Law: Weapon of vengeance - Yahoo! India News Law: Weapon of vengeance Buzz Up Share Tue, Jun 29 06:15 PM Tue, Jun 29 06:15 PM Marriage, dowry, relationships, family, marital discord: it's a potent mix of human emotions and failings and nowhere is this more in evidence than in the misuse of the Dowry Prohibition Act (DPA). Extreme Decision Pushkar Singh, 34 Vineeta, 30 Mumbai Singh, a teacher, committed suicide after his wife allegedly implicated him in a false case for which he had to spend four months in jail. He hanged himself after his release, blaming his in-laws for his plight. He leaves behind a minor child and his ailing, aged mother. All in the Family Brijesh Awasthi, 34 Sunita Awasthi, 33, Mumbai Brijesh claims that his brother-in-law borrowed money which he did not want to repay and in turn told his sister that Awasthi was planning to remarry secretly. Sunita committed suicide and his in-laws charged him with dowry killing. He is now bringing up his two daughters. An incredible 9,000 husbands and their relatives (10 per cent of the total jail population) are languishing in Uttar Pradesh prisons under the provisions of the Act. Parents of estranged brides are increasingly lodging cases against their in-laws under the Act to "punish the husbands" and to also conceal the actual cause of the dispute between the couple. "After murder cases, if there is any other crime sending the greatest number of people to jail, it is the Dowry Prohibition Act," says senior IPS officer and Inspector General of UP Jails Sulkhan Singh. What that proves is that an Act meant to protect victims of dowry has become a weapon of vengeance and a mockery of the judicial system. Indraneil Bhattacharya, a senior executive in a Lucknow-based private company, was married to Mausami Chatterji in 2002 and within five months their relations deteriorated. But they sustained their togetherness and had two children by 2008. "I requested her not to spend too much money on herself but she refused and finally filed a case under DPA as revenge," says Indraneil. "We have lost all our money in courts and police stations. Mausami and her kin have driven us out of our house. My parents, who had built the house with their hard-earned money, are now living in a rented house," recalls Indraneil, who is now socially ostracised and economically broken. The Act has caused so much trauma that Pushkar Singh, a teacher, even ended his life. Implicated under the Act, Singh was sent to jail for four months. He came back, wrote a letter blaming his wife and in-laws for implicating him in a false case of dowry and ruining his life. "I cannot face the society so I am ending my life" were his last words as Singh hanged himself. He left behind his aged and ailing mother and a child. Another victim, Vikas Parihar, says his wife was a journalist who had illicit relations with the owner of a magazine, and when he protested she filed a case under the DPA. "I have lost my job, my money, my status in society and my family. My day ends running after police personnel and advocates. I have no money now. If I don't contest the case, I would be convicted and sent to jail for a crime that I did not commit. But if I challenge it, I lose everything and may soon turn a beggar. What is the use of such a life?" says an emotional Parihar. In an unusual case in Barabanki district, Saroj of Belia village was married to Ram Saran of Bhaisupur in 2006. One morning she was found missing from her in-laws house. Her father charged Ram Saran and his family with killing his daughter for dowry and disposing of her body. The sessions court pronounced rigorous life imprisonment for Ram Saran and his family. But during the high court proceedings, the "dead" Saroj presented herself before the court, saying that she had eloped with her paramour and her father had out of vendetta filed a case against her husband and in-laws under the dpa. There are, however, larger social and judicial issues here. Between 2000 and 2007, 795 minor girls and 1,300 minor boys were also booked under the Act. "In most cases the bride's family lodges a complaint under the dpa against the husband and his family. Instead of investigating the case, the police immediately arrests the accused. This is ridiculous. How can minor boys and girls be involved in a dowry case? They may not even know what dowry is," says a senior government official who himself faced such a case. While the situation in Uttar Pradesh is scary, chaos reigns across the country over the provisions of the Act. National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) figures reveal that in the five years between 2004 and 2008, no less than 3,36,842 cases were registered under the Act and 94 per cent of the accused were absolved of the charges. The figures show that the DPA is being grossly misused by the bride's family. The misuse has now triggered off counter activism with many organisations like Patni Pidit Sangathan, Save Family, All-India Male Welfare Association, Hyderabad MASA (Mother and Sister Initiative) and Forgotten Women coming up across the country. Salem in Tamil Nadu hosts a national-level meeting of victims of the wife in August every year. "I have no hesitation in saying the Act has become a money-making machine for the police and lawyers," says Vikas Parihar, another victim. Swarup Sarkar, founding member of the Save Indian Family Campaign, said over 2,000 NGOs are working all over the country for women's welfare, but not a single one for the welfare of men. Sarkar added that most dowry cases are registered against economically sound families and then a gang of police personnel and advocates start extorting from the groom's family. "How can a mere verbal statement by a woman be made the ground for the arrest of an entire family, including minors and elders without an investigation? This is unconstitutional and illegal. Even the Supreme Court has issued directives to first investigate DPA-related complaints and then make arrests," says Sarkar. In view of a growing number of dowry-related cases, the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court has constituted a Mediation and Conciliation Centre in the court campus. Senior lawyer I.B. Singh, chairman of the centre, said that in the last eight months, 622 cases were referred to the centre, out of which 500 cases were dowry related but there was not a single case in which dowry was the real cause of dispute. Shabnam Siddiqui, a member of the centre said: "The misuse is increasing in the middle and upper middle classes with a good economic and educational background." After murder cases, if there is any other crime sending the largest number of people to the jails, it is the Dowry Prohibition Act.- Sulkhan Singh, IG Uttar Pradesh Jails Even the President, the Supreme Court and a number of high courts have expressed their concern over the misuse of the Act. The apex court has even described the phenomenon as "legal terrorism." Lucknow's Nari Bandi Niketan holds 151 elderly women. "Most of them have to serve life terms," says a senior jail official. Many of them cannot walk independently or perform their daily chores. Most have been abandoned by their own relatives. A senior jail official said of these 151 inmates, 105 had no visitors in the last one year. The remaining 46 had just three visitors despite the fact that the jail manual allows 12 meetings. "These inmates are like our family members and we take care of them," says the official. Indeed, it is common to see women and men between the ages of 65 and 70 years serving a life term. Apart from the mothers-in-law, sisters-in-law too were in jails with their children. Now the All India Mother-In-Law Protection Forum has come up to fight for their rights. Parihar says that the Act is taking a heavy toll on men, adding that more than two lakh married men committed suicide between 2005 and 2008 while the number of housewives was much less. Now, men are uniting across the country and demanding a review of the Act. That will be little consolation to the thousands of victims of vengeance and greed, stuck behind bars with their future in tatters.