Laws that were made to protect women from violence and abuse have become a deadly weapon in the wrong hands. This becomes clear from the cases described below, of persons coming under such unbearable pressure to either end their lives to escape harassment or shell out their life’s savings to strike a compromise. Others spend precious years of their lives doing rounds of courts in a bid to prove their innocence.
♦ On 14 October 2015, a quarrel between two neighbours in a small locality in Delhi reached an ugly climax. Frequent fights over parking and waterlogging escalated into ‘attempt to rape’ charges, with women from these homes lodging FIRs against each other’s husbands.
♦ In another case in Delhi’s Dwarka township, a 70-year-old man and his son got into a verbal argument with a woman in their neighbourhood over a petty issue. Even though several people witnessed the verbal fight, police registered FIRs under sections relating to molestation and outraging modesty of a woman.
♦ A gangrape case filed by a woman against three men in Delhi fell flat when evidence proved the incident was a complete fabrication. The accused men, who had spent months in jail, produced a video in which the complainant and her mother demanded Rs 5 crore to settle the matter.
♦ The Gujarat High Court recently heard the bail application of a man accused of gangraping a woman. He claimed he was falsely implicated, saying that the woman had slapped rape cases on several other persons as part of an extortion racket. She had filed cases under Section 498A in several police stations and had been married nine times. The court granted bail, with the woman claiming she filed the complaint under somebody else’s influence.
♦ On 5 October, Rakesh Pilania, a young manager with the Royal Bank of Scotland, jumped to his death in Gurgaon allegedly because his wife threatened to file a false dowry case. Even death did not save him as his widow registered a case under Section 498A, naming him and his family a day after his death.
♦ Barely four days after Rakesh’s suicide, an old man in Polangi village of Haryana’s Rohtak district hanged himself, leaving a suicide note citing similar threats by his daughter-in-law.
These cases are not rare instances but a daily occurrence in various parts of India. So what’s fuelling this phenomenon that has also been equated to ‘legal terrorism’ by the Supreme Court?
One of the major factors contributing to the mess is loosely worded legislation made for the protection of women and their interpretation by police. Anything can be alleged as a crime by a woman. The police register FIRs under sections of “crime against women” without basic scrutiny or any prima facie evidence, even if the allegations do not come under those sections. A case in point is that of a woman who fought charges under Section 498A for five years. The allegation was that she called her brother’s mother in- law ‘stupid’ and that she instigated her brother to divorce his wife.
She was acquitted along with her brother but not before family members lost their jobs, education, reputation and five precious years of life for a crime they did not commit. Any allegation by a married woman is taken as ‘mental cruelty’ by the police, who perhaps do not know what exactly it means under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code.
Another provision being grossly abused because of confusion over what the law actually means is ‘technical rape’ or rape on false promise of marriage. Police data from various cities reveal that such cases make up 30-80 percent of rape cases reported. Failed live-in relationships, broken affairs and consensual sex are turning into rape cases with the allegation that the man failed to keep his promise of marriage. It doesn’t matter whether a promise was made or not, whether there was any physical relationship or not: If charged, a man lands up in jail under the most serious offence — rape.
Though the Supreme Court and various other courts have clarified the law, police have no clue what to do with such cases and hence lodge FIRs. A cop herself confessed to me that they register the case even if they know it is false/wrong because they don’t want to risk their jobs.
VERBAL TESTIMONIES WITH NO DETERRENT:
Though conviction under Section 498A or a rape case or any specific law made for women can land a man and his family a jail term of several years, false cases rarely get punished, even if it is established that the case was fabricated. Verbal testimony of a woman has been given supreme importance in amended rape laws but false cases are not dealt with stringently. A Rohtak court asked a woman to stand for seven hours in the court and pay Rs 500 fine for filing a false gangrape case against four men who had already served jail for two years before the court freed them. Some would find the quantum of punishment for spoiling someone’s life laughable.
In thousands of cases, women disassociate themselves from court proceedings after filing fake rape charges without having to face any repercussions whatsoever. Alibis used in such cases can be as ridiculous as “the case was filed because of misunderstanding” and the court accepts this. How can courts allow such frivolous explanation for exploitation of the state machinery, especially when Indian courts have crores of pending cases?
There are several other factors contributing to the menace — police shield false complainants and in many cases even support them; lawyers assist clients in filing false complaints; courts allow monetary settlements in such cases, turning these laws into a way to make money.
Justice Virender Bhat, passing final orders in a false rape case filed in Delhi recently said, “The evil of perjury has assumed alarming proportions in cases depending upon oral evidence and therefore, the time has come to deal with this menace with an iron hand.”
Section 498A has for long been vilified for its misuse but the tide is now shifting towards rape laws. Women rights activists have often argued that 498A is abused because alimony laws in India are not women-friendly. While nothing can serve as an excuse for exploitation of a stringent criminal provision, what excuse can be given for the blatant misuse of rape laws? It seems as if rape laws are becoming the new 498A.
India has gained the dubious distinction of being one of the most unsafe countries in the world for women. Crime against Women statistics have lent credence to that distinction. While the numbers are taken at face value, the truth behind them is not discerned. The rising graph of acquittals in these cases should concern the government and judiciary not just from the perspective that “women aren’t getting justice” but also from the perspective that a lot of men and boys are being subjected to injustice and people are taking laws for a ride to settle personal scores.
In short, if we need stringent laws to deal with the menace of violence against women, we should also have stringent provisions to make sure no one takes unfair advantage of those laws.