alimony expectations is the root cause of the problem

One of the main driving factors behind false cases of section 498a is unreasonable expectations of alimony. This is often overlooked by the Judiciary and hence all mechanisms and guidelines to prevent misuse of section 498a have not been effective, said Rajesh Vakharia President SIFF.

Indian society still follows the traditional notion that a woman’s life is ruined if her marriage breaks. Even when the husband may have been the aggrieved partner in marriage, the popular belief is that it is the woman who suffers. So, attempts are made to secure very high alimony for the separated or divorced woman.

Today, cases of section 498a are filed when the mediation sessions for out of court settlements fail. The crime against women cells or lawyers try for such out of court settlements. However, these mediation(s) between the warring couples are bound to fail when the huge demands of alimony are made. Men walk out of mediation and decide to spend money on lawyers to fight multiple court cases for long period of time.

“Without proper guidelines on out of court settlements and alimony, the genie cannot be put back in the bottle.”

Most men who have approached Save Indian Family Foundation have faced one time alimony demands of Rs.30 lakhs to 1 crore during mediation process. Most of them are young men who were married for a short period of time and they have no child in the wedlock.

The problem is, even the Court mediators and lawyers join in and coerce the men to consider paying up such huge sums of money to avoid harassment due to false cases of section 498a. So, false cases won’t go away unless court discuss and address this problem.

Need for a single window to resolve Marital disputes.”

There should be a single window to deal with all matrimonial cases. At present, 4 to 6  different courts apart from police stations, state women’s commissions get involved in a single case of marital dispute. Young men and women are made to run around so many different places in the name of mediation and court cases. Many times even parents are forced to attend courts and mediations, says Vakharia .

SIFF has following recommendations for stopping misuse of section 498a.

  • The Supreme Court must take note of unreasonable demands of alimony during mediation processes and it must issue guidelines to curb this practice. This will automatically improve the success rate of mediation between warring couples.
  • Judiciary must appoint an independent body with several civil society members to audit the whole process of mediation for matrimonial disputes in different states of India.

Such an audit must record if unreasonable demand of money is made during mediation and if threats of false cases and harassment are used by mediators to coerce the husband into accepting the unreasonable demands of alimony.

“Criminal laws must not be allowed to be used as negotiation tools for civil disputes around alimony.”

  • Fraudulent claims of dowry demand, domestic violence and concealment of facts to mislead courts in criminal cases has to be considered as serious cases of perjury and malicious prosecution. The courts must also make the witnesses accountable for such mischief.
  • In matrimonial disputes, the courts should start considering audio and video evidences by the husband to dismiss or quash the proceedings of false criminal cases. At present, these evidences are not taken seriously.

Most western countries have simplified their processes for marital disputes. As a result, they have very high success rate for out of court settlements between couples and very few court cases go into trial. The courts must proactively work to prevent over litigation.

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