Courts not gender biased in DV & dowry cases

In the month of July, there were two court judgements which saw that courts are definitely moving away from the old school of laws that marital laws are biased towards the female sex, especially in cases related to domestic violence. Further there is a Judicial Order from the Supreme Court which is likely to weaken the powers of IPC related to dowry harassment.

The first one came from  Justice Dhingra of the Delhi High Court. It stated that a daughter in-law cannot book her in-laws under the Domestic Violence Act, if the parents are not living with their son and his wife who were stationed abroad. The court concluded that to constitute a family and domestic relationship means staying / living together under the very same roof. Clearly, the case was decided basis merits.

In another case, Justice V.M. Kanade of the Bombay High Court in his judgement has stated “It was difficult to accept that a house owned by in-laws could be treated as a shared household. It is difficult to consider a woman’s matrimonial home as shared household if it is not owned by the husband.”

This judgement now defines the concept of a matrimonial household. A house owned by a woman’s in-laws, cannot be considered a ‘shared household’. In accordance with Section 2 of the Domestic Violence Act, it protects the right of residence of estranged women in a shared household.

However, this judgement is bound to open a Pandora Box for it means that the estranged wife cannot stay in the matrimonial residence and it surely won’t be easy for her to get residential support (in renting an apartment) from the estranged husband. Further, it again clarifies that it is the husband’s (and not his family’s) responsibility to take care of his wife.

Justice Kanade was referring to the case purview and probably will go ahead to give the lady rental support if would seek it than asking to live in the house where her husband lives and does not own it.

Times are changing and aspects about matters of marital disputes have been broadened over time, even though men, who are seemingly all over the web-space  hinting to be “the aggrieved one”, claim it to be otherwise!

But further to this, the court is even seeking an amendment to the Indian Penal Code to make dowry harassment a “compoundable offence” — which would allow willing families to settle their problems outside court. The Supreme Court has made the request, to be placed before Union Law Minister Veerappa Moily, in a unique way, through a judicial order.

However, if this happens it can lead to another Pandora’s box. Men claiming misuse of laws will suggest it to be a money-minting exercise by women who they claim are not aggrieved and women who complain being the victims. On the other, it does soften the law on men and their families who many times are guilty of dowry harrassment.

The amendment would relieve the courts from the “burden” of hearing dowry cases where warring families are happy to settle, but the penal code does not allow them to do so, the Supreme Court said in a July 30 dated judicial order. If the court’s “opinion” actually transforms into an amendment in the IPC, dowry harassment would become an offence which can be settled by affected parties, without permission of a court of law, possibly by means of paying some money to the victim and her family.

Dowry harassment (Section 498A of the IPC) is currently a non-bailable, non-compoundable (complaint once registered cannot be withdrawn) offence under the IPC, which attracts imprisonment up to three years. As per court records, conviction rate in dowry harassment cases is 2% — which appears to be more a case of a lack of matters’ pursuance for the long years involved and not an absence of truth in most cases. The fact is that most cases are dropped on way and not carried forth to the last legal post for the judgement as the process/procedure involved appears to be so time taking that the end result begins to look futile.

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