Indian Supreme Court says: women 'misusing' dowry law

In a landmark decision that even NRI couples planning divorce are watching closely, India's Supreme Court has said that women are increasingly misusing the tough anti-dowry law to harass their husbands and in-laws.

A complaint under the law allows for immediate arrest and jailing of the accused, often the husband and his family members, but campaigners say the provision is frequently misused with many women filing false cases.

"The fact that Section 498A is a cognisable and non-bailable offence has lent it a dubious place of pride amongst the provisions that are used as weapons rather than shield by disgruntled wives," the two-judge bench of Justices CK Prasad and PC Ghose said in its order on Wednesday.
"The simplest way to harass is to get the husband and his relatives arrested under this provision. In a quite number of cases, bed-ridden grandfathers and grandmothers of the husbands, their sisters living abroad for decades are arrested," it added.
"The rate of charge-sheeting in cases under Section 498A is as high as 93.6%, while the conviction rate is only 15%, which is lowest across all heads. As many as 3,72,706 cases are pending trial of which on current estimate, nearly 3,17,000 are likely to result in acquittal," the bench said illustrating the misuse of Section 498A as a tool to harass husband and his relatives. 

According to the National Crime Records Bureau statistics, nearly 200,000 people, including 47,951 women, were arrested over dowry offences in 2012, but only 15% of the accused were convicted, the court said.

Expressing concern over the misuse of the law, the judges ordered the police "not to automatically arrest" an accused, but to go through a "nine-point checklist" to "satisfy themselves about the necessity for arrest".

And if the police make an arrest, a magistrate must approve further detention of the accused, the court ruled.

In the past, there were a number of reports of families of estranged Non Resident Indian men being arrested on frivolous 'anti dowry' complains filed by their wives. It is expected that such cases of harassment should reduce considerably in the future.

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