When Sahil Gupta (names changed to protect identities.) celebrated his 16th anniversary on 28th October, little did he realise it would be the last time he would see his wife and two kids. He bought his wife a bouquet of flowers. The next day his wife told him she was going downstairs with the kids to play badminton but instead left with them to her parents place. The next thing he knew she had filed a dowry case 498A against him and did not allow him to speak to his children again. Sahil has no idea what went wrong.
Darryl married for a second time in his late 30s and brought his wife Garima home. They lived with his mother and soon Garima wanted the house to herself, and the deed be transferred in her name. Darryl said his mother had nowhere to go. His mother suggested that the couple look for a rented place somewhere since none of them seemed to be happy with each other. Immediately Garima moved to her mother’s place and claimed she was thrown out of the house and filed a dowry case against the son and mother. Darryl is so shocked that he’s gone into depression.
Indian society sees only one narrative and is very quick to judge. A woman in India needs only to put a dowry or Domestic Violence case, file an FIR or put a rape case against the husband’s family and it is the onus of the men and family to prove it wrong. They are declared guilty in the face of society, the law and their friends even before they have a moment to catch a breath and prove their side of the story.
In the case of Sahil he could see she was moving some of her clothes out but thought she was giving them away. Except she strategically planned to keep a few things at her married home to tell the police that she was thrown out. She also told them that the parents tore off her clothes. Sahil’s parents are in shock as they had treated her as their own daughter always siding with her over Sahil and helping her with the children, house and her work whenever she wanted. As old people, they are yet to recover from this shock and trauma. .
There was the case of Amrita who left her husband Gaurav three months after her son was born and went off with her lover. She put a rape case against her husband and a harassment case against his sister and didn’t allow him to meet their children till he gave her twenty lakhs and a divorce. Refusing to do so, Gaurav stuck by his ground that he would take her back despite all the horrible things she had said about him. After five years her lover left her and she came back to Gaurav who had to build his life with her all over again with his son heartbreakingly calling him “Uncle.”
Why do women take this route?!
The top causes to a woman filing a criminal case against a man are:
1. Fractions in the joint family – the woman doesn’t want to live with her in laws. She wants to leave and the son cannot let go of his parents. She feels trapped and wants to get attention.
2. Infidelity – any party husband or wife could be having an affair. If he is having an affair, she is hurt and angry and the only way she can get back at him is through filing a case. If she is having an affair, it’s easy to put a case against her husband so she gets some money in her name rather than a divorce where he can prove she has been cheating on him and she ends up with nothing.
3. Arranged marriage – Most often Indian women have been forcefully married off and they don’t get along with their husbands. There are several cases where the woman wants to go back to her old lover but the only way to get out of this marriage without her parents and family forcing her to stay on, is to file a case against the family and use article 498A to be free.
4. Woman Feels Slighted – Most housewives may have an identity crisis at a given point in their life and if a man has said something to slight her, she will get offended. Over time their ideologies change and the romance may die. Misunderstandings rise and everything becomes a huge issue. To ask for a divorce might not be acceptable if the man has not technically done anything and the only way she can save face is to file a 498A case.
So what is Section 498A?
· In 1983, ‘Section 498-A of the IPC was introduced with avowed object to combat the menace of harassment to a woman at the hands of her husband and his relatives.
· Section 498-A is a cognisable and non-bailable criminal offence.
With this on him, the Indian Penal Code makes it impossible for the man to fight his case. In some cases like the Mumbai High Court there have been cases where both the parties were asked to have shared parenting with unlimited access to the child. This works if both the parents stay in one city.
What happens if the mother has taken the child and gone back to her parents and filed for a case in her own city? Then it’s up to the man to keep showing up for court cases in her city to prove he is eager to be with his children or fight for his rights. This is both expensive and exhausting.
There was one middle class family who had been so besmirched with a case that they chose to settle and give the woman twenty five lakhs and go through with the divorce just so that the man could see his children as soon as possible. They took a loan since they didn’t have the money and gave it all to her. Later they saw that she was holidaying in a foreign location while the entire family had fallen into depression and were contemplating suicide since the society thought that the man had been violent and was impotent, as she had claimed.
"A total of 63,343 married men committed suicide in 2012, with a fair amount of them having faced domestic problems," says Amit Gupta of Hridaya, a men’s rights organisation.
“It is the middle class that bear the brunt of this draconian law,” says Men’s Rights Activist Deepika Bhardwaj. “A hard working middle class family needs to cough up huge sums of money to save face in their society while the rich want the matter to die quickly and settle for the sum asked. This could be in crores.”
Money has power. It is often money that leads the woman to file DV (Domestic Violence) cases against the husband and family. As in the case of Sahil Gupta, the woman expected him to earn much more and have a house in her name by a certain time. As he could not provide that for her, she walked out on him.
Many times a husband says the wife must work to have equality in the relationship and both parties shall look after children and home. But the wife refuses. Later when he’s built the nest egg to be more comfortable with his wife and family, she deserts him saying he never paid enough attention to her and it’s time she get the entire nest egg for herself for the years she’s given in the marriage.
All these cases that are flung on the man are traumatic and there are many men and families who are so scarred that they never get married again or have children. My friend Rahul struggled for two years to get out of a dowry and rape case and finally when he proved he could not give his ex-wife two and a half crores, she settled for fifty lakhs and left him alone. At forty, he had to start over to build his bank balance and find love. A man who loved children so much that he thought he would have a few is still single after ten years and wounded for life.
In Bangalore, there was a woman who was caught having an affair and brought back by the police and given a warning. But her husband chose to file for divorce. She immediately went to the same police to file an FIR against him for harassment and now there is a case against him and his family that they need to fight out. It’s easy to persecute the miscreant but they don’t tell a woman she can be in jail if she files a false FIR.
So what can be done? Here are just a few of my suggestions.
1. The law should consider how to rehabilitate the woman in her choice of work and help her stand on her feet instead of sucking the man dry in a divorce.
2. The law must take into account the man’s point of view and hold him innocent until proven guilty.
3. Many more support groups should come out to help men who have been battered as well.
4. Women who have filed cases must have solo counselling to gauge if it’s a genuine case or has it been influenced by a third party.
5. Children should have unlimited access to both the parents whenever they choose with a neutral guide around to supervise.
Marriages do deteriorate over the years. Women feel slighted in some way. And most relationships are power struggles where the man will always say or do something stupid and the woman will feel bad. Most men are not evolved creatures and have no sensitivity sometimes. But it’s always better to go for marriage counselling or take the help of family and friends to sort out issues rather than resort to criminal cases that crack the family and traumatise the children. Or go for a divorce that is amicable, thinking about the children and helping each other stand alone.
According to Activist Deepika, Feminism has become a buzzword for the society. All the inputs from friends, media and society tell a woman to be more aware of her rights. This could lead to aggression.
A slight remark could result in a full blown war. Small instances over time can instigate the woman to fight for her “rights.” A lover, a friend, a sister could initiate a thought process that the woman is better off alone, should not stand for such “atrocities” and can get all the money she wants if she fights it out!
It is natural to be influenced when you see cases of women who get lakhs of rupees in court cases and full custody for the children. A wife who feels like she has been insulted in the marriage takes the same steps her friend has, not understanding that each family, relationship and man is different. She will use her children against the man and not realise she is creating a permanent psychological damage to them. She may fill their ears with horrible things against the father and his family and permanently shake the children up.
I am still a feminist. I believe that we have come a long way to fight for women’s rights and I am fully supportive of equal rights and pay for women. There are genuine instances of dowry, rape, harassment, abandonment and other evils that a woman has gone through in a marriage and family. She must be strong and use these laws to protect herself. I believe that being strong doesn’t mean putting someone else down. I believe in allowing room for dialogue. And I believe that men have a right to be innocent till they’re proven guilty and not the other way around.
But more than anything behind every case there is a human story, of someone being hurt and threatened, with an extortion that leaves them bitter, sick and damaged.
At the end of the day let’s all be humanists. Whether a woman has been hurt or a man, let’s be sensitive to both. Instead of playing the power card you have another ace up your sleeve. It’s called forgiveness. And if people don’t let ego get in the way, forgiveness can help save a marriage.
Also published in the Daily O: http://www.dailyo.in/politics/divorce-marriage-relationships-indian-women-section-498-a-dowry-cases/story/1/8766.html