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Diluting social laws

Diluting social laws
Highlights

Close on the heels of amending the child labour law to allow use of child labour in family-based occupations, the Centre is mooting yet another amendment to social legislations. It seeks to move an amendment bill to make offences under the Indian Penal Code Section 498-A compoundable with court permission in next parliament session.

Many fear that making IPC 498-A Section cases compoundable would expose women to family and social pressures

Close on the heels of amending the child labour law to allow use of child labour in family-based occupations, the Centre is mooting yet another amendment to social legislations. It seeks to move an amendment bill to make offences under the Indian Penal Code Section 498-A compoundable with court permission in next parliament session.

At the moment the offence is non-bailable and non-compoundable, leaving no chance for reconciliation between the couple after the case is filed. Section 498-A of IPC states, “Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.”

The Minister of State for Home, Kiran Rijiju, said in Rajya Sabha: “This is a family issue. If it can be resolved within the family, such a window should be available under the law.” But, normally a woman files a case against husband only after all windows are closed and all avenues for conciliation are exhausted. In fact, most of the women do not approach police or courts, given the patrilineal social relations.

Many fear that making the law compoundable would expose woman to family and social pressures – opening up a further window to husband by making the section compoundable may be prone to gross misuse. The crimes against society should be non-compoundable leaving no scope for even a compromise between perpetrator and the victim. For instance, murder, rape etc., though committed on an individual comes under such crimes.

But, the argument is that marital crimes should be treated on a different footing. Even courts have expressed such an opinion. But, a delicate balance is needed between the need for protecting the institution of family and protecting women against domestic violence on the other. Any tinkering with the law has the potential to exploit the vulnerable rather than protect her against the misuse of the very law.

Women’s organisations have many complaints with the implementation of section 498-A in its present form itself. Police is found to be corrupt, indifferent apart being gender insensitive. Many cases do not end in conviction due to poor quality of evidence. There is inordinate delay in judicial process. Even judiciary is also not free from gender bias.

A perusal of judgments shows that there are hardly any cases in which the accused have been held guilty under Section 498-A on its own. It is only in case in which death has occurred that the accused, most often, gets punished. This indicates that rather than being misused, Section 498-A is being under used. Misuse of law is not exclusive to this section alone. Such a misuse should be strongly dealt with. But, do not throw out the baby with the bath water.

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