Gender bias: Who will protect the men from harassment?

Florine Roche
Daijiworld Media Network - Mangalore

Aug 18: India being a country of contrasts, there is widening gulf between the rich and the poor. Apart from the poor-rich divide there is gender bias against female child and sexual assault, rape, domestic violence, dowry harassment and other acts of heinous barbarity perpetrated on women are increasing. While this is one side of the story there is another side to the coin. Just as there are a large number of hapless women who are killed or face torture by their in-laws there are evil minded women who harass their husbands and their families on false charges of dowry harassment, rape, mental torture and cruelty. Unfortunately many such complaints have proved to be false and are done with a malafide intention to wreck revenge or to extract easy money.
 
Taking cognizance of the alarming increase in such false cases the Mumbai High Court recently observed in the first week of this month (August) that women who file rape cases as an act of revenge or in a fit of anger and later withdraw the complaints should be prosecuted as such a trend has the potential to send wrong signals to the society. Due to this act of vengeance many innocent men, their family members including their aged parents have been at the receiving end as they are dragged into the court of law by their daughters-in-law and their families alleging dowry harassment under section 498 A, section 3 & 4 of the Dowry prohibition Act and section 406 of IPC which deals with breach of Trust.
 

Weapon of Retribution
 
It may be remembered that Justice Kailash Gambir of Delhi High Court had made this observation in March this year while passing an order on the rape complainant of Rani Bagh filed last year on her estranged lover Rohit Chauhan. He had observed that rape was used by women as a weapon for vengeance and vendetta to harass and blackmail their male friends and now the Mumbai High Court has come out with similar views. This really augurs well because many women have played havoc with the lives of men by misusing the law. Daijiworld's own photographer was recently made a victim of such misuse by some revenge-seeking jealous elements.
 
The recent observation of the Mumbai court has been welcomed by lawyers handling domestic and family disputes and other organizations of men which are fighting for a gender neutral society in our country. Lawyers believe that rape case will drop by as much as 70% if this ruling of the High Court is enforced. It means that this suggestion of the court should be treated with extreme gravitas.
 
Section 498A was actually aimed at providing protection for women against harassment from the husband, in-laws in respect to demands of dowry. It is a criminal law under which a woman and her parental family can charge the woman’s husband or members of his family including elderly parents and minor-aged siblings of physical or mental cruelty. Anyone charged with Section 498 A is liable to be arrested by the police without any initial investigation.
 
Similarly there are increasing incidents of penal provisions on rape being misused by women. As we know there are many celebrities who are caught up in the imbroglio of alleged rape and sexual harassment, not to mention about the ordinary citizens who are fighting the battle in the courts of law. In June this year former Miss World and actress Yukta Mookhey had lodged an FIR against her New York-based businessman prince Tuli for alleged domestic violence under section 498A (dowry harassment) and section 377 (unnatural sex) of IPC. She has also named her in-laws as accused in the dowry harassment case. A year back Yukta had filed a non-cognizable offense against Tuli.
 
Bollywood actor Shiny Ahuja was arrested in 2009 for allegedly raping his maid and was convicted. However during cross examination the complainant reversed her charges saying she slapped false charges against him at the behest of Ahuja’s domestic cook. She had also testified in court that she had seen his movies and had fallen in love with him. Ahuja was convicted based on police charge sheet though the court declared her hostile. The public prosecutor even said this complainant could be punished for perjury. It is another matter that the Maharashtra police did not press perjury charges against her. Mumbai High Court is to hear Shiny’s plea this month but it must be remembered that he has lost valuable years at the peak of his career.
 
Similarly noted film maker Madhur Bhandarkar who was accused of rape by actress Preeti Jain was absolved of rape charges filed against him after nine long years. Preeti had accused Madhur of raping her for six years with a promise of casting her in his films. Though Mumbai High Court had rejected his bail application the Supreme Court gave him a reprieve by quashing rape charges against him. But Preeti Jain who had complained got away without any punishment for wasting 9 years of government and court’s resources.
 

NRIs Easy Prey
 
Closer home, in Mangalore Sunita Lewis (name changed) had recently filed a complaint alleging mental torture and dowry harassment against her in-laws and husband Vinod (name changed) who is working in Dubai. While her in-laws have gained bail it is said that there is a possibility of her husband Vinod being arrested on his return on charges of neglect. There are too many loopholes in Sunita's complaint and one really wonders whether the complaint has any element of truth.
 
There are many NRI men whose lives have been shattered due to such complaints because once complaint is registered they are not able to leave the country. The fear of arrest and the notion among women that NRIs are easy to browbeat to part with money makes NRIs easy targets of such false complaints. Incidents of this nature are very common not only in Mangalore but also in the entire country says senior criminal lawyer Parameshwar Jois. Speaking to daijioworld.com he said “Mumbai High Court has rightly observed that penal provisions which are actually meant for protecting women are being misused by some women. In fact, the law is misused by those who have political connections and in instances when the party is financially stronger”, Jois pointed out.
 
The Delhi High Court had clearly observed that women who have consensual physical relationship with a man file complaints when the relationship breaks down and use the law as a weapon and personal vendetta to extort money and sometimes even to get married to them. Parameshwar Jois points out “though the penal provisions are meant to protect women who really face harassments and even threat to their lives, it is misused by a few women who are rich, powerful but greedy, as an instrument of wrecking vengeance. It is unfortunate that such cases are on the rise”.
 

Legal Terrorism
 
It is said women misuse these provisions for many reasons such as speedy divorce and settlement of alimony, financial greed, easy way to dissolve marriage or desire to take revenge and clash of egos. The lengthy trials of cases booked under section 498A can go beyond seven years and may compel many families to agree to extortion, blackmail or for hefty out of court settlements. There are instances of men and their old parents committing suicide unable to live with the ignominy of going to jail, even if it is only for a day.
 
In a recent incident Shanthi Kapoor of Mumbai, a widow, a victim of partition, who had singlehandedly, raised her son with great difficulty and had to spend an entire weekend in jail on the basis of a complaint filed by her daughter-in-law Kamna Kapoor.
 
Men like R P Chug of Delhi and Arun Murthy of Bangalore have established forums to help harassed husbands and their parents. Arun Murthy’s Sangyabalya, a registered NGO is dedicated to help men and their families caught in similar situations and it is said that Sangyabalya gets number of NRI callers seeking succor.
 
The abuse of section 498A which was to provide protection for who actually need it is exploited by a few avarice females casting a shadow on its proper use. The Supreme Court while upholding the law as constitutional had termed the misuse as “legal terrorism”. Therefore, the need of the hour is to tighten the provisions of the law and punish women who exploit it for their avaricious designs. Increasing incidents of false cases make a mockery of the institution of marriage and our legal system. It also sends wrong signals to others who believe that they can abuse the law and get away with it with impunity.