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Let’s admit that neither dowry nor dowry deaths have been eliminated.
Violence against women within domestic peripheries is a fact. In the case of India, the problem of dowry and harassment related to dowry was seen as the main cause of domestic violence, and hence the amendments in the 1980s to address the issue of domestic violence focused only on that aspect. A law under Section 498A was introduced into the Indian Penal Code in 1983, applicable in cases where the complainant is a married and is subjected to cruelty by her husband or a relative of her husband.
Such cruelty consists of (a) wilful conduct by her husband or relative of husband of such nature as is likely to drive her to commit suicide or cause her grave injury, or (b) harassment to coerce her into meeting dowry demands. Further, in 1986, another section was added to the IPC — Section 304B. This applies in cases of unnatural death, death by burns or bodily injury taking place within seven years of marriage, and where there are allegations of dowry demand. Presumption of guilt arises only in cases of such unnatural deaths within seven years of marriage, and not in allegations of cruelty under Section 498A.
The debates in and around Section 498A need to distinguish between these two. The same set of arguments cannot be used to sweep aside the serious nature of the crime addressed under the second part of Section 498A and under 304B, where the woman’s life has been lost. Faulty and corrupt investigations, together with a misplaced sympathy for the groom’s family, result in routine acquittals. There is a need for stricter implementation of these provisions, a fact lost in the general cacophony around the “misuse of dowry laws”.
Let’s admit that neither dowry nor dowry deaths have been eliminated. Also, there are cases of extreme domestic violence leading to death that may not be related to dowry. Dowry as an angle may not exist in some of the cruelest cases of domestic abuse, and an attempt to establish the same in order to secure a conviction under these sections leads to some storytelling and evidence-building even in genuine cases. Who is at fault? The complainant or the structure of the law?
Since the first clause defining physical/ mental cruelty under 498A does not use the term “dowry”, it can be used by women who are victims of domestic violence but not necessarily of a dowry demand. Thus, a woman who has faced repeated violence over 10-15 years of married life should be able to invoke this section and continued…