While laws are meant to provide succor, their misuse can have a torturous effect on victims and their families.
By Vishwas Kumar
Misuse of dowry laws has seen many an innocent men being framed. Worse, in some cases, even the judiciary sides with the woman’s family, leaving her husband tortured and at wit’s end. Take the case of a newlywed couple whose lives were overturned due to the misuse of such laws by the girl’s family. All it took was a suggestion by the boy’s parents that the couple purchase a house jointly in their name. Could this be called dowry harassment? Prima-facie, it isn’t. But who was to tell this to the Maharashtra police, who not only arrested the boy, a software engineer, but also chargesheeted him.
Judiciary found wanting
But worse was to follow. Even the judiciary, from whom one expects justice, was no better. First, the metropolitan magistrate (MM) upheld the police’s case, brushing aside all protests from the accused and his parents. Then, the additional sessions judge (ASJ) too agreed with the MM and directed him to undergo trial to prove his innocence. Finally, when the matter reached the high court, the shocked lady judge quashed the criminal case against the accused. She also passed strictures against the police and castigated the judicial officials for non-application of their mind while passing orders. The judge severely criticized the girl’s parents for conspiring to defame and humiliate the accused and his family.
Sadly, there have been many cases of abuse of dowry laws. In 2008, two software engineers, Neeraj Kaushik and Madhvika Joshi, fell in love and married. They lived in Pune where Kaushik was working with Tata Consultancy Services (TCS).
The marriage, however, lasted only five months, as the couple couldn’t reconcile their differences. On June 17, 2008, Joshi filed a complaint with Chaturshrunghi police station in Pune, alleging physical assault by her husband. The police requested her to undergo the mandatory medical examination in an assault case. But she refused. An examination would have helped establish the gravity of the injury and under which section of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) the crime fell. Since the alleged offense, a slap, was a non-cognizable offense (non-serious in nature), the police did not immediately register a case.
The next day, Joshi reached her home town in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh, and lodged a complaint with the local police. Surpri-singly, the police immediately registered a criminal case under the provision of Zero FIR (can be registered without jurisdiction), after she took a medical examination. The medical certificate indicated that there were bruises on her left eye, right arm, left scapular area and contusion over the left thigh.
Since the offense had taken place within the jurisdiction of the Pune police, the Ujjain police transferred the case there. And on July 4, Chaturshrunghi police station filed a fresh FIR (No 297/08) based on the Zero FIR forwarded by the Ujjain police, overlooking its own Occurrence Report, in which the police had refused to register a case.
The Pune police, then, swung into action and at midnight on September 23, arrested Kaushik. They also swooped down to Delhi to arrest his father, Vinod Kaushik, and mother, Uma, but failed to do so. Three days later, they brought a handcuffed Kaushik to the TCS office on the pretext of seizing his passport. After humiliating him, they detained him in police custody for another five days on the grounds of recovering “stridhan” (dowry) items, but they never came to Delhi to do so. After eight days in police custody, the trial court released Kaushik on bail on October 1, 2008. Two months later, his parents also managed to obtain anticipatory bail from the high court.
But worse was to follow. In February 2009, the police filed a chargesheet under Sections 498A (anti-dowry), 406 (breach of trust), 506 (criminal intimidation), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 34 (common intention) of the IPC, along with Sections 3 and 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act.
Subsequently, Kaushik’s lawyer, Anuj Kumar Padhy, filed a discharge petition, first before the MM, then the ASJ and then, the Mumbai High Court, alleging that the Pune police had acted arbitrarily by ignoring their own Occurrence Report but later did so on a “cooked up” charge by the Ujjain police. He argued that the Pune police did not register a criminal case when an alleged crime took place within its jurisdiction. His petitions were rejected by the MM and ASJ, but later, the Mumbai High Court accepted it.
Thankfully for Kaushik, Justice Sadhana S Jadhav of the Mumbai High Court quashed the case against him this July.
In her scathing judgment, she said: “In the present case, it appears that no serious allegations were made at Chaturshrunghi Police Station which would even warrant prosecution under Section 498A and therefore, in all probabilities, the police officers had not called upon the Petitioner No. 3 (Neeraj Kaushik). At the same time, it cannot be ignored that Petitioner No. 3 was in fact, arrested by the police in his office and paraded as if he was a hardened criminal.
“The police machinery had not only stopped at that, but sought police custody on the ground of recovery of the passport of the complainant and other articles. The highhandedness and influence of the complainant party was writ large on the face of the record and the police had detained Petitioner No. 3 in custody without verification of the facts. It is a matter of record that Petitioner No. 3 had to undergo incarceration for a week because of the fact that he was arrested unaware. The Petitioner No. 3 was arrested on 26th September, 2008, and released on bail on 1/10/2008. The Petitioner No. 3 was exposed to social obloquy at the place of service since he was arrested in the office, i.e. in the TCS office, and was handcuffed.
“All this would clearly show that the complainant was seeking personal vendetta without there being any sufficient grounds.”
Justice Jadhav castigated Joshi’s family for misusing the provisions of anti-dowry laws in connivance with police officials to unleash vendetta against her estranged husband and in-laws.
Justice Jadhav also cast doubts about exactly what harassment Joshi had undergone. She cited Black’s Law Dictionary (widely used law dictionary), which defines “harassment” as “words, conduct, or action (usually repeated or persistent) that being directed at a specific person, annoys, alarms or causes substantial emotional distress in that person and serves no legitimate purpose.”
In the present case, she said, it could not be said that Petitioner No.3 was so persistent in his conduct that it could cause harassment to the first informant (Malavika Joshi). The very fact that she refused to be subjected to medical examination at Pune would show that she had no apparent injuries, the judge said. The police officer at Chaturshrunghi police station would have definitely noticed the bruises if it had appeared on her eyes and other features. Therefore, there was a doubt as to whether the said injury certificate was concocted at a place where her parents lived, said Jadhav.
She also clarified what could qualify as dowry harassment. Section 498A of the IPC contemplates harassment of such a nature, which would coerce the wife or her relatives to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health. “Recitals of the FIR in this case only disclose a stray incident which had occurred due to a verbal altercation between the husband and wife which would be a natural affair between couples. Difference of opinion or verbal altercation…cannot be termed as harassment or cruelty,” said the judgment.
It also highlighted the grave misuse of dowry laws. In the present case, the disgruntled wife filed the proceedings under Section 498A, 406, 323 of the IPC. Thereafter, a petition was filed under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005. And then, proceedings were initiated in the family court. Hence, the husband and his relatives had to go through legal proceedings in the same case in three different courts.
Talk about a marriage made in hell.