This Case Summary is written by Riyaa Jain, a student at Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies
Due to cultural and religious issues, India has historically been a patriarchal culture. For generations, we have adhered to the traditional convention that women are inferior to males in all aspects of life. In this recent decision, the Supreme Court’s Three-Judge Bench modified the Supreme Court’s much-discussed orders issued last year in Rajesh Sharma and ors. v. State of U.P. and Anr. The Supreme Court has now changed the orders, ruling that the creation of a third agency and the powers it was given were illegal. The central issue in the appeal was the need to curb the claimed inclination of women who file a complaint under Section 498A to enlist the help of all family members in resolving matrimonial disputes.
In the decade of 1980, dowry deaths rose at an alarming rate in India. The Indian Penal Code (I.P.C.), 1860, was amended by the Criminal Law (2nd Amendment) Act, 1983, and the new section 498A under Chapter XX-A, “Of Cruelty By Husband Or Relatives Of Husband,” was inserted on the 26th of December, 1983, to facilitate rapid intervention by the state and protect young women who were unable to meet the unlawful demands of their in-laws. The amendment centred on dowry killings and incidences of in-law brutality toward married women. To reinforce this provision, subsequent adjustments to the Code of Criminal Procedure (Cr.P.C.) of 1973 and the Indian Evidence Act of 1872 were made by the same alteration.
FACTS OF THE CASE
Dowry has been the real menace in Indian society. Rajesh Sharma and Sneha Sharma got married on 28th November 2012 and father of Sneha Sharma gave the appellant dowry to his fullest capacity. But appellants were not happy with the amount of dowry and they started abusing and harassing the complainant. She was daily beaten and exploited by her husband. They demanded from her dowry worth Rs 3,00,000 and a car which could not be arranged by the family. On 10th November, 2013 the plaintiff was dropped off at her matrimonial home by the appellant. Later, she got pregnant and had undergone immense pain due to which her pregnancy was terminated. The main argument advanced in favour of this appeal is that the tendency to involve all family members in resolving a matrimonial conflict must be curtailed. Allegations against all of the husband’s relatives cannot be taken at face value because, in most cases, only the husband or, at best, his parents are accused of demanding dowry or causing maltreatment.
ISSUES OF THE CASE
1. Throughout history, women have been mistreated and subjugated. At this point, they need to be more empowered in order to achieve social equality and national success.
2. The issue, in this case, was whether the family of the accused be also detained in the act and how to save the innocents.
3. The ruling has been challenged on a number of grounds, including that the Supreme Court overstepped its bounds in legislating. As a result, the central question before the Court in the case was whether the Court in Rajesh Sharma could have issued such directives based on the technique of interpretation.
CONTENTIONS FROM RESPONDENT
The respondent’s counsel argues that there is a growing trend to exploit the provision to enlist the support of everyone in the family, including ageing parents, younger siblings, and grandparents predicated on speculative and exaggerated claims, and uncles without any physical or mental ailment being documented injuries or property damage. Innocent family members, especially women and older persons, are sometimes harassed and even arrested as a result of this. This could jeopardize any chance of a relationship reconciling and reuniting. The Petitioners also asked for an unified policy of filing FIRs, arresting suspects, and issuing bail in situations involving Section 498A of the IPC, i.e., to immediately file a FIR on an allegation of cruelty and harassment by married women under the IPC. The Petitioners’ main argument in the case was that the social purpose of Section 498A of the IPC was being lost as the rigour of the provision was diluted and the offence was effectively made bailable due to various qualifications and restrictions imposed by various decisions of this Court, including its recent decision in the case of Rajesh Sharma and others.
The factors neglected by SUPREME COURT are:
1. Low filling rate: Many cases of domestic violence and dowry do not even make it to court, according to reports. There are various causes for this, including dependent women, a lack of family support, and a low literacy rate, among others.
2. Unfruitful civil society interruption: We’ve noticed that dismantling civil society isn’t always beneficial. They may establish a parallel court system, which might be detrimental. Consider the recent case of cow vigilantes.
The Three-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Dipak Mishra while holding that Supreme Court’s directions pertaining to Family Welfare Committee and its constitution by the District Legal Services Authority and the power conferred on the Committee is impermissible made the following notable observations in the case:
1. That in the instance of Rajesh Sharma, a third agency has been introduced that has nothing to do with the Code, and that aside from that, the Committees have been given the authority to propose a report without which no arrest may be undertaken. The order to settle a dispute after it has been filed is not a legal expression. When a settlement is reached, both parties may submit a petition under Section 482 CrPC, which the High Court may dismiss based on the petition’s merits.
2. In support of a fundamental right, the Court has issued instructions in the absence of law in a number of cases, according to the Court. However, because there are statutory rules and decisions in the field, the directions pertaining to the formation of a Committee and the delegation of authority to the said Committee are incorrect.
3. That though adequate conditions must be imposed when an application for bail is considered, the recovery of disputed dowry items may not be a cause for denying an application for bail under Section 498A of the IPC.
4. The Supreme Court has also ordered that each state’s Director General of Police ensure that investigating officers in charge of cases involving violations under Section 498A of the IPC receive thorough training in the principles outlined by this Court regarding arrest.
The analysis made by the Court of the National Crime Records Bureau data is quite questionable. According to NCRB statistics, 10.56 percent of cases filed under Section 498A in 2005 were ultimately deemed false due to a factual or legal error. According to the NCRB, the rate was dropped to 9.32 percent in 2009. The Court also remarked on the low conviction rate in Section 498A cases. There is a case to be made that India’s general conviction rate is extremely low for all types of crimes, not just those under Section 498A. As a result, a low conviction rate should not be regarded as a misuse of the law. Inadequate investigation, giving the accused the benefit of the doubt, reconciliation between the spouses, and other factors could all contribute to the increased acquittal percentage. Furthermore, the judgement began by implying that the guidelines would be intended to prevent the arrest of the accused husband’s innocent, elderly, and non-Indian dwelling relatives. This was left out, and the umbrella of protection was extended to all of the defendants, including the husband. This greatly diminishes the merit of the said decision, which has been dubbed “an exercise in male bonding” by several groups. To protect the husband’s unknowing relatives from being harassed by Section 498A, the Court may have established clear instructions prohibiting the arrest of such people alone. The Family Welfare Committees may have been given the authority to look into the case only in relation to other accused people, not the main suspect. By subjecting the primary accused, the husband, to the strict provisions of Section 498A, a balance could have been struck between protecting the complainant’s rights and preventing false implication of the husband’s relatives in the case by making their arrest subject to the Family Welfare Committee’s report.
In this case, the Court gave more impetus to the rights of the accused husband and his relatives, than those of the complainant woman. The fact exists that women have been discriminated against and continue to be so. For good reason, legislation aimed at providing better legal protection to these people against gender-specific offences are in place. Despite modernisation and “woman development,” no major progress has been made in reducing crimes against women. Women have the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution and the right to equality under Article 15 of the Constitution, thanks to laws like S. 498A. Discrimination in one of its most basic forms is denying a given sex the legal protection it requires.
The possibility of misuse is a regrettable but all-too-common side effect of enforcing a law. Many legal provisions are utilised to harass innocent persons, and S. 498A is no exception. However, the extent of its misuse does not outweigh the positive changes it has brought about in society. The instructions given in this case will only act as roadblocks to Section 498A’s appropriate execution. Women’s rights activists and legal experts across the country are anxiously awaiting the Supreme Court of India’s judicial review of this decision.