Posts Tagged ‘Misuse of section 498A’

Poster of the documentary Martyrs Of Marriage

Poster of the documentary Martyrs Of Marriage

Section 498A was introduced in the Indian Penal Code in the year 1983 to protect married women from the cruelty of husbands and their relatives. This was mainly done after a spate of protests by women’s organizations talking about the inability of Indian law to deal with cases where women were being tortured or killed for dowry.

Section 498A states:

Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty–Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.

This is the only Indian law under which the perpetrator is assumed guilty unless proved innocent.

But in the last 23 years since 498A was introduced in the IPC the law has been used more often to harass husbands and their families than it has actually given justice to wronged women.

Martyrs of Marriage

The ground-breaking documentary Martyrs of Marriage, that has been made over four years by journalist and documentary film-maker Deepika Narayan Bhardwaj, explores the other facet of this section.

  • Between 1998 and 2015 more than 2.7 million people have been arrested under 498A alone, higher than any other crime under IPC except theft, hurt and riots.
  • 650,000 women who were arrested were sisters, mothers and relatives of the man many of whom had never stayed with the couple sharing a domestic relationship.
  • Most of these people were arrested on mere allegations without investigations.
  • 7,700 minors were also arrested in 498A cases.
  • Convictions rate under 498A dropped down to 13.7% in 2014, making it one amongst few sections under IPC that have a poor conviction record.
  • Several families have been destroyed because of incarceration due to a false case or running around courts for years and years.
  • Most people choose to quietly give in to legal extortion under these cases to escape decades of trial and harassment for no fault of theirs.

The documentary starts with the spine-chilling story of Syed Ahmad Maqdhoom, who left a video minutes before he committed suicide, talking about his plight after his wife took away his child and made a case of 498A against him. He said he could not deal with the harassment and misery anymore and hence was ending his life.

Maqdhoom’s sister talks about how he met his wife on the internet and was in shock when post-marriage she told him she had been married a couple of times before. He got over it though and when he had a son he was the most involved and happy father. Till his wife and her family started extorting money from him and when he refused to give, they slapped a case of 498A against him.
The film is a revelation on how legal terrorism is thriving in India and destroying lives.If dowry is a common allegation brought forward by the wife another trend that has caught on is false cases of rape against the father-in-law. The documentary has phone conversations showing how lawyers guide their clients to frame the husbands and their families and get the maximum money out of them and how even a two-month old child or an 89-year-old woman is not spared from arrest by the cops because they have been named in the FIR.

Talking about her experiences when she approached the victims to talk on camera and tell their story Deepika Narayan Bhardwaj said: “People had hesitations predominantly with my intentions behind making this film and my credibility as a filmmaker to handle this subject. That part was more difficult to handle because some people had very bitter experiences of talking to media before. Their stories were misrepresented or their experiences belittled. Once they realized I was very serious about this, they opened up and spoke candidly on the camera. Some people hesitated to come on the camera because they feared that an appearance in the film may invite more litigations on them by their partners. I did miss out on some crucial evidences and sharings because of this reason.”

deepika-narayan-bhardwaj

Deepika Narayan Bhardwaj

Why this documentary

Talk to any Indian and ask them if they know anyone who has been a victim of Section 498A and the answer would be in the affirmative. For instance I have known at least two people very closely who have had to fight long-drawn battles in the court because they were arrested under Section 498A. One person I know was even given an extra beating during incarceration because his wife had bribed the police officers and he stayed in jail for a month and fought a court battle for 8 years travelling from Delhi to Kolkata often for court hearings. Finally he was penny less when his innocence was proved but he had the guts to pick up the pieces and start life all over again.
“I accompanied my cousin to meet a retired Judge. There had been no dowry demand and the girl was lying. As a husband you can do nothing to save you and your family if she wants to file a dowry case he told us. What she says is always right. We told him we had evidence against her. He laughed saying a woman isn’t punished for adultery in this country. However she can file endless false cases against you, get you arrested and make you run around courts for years unless you agree to pay,” said Deepika.In Deepika’s case also the desire to work on a documentary and delve into the issues came when she saw a cousin suffering after his wife filed an FIR under Section 498A when actually the truth was she was having an affair.

According to Section 498A arrests can be made without any investigation and based on the FIR lodged in the police station. In 2014 the Supreme Court came up with the guideline that police officers could not go ahead and arrest the accused automatically and some parameters had to be followed.

“Despite that 1,87,000 arrests were made in 2015,” Deepika said.

The idea behind the documentary was to make people think about an issue that they never thought about or were not aware that it existed. “It is initiating a much needed debate on gender neutral laws in the country. Now that Judges, Magistrates, Police officers are seeing the film, I am sure they will be more sensitive and justice-oriented in their approach rather than gender oriented. I am trying to do the best I can to change mindsets where we believe it is only a woman who can be wronged.”

The response

In a country where men’s issues are rarely talked about Martyrs of Marriage has stirred the hornet’s nest and brought an issue to the fore in the most hard-hitting exposition of one and a half hours screen time.

“People who are absolutely unrelated to the issue have come to me after the screenings and cried hugging me, saying they never knew that something like this is happening and it is just so painful. The film has received a standing ovation at each and every screening across cities. In Mumbai, we had about 700 people giving a standing ovation to the film. Hashtag #MartyrsofMarriage trended on twitter on the night the film was screened in Mumbai. Experienced filmmakers, writers, directors hailed the film and its powerful presentation. People have called the film an eye opener, a revolution, one that is voice of millions across the country, one that raises very strong questions. People from cities where the film has already been screened are tagging their friends on social media in other cities where screenings are being planned, urging them to watch the film. The film has got very positive response from judiciary also. Retired and serving judges have been a part of the screenings and appreciated the film immensely. We have screened the film at Tamil Nadu State Judicial Academy and Maharashtra State Judicial Academy too. People who are a part of the film have also appreciated the documentary. It has been a very satisfying experience,” said Deepika.

The Kolkata premiere of the documentary had an involved audience throughout. And the question-answer session at the end of the screening was indeed interesting and enlightening.

This article was published in Asia Times on January 17, 2017.

Picture from the internet

Picture from the internet

This post is a follow up of my earlier post Framed by wife, tortured by cops, threatened with sodomy by HIV+ prisoners – did he survive? which is a first person account of Aarav, who landed up in jail because his wife filed a case of domestic violence against him under Section 498A, IPC.

Aarav was jailed for 14 days pending investigation at the Alipore Central Jail, Kolkata, which Aarav claims was one of the highest days served by anyone behind bars in a case like this.Before that, for one day and one night he was at the police station.

Aarav said:

The worst thing was since I was jailed people around me believed that I had been actually hitting my wife. In our society people pass their judgment on you long before the courts do. Even if they didn’t say it on my face I knew it was always on their mind. Dealing with this stigma was really harrowing.

 

  • The 498A case dragged on for six years. The case was lodged at a police station in the suburbs of Kolkata. I had at least one appearance in the court every two months. I had got a job in Delhi and had moved there.  Every two months I came all the way from Delhi to appear in court. I did that for six years.
  • They also filed a case for alimony and litigation costs etc at the Alipore Court. This was in addition to the case of 498A. This also dragged on for six years and I had to keep a separate lawyer for this.
  • She had good local contacts and got help from them but fighting the case from Delhi proved to be double hard for me.
  • The 498A case went on for such a long time because every time I just had to file a hazira (mark my presence in court) nobody from the other side would be there. I remember that during the fifth year when nobody came to the court she was summoned by the court. When she didn’t respond to the court summons, a court warrant was issued. It was withdrawn later when she promised to appear in court.
  • The real clincher was the case of compensation and alimony, litigation costs. The lower Alipore Court contended that since she was an earning lady, I needed to give her a one-time payment of Rs 15,000 only. I didn’t understand why I needed to give her any payment when she earned more than me and we both had ill parents to look after.
  • My lawyer argued the case at the Calcutta High Court. It ruled in my favour and set aside the earlier court order. It ruled that I need not pay any money to her.
  • The moment it became clear that there would not be any monetary benefit, a few months later her father met me at the court and offered to withdraw the case, but on one condition, I had to withdraw the case too.
  • Criminal cases cannot be withdrawn. So she was cross examined at the court where she admitted that I had not hit her and that I was innocent. This is on record in front of the magistrate.
  • The court passed an order that I am innocent and that there was not an “iota of proof against me”. It also commented that it was wrong on the police’s part to put me in jail without valid proof.
  • The policemen who had hit me have now been transferred to remote areas of Bengal.
  • The Alipore Court, after the High Court ruling which settled the financial issues, granted us a divorce too.

 

prison

Picture from the internet

Rape, molestation, domestic violence, sexual harassment in the workplace – women have finally come forward to tell their stories. But some stories are never told. Not many men would discuss how their wives harassed them, how they were slapped with the wife-beater tag for no fault of theirs, and how they had to fight the stigma of being jailed for something they hadn’t done. Misuse of Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, which is meant to protect a woman from cruelty by her husband and relatives, have landed so many innocent men in trouble that 498A has been branded as a section used for “legal terrorism”.

Aarav (not his real name) agreed to speak about what he went through. He had no issues giving his name and picture for this blog but that would mean giving away his ex-wife’s identity, something he didn’t want.

Aarav’s story is spine-chilling. He was like any of us, holding a well-paying 9-5 job, had his share of differences of opinion with his wife but never thought they would part ways and never thought that his life would turn topsy-turvy on a dark, rainy evening.

Over to Aarav:

No food for two days
 Those eyes….I still remember them

I still remember his eyes. They were very dull if you looked at them. But there was a strange sparkle in those pupils, something that you would never miss.

So far as I remember, his name was Sanatan. I really felt scared when I saw him watching me at first — when I was huddled in a corner along with thugs, rapists, thieves and killers. I saw him watching me when these people were running their hands all over my body trying to figure out if I had any money hidden anywhere in my clothes. Some would squeeze my private part hard and look at me for a possible reaction. I had none. I hadn’t eaten for two days and I was not allowed water more than two times a day for the past two days.

A drastic thing happened
I was in a daze and unable to react. My body was aching. All I remembered was that it was raining heavily. It was a typically heavy rainy day in Kolkata with gusts of cold wind.

I was having a drink with a colleague — who was trying to calm me down after I had screamed at a management trainee for doing a job wrong. It was always the case. I ended up losing my cool if I saw irresponsible behaviour at the workplace. He was telling me unless something drastic happened to me, it would not change me as a person.

That ‘drastic thing’ was about to happen.

I was comfortably high after three large pegs. It started raining harder. The night was amazingly dark. I was missing my wife as usual. We had fought that morning and she had left for work in a huff. I didn’t know when I returned if she’d be home or she would still be at work.

As I came out of the pub, three burly, dark, striking looking men stopped me. I looked up at them. There were three vehicles standing in front of me. A white ambassador, a white Tata Sumo and a khaki police jeep.

The man asked me my name. He asked my dad’s name. And then my wife’s name.

I took offence to the last question. I tried to avoid a fight and just walked past them. My colleague had already started his car. As I stepped forward to walk towards his car, one man grabbed my collar and I felt something sticking to the back of my waist— it was a gun.

Then the beating started
They were cops. I remember how I was pushed and shoved inside a Tata Sumo. How it hurt when they started hitting me with their fists. They were asking all the while whether I used to beat up my wife the same way. They tore open my shirt and took my mobile away.

They told me that I had asked for dowry from my wife. They wanted to know the amount of money that I had asked from my father-in-law as dowry.

I tried to tell them that they were making a mistake. They hit me even more. The blows were specifically aimed at my back, waist and shoulders. Each time they would beat me, I would gasp for breath. It seemed the world would come crashing down on me.

The ordeal went on for about two hours. By that time, we had crossed the borders of the city and the vehicle stopped at a non-descript police outpost. They were supposed to ‘hide’ me there.

The guy who was beating me up had J as his initials, you can call him Jayen, that’s his pet name. Jayen was a tall policeman, about six feet, with a protruding gut and a thick moustache. Jayen was stark drunk and he was beating me up almost mechanically…he did that every day.

It was time to sign some papers. I didn’t want to.

They played statue
I was asked to sit on a bench. I asked Jayen and his colleagues whether I could go to the washroom. They said unless I signed the papers I woudn’t be allowed to move.

I didn’t understand them at first. ‘Don’t move’ in their terms meant DON’T MOVE. You can’t move a single limb. Not even tilt your head from side-to-side. Try doing that for 10 minutes. You will understand what I mean.

After an hour of playing ‘statue’, I made my first move. I had to. I was almost losing my consciousness, I was almost peeing in my pants and my lungs were dying to scream out.

‘Sorry you are not allowed to talk. Be still’— Jayen’s dark burly stinky colleague said. Jayen had left by then.

I was sitting straight for about three hours and I wanted to sleep. It was about four in the morning and I wanted to sleep.

I signed all the papers.

The cop behind me kicked me on my face as soon as I finished signing the last paper. He started mocking me as if he would kick my abdomen— he said that would make me pee in my pants.

Fear of HIV
The eyes still haunt me. It was Sanatan who had actually saved my life. He was the guy who came to me in the prison van and told me that I should not try to sleep…anywhere….

If any of the prisoners got to sodomise me, then I might contract HIV, he said. I must not sleep at any cost.

“Just keep your eyes open. Do whatever you want. Hit yourself…but stay awake. Don’t let those people take your a**.”

Sanatan was using very coarse Bengali which was difficult for me to follow. But I understood what he meant.

He then patted my back and said “Khub Koshto Hochhe?”

I didn’t cry but….

Sanatan’s story
Let me tell you Sanatan’s story now.

Sanatan’s wife committed suicide when he had gone to man his shop. His wife, Sanatan said, couldn’t digest the fact that he was developing a fondness for her sister. Sanatan said he was falling in love with his sister-in-law and he kissed her once.

Sanatan said God punished him for that kiss.

His wife committed suicide. She slit the vein on her wrist and jumped into the nearby pond. The police booked him for harassing his wife for dowry and driving her to death. Charged under ‘Abetment to suicide’ meant Sanatan would not have got bail from the court. The ‘wife torture’ law ensured that Sanatan would be in jail for at least a month. Without trial, without investigations, without any evidence — it is the only law under the IPC that says you are guilty until you are proven innocent.

Sanatan told me that I had been charged under the same clause and I should be prepared to wait for a while before I am set free.

He said when you are in jail….you should try to save yourself. It’s the survival of the toughest. The toughest bodies survive. Also, the toughest minds.

I didn’t cry.

One arm was pulled out from the shoulder joint
Back in the police station, I didn’t cry at all. The mocks and the jeers hardly made a difference. I got to pee and I was feeling very sleepy.

They let me sleep. And even showed me a bench where I was supposed to sleep.

I had slept. But a kick on my back woke me up.

I found that a rubber rod was continuously hitting me on my ankles. As I shrieked out in pain, one of the cops caught hold of my right hand and turned it from the shoulder.

Before I could scream, my shoulder had become numb. The pain was hitting me in my spine. I later understood that he had pulled my hand out of the shoulder joint. That is why it didn’t hurt there and immediately became numb. It pained terribly near the neck and spinal cord.

I can’t describe the pain. But it had one good thing about it – it was so overwhelming that it didn’t let me think about anything else.

They stuffed some dirty handkerchiefs into my mouth. They put some gunny bags on my back. They then turned me around and started hitting me on my back.

The blows rained on the gunny bags which meant that I never had a spot on my body. I felt a similar pain along my tummy.

I learnt later on that it was a hairline fracture on the last bone of my rib-cage. Five minutes of that beating seemed like five years. My senses became numb. But it was okay. I didn’t cry.

I remember a sentence but.

Rs 5000 each for the beatings
One of the guys beating me up said that they had each been paid Rs 5,000 to beat me up. They had a ‘party’ before they decided to go ahead and arrest me.

They said that it was their responsibility to beat me up since they had taken the money.

They asked me when did my wife die?

I said that she was in sound health and had gone to office that day.

They said, “Which office?”

I said the name of the company…

They had stopped beating me by then. Then they asked the constable to bring the ‘complaint book’.

They went somewhere for 10 minutes.

I guess they thought I was somebody else.

I was lifted up from the ground and placed on a wooden bench. They put some files under my head. Those files were pillows.

Tablets for pain management
I found that I had peed again in my pants. The pain was so overwhelming that it didn’t make a difference.

But now, the problem was: They stopped beating me. They even adjusted my arm back into the shoulder socket. As I screamed in pain, they offered me some chai.

They gave a handful of tablets and told me to gulp them down — they said I would feel better.

I didn’t.

The tears came
I did cry finally, in front of Sanatan, a day later inside the central jail. It was a day when they had placed a bowl of rice in front of me. Just rice and something that they called dal.

My lips and tongue burned as the dal touched my lips, probably because it had too much chilli in it. But that let me cry. I watched myself in amazement as tears rolled down my cheeks.

The medical examination said that there are no ‘visible signs of torture on my body’. But I could barely speak, couldn’t move my hands and found it difficult to sit.

But I cried.

It was a strange cry. There were no sounds, only tears rolling down my cheeks.

I knew I had survived.

But there was more to come…

 

(What happened to Aarav? Could he get out of jail? Could he prove his innocence? Read this post