Relook 498a? Really needed?

As the legal system feels itself to be unable to find the truth in cases lodged under Section 498a of the Indian Penal Code, the Supreme Court has sought the Government to take a relook at it. A bench comprising Justice Dalveer Bhandari and Justice KS Radhakrishnan felt “to find out the truth is a Herculean task in a majority of these complaints”.

Expressing concern at the rise in number of complaints under Section 498A, the Bench said, “We come across a large number of such complaints which are not even bona fide and are filed with oblique motives.” Incidently, isn’t it time to pull up our police on such matters for only after registration of a FIR, the matter, under 498a goes to the court. However, it seems that the court wants to absolve itself from actually doing anything about it apart from a Delhi High judgement by Justice SN Dhingra which indicated that such FIRs are lodged following vested interests of a section of the police and lawyers.

The Honourable Court rightly pointed out that there have been cases where the woman in her complaint had roped in the husband’s relatives, who lived in different cities and rarely visited them, of cruel behaviour towards her. However, what the Honourable Court did not suggest that women are no longer subjected to cruelty, harassment and abuse in the hands of her in-laws. More so, a recent judgement by the Court was towing an opposite line.

The significance of the court’s directive goes beyond what happens to Section 498A. It marks a conceptual shift, a turn away from the culture where women were seen only as victims who were incapable of levelling false allegations. The assumption of women’s innocence is apparent in laws devised to deal with rape and other crimes against women where the presumption of innocence is not available to the accused.

The bigger question is how with the Court, even after a relook allow for misuse to be avoided while allowing  for every sufferer to get justice. After all, if the legal system usually thrives on giving dates rather than justice, allowing room for ill performance at the hands of the police, can a change in any law help? Probably it can — it will allow unscrupulous husband and in-laws to get away!

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