July 18, 2012
Cursed be the man, the poorest wretch in life,
The crouching vassal, to the tyrant wife,
Who has no will but by her high permission;
Who has not sixpence but in her possession;
Who must to her his dear friend’s secrets must tell,
Who dreads a certain lecture worse than hell.
Were such a wife had fallen to my part,
I’d break her spirit or I’d break her heart.) in The Henpecked Husband.
Henpecked husbands are not unknown entities even today. But, the freedom to break the spirit and heart is not given to Indian husbands. Their wives have been armed by gender-specific laws that prevent men from self defence and expose them to legal torture and blackmail. The husbands are now banding together to fight back the female onslaught. The battle has just gathered momentum. But, first the facts.
The Shimla-based Save Indian Family Foundation (SIFF) comprises young, angry “harassed” husbands who claim that they represent 25 NGOs and 40,000 equally “tortured” persons like them. Their grouse: they were “betrayed” by those who framed laws and enforced them; that the law erroneously assums all wives were “innocent angels” who could only be sinned against, and are not sinners. At the end of the two-day meet, the participants announced that they would no longer take things lying down and declared the SIFF’s Shimla Declaration that Section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code and Domestic Violence Act, 2005, were “unconstitutional”.
Agitated participants poured out their tales of torture. A senior IAS official wouldn’t find dinner day after day because his wife threw it all away. A software engineer’s harassment was so severe that a high court judge termed it “legal terrorism”. A Pune-based software engineer was booked under Section 495- A just because he had asked his wife to take rest and medicine instead of attending late-night movie and day-long shopping when she was unwell. A Nagpur-based real estate agent was put behind bar because his wife had filed a false dowry harassment case against him because she didn’t get along with her and wanted separation.
SIFF claimed that 55,200 married men committed suicide every year, compared to 30,000 women (according to National Crime Bureau). 98 % dowry harassment cases are false. Married women have been extorting money from their husbands by threatening them with false cases. 13 lakh men lost their jobs between 2001 and 2006, mostly due to frivolous cases lodged by wives. They claimed that one unverified complaint under Section 498-A of IPC lands a man and his family in jail. No probe is done to check the veracity of complaint. Under the Domestic Violence Act, men are not provided protection against abuse by their wives and in-laws and the complainant woman’s sole testimony is considered as evidence of violation to convict the man.
Report has come from Kolkata of an organisation called Forum of Oppressed Husbands to take up the cases of battered husbands. The Furum, which has got 1500 members, takes up the cause of men who suffer mental and physical torture at the hands of their wives and offers help ranging from counseling to fighting cases in courts.
Ironically, the President of this Forum is a woman lawyer, Aruna Mukherji, who explained the rationale of forming a body to fight against women by men. She said:“Incidents of men being on the receiving end are gradually on the rise specially in the urban areas. For women there are many laws to deal with such problems and many bodies like Women’s Commission and Women’s Grievance Cells while there is no facility for men who face problems from their wives.
Still more ironically, 30 % of the Forum’s membership is accounted for by women who have come forward for the cause of suffering men. The Forum demands the amendment to Section 498-A of IPC ( Punishment for subjecting married women to cruelty ) which is loaded in favour of women. According to Aruna, there were several instances when women have taken undue advantage of this law. The Forum wants that charges under Section 498-A be made bailable or a new Section be added wherein males would be able to lodge complaints of domestic torture against their spouses.
Now there is corrective move on this front. According to a Bangalore-dated report in The Times of India (7-7-12), men falsely accused of demanding dowry can breathe easy. Checks and balances have been put in place to handle dowry harassment complaints that have often led to accused husbands and in-laws being arrested.
Police officers in Karnataka have been told to exercise restraint while making arrests on plaints relating to offences under Section 498-A of the IPC. A recent circular has laid out guidelines to handle such complaints. "An arrest under Section 498-A should be made only with a written order from a police officer of the rank of superintendent in the districts or deputy commissioner in commissionerates. Arrests should be resorted to only for acceptable reasons," the circular said. The police officers have been instructed not to accept dowry harassment cases at face value, and study them well before pressing ahead. This could spell the end — or, at least, reduction — of false and trumped-up cases.
The police initiative comes because of the sustained nudging by higher judiciary while handling divorce and dowry harassment cases. It may be recalled that Bombay high court judge had famously said that wives should be like Sita and follow their husbands even to vanvas. In this case, the judge was telling the wife to follow her husband to Andaman (originally meant for life convicts) on his transfer to that remote island.
In an interesting case, a woman merely kicking her daughter-in-law with her leg or threatening her with divorce will not come within the meaning of “cruelty” under Section 490-A of the Indian Penal Code, ruled a Supreme Court Bench of Justices SB Sinha and Cyriac Joseph. Section 498 A says: “Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine”.
Quoting an earlier judgment, the Bench said: “The object of the provision is the prevention of the dowry menace. But many instances have come to light where the complaints are not bona fide and have been filed with an oblique motive. Acquittal of the accused does not in all cases wipe out ignominy suffered during and prior to trial. The object is to strike at the root of the dowry menace. But by misuse of the provision, a new legal terrorism can be unleashed. The provision is intended to be used as a shield and not as an assassin’s weapon.”
In this case, the daughter-in-law, Monica, filed cases alleging cruelty and breach of trust against her South Africa-based husband, Vikas Sharma, and his parents. Monica is Vikas’s second wife, the first having been divorced. A Patiala trial court issued summons against the husband and the in-laws. The Delhi High Court dismissed the appeal filed by the husband challenging the trial court’s decision. They appealed to the Supreme Court. It said: “These litigations, if a holistic view is taken, depict a sad state of affairs, namely that the respondent (Monica), on the one hand, intends to take all coercive measures to secure the presence of her husband in India in various cases filed by her and, on the other hand, she has repeatedly been making attempts at reconciliation.”
In yet another case, four years after 52-year-old Andheri (Mumbai) resident Mahendra Shah died, the Bombay high court has held that his marital disputes could be reason enough for him to leave his wife out of the will. Justice Roshan Dalvi dismissed a plea by Harsha Gutka-Shah that her husband's will had been forged and upheld the document that left Mahendra's property to his sisters.
"The fact that the parties (Shah and his wife) had disputes cannot be disputed," said Justice Dalvi. "Under those circumstances he could make a will largely in favour of his elder sister and partly in favour of all three sisters. His elder sister lived with him during his entire life. He had married late. His marriage was not happy. His elder sister must have surely been his moral support. The will is, therefore, genuine."
Shah had married Harsha, a divorcee, when he was around 45 years old. Their relationship lasted barely a year before she moved out of her matrimonial home to her parent's house in Matunga. In 2007, Harsha filed a petition for restitution of conjugal rights, even as Shah sought a divorce alleging cruelty and desertion. She had sought maintenance and also filed criminal complaints against her husband and his elder sister Amrut.
Shah died at the age of 52 in August 2008, a year after writing his will. In the will, a computer printout running into 9 pages, Mahendra said that he did not wish to give any property to his wife Harsha.and the court upheld this stance – ruling against a vengeful, gold-digging wife who deserted her husband. A good lesson for other such dames?
John B. Monteiro, author and journalist, is editor of hie website www.welcometoreason.com (Interactive Cerebral Challenger) with instant response format.
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