Dowry Prohibition: A Legal Mechanism Prone to Misuse?

Throughout history, women have been exploited in various forms in our country. What was supposed to be “Streedhan” – a woman’s personal wealth – has today become a social evil. The Anti-Dowry Law has come as a breather for women waiting in the fatal queue to be burnt, driven to suicide or even murdered for dowry. On the other hand, we also see a number of women using the law for their selfish advantage. There have been many cases till date where women married rich men and threatened them with the Law to extort money from them. When these women wrench their wrists around the necks of NRI husbands, the latter face the risk of losing their hard-earned jobs and having their passports impounded, being blotted wrongly with the heinous crime. Some have also used the law to blackmail their husbands into moving away from their joint family set-up. Some have gone to the extent of misusing the Anti-Dowry Law as an Anti-Divorce Law forcing their husbands to continue living with a dead marriage. The cases have the uncanny trait of being dropped as soon as the husbands yield to the demands.

The false cases under the Anti-Dowry Law are planned and fielded meticulously. Often, false certificates citing injuries are produced in court. Self-inflicted injuries used as proof is not entirely unheard of.
Corrupt lawyers, police officers and NGOs working supposedly for women’s emancipation double up as henchmen for these so-called harassed women. They terrorise, mentally and physically torture the husbands in question and his family and blackmail them with the mentioned law until they agree to pay a ‘compromise amount’ to the ‘wife’ to stop her from moving court. The compromise amount or the ‘booty’ sometimes runs into lakhs and is shared by the women in question and the corrupt agencies that help her achieve the end. The National Commission for Women – the NCW – is often called the National Commission for Wives. It was really a shocking revelation when it came to light that NCW was giving an exaggerated number of dowry deaths by listing all unnatural deaths among married women as dowry deaths.

Arrests made under the Anti-Dowry Law are non-bailable and the benefit of doubt is given to the woman. The husband has to prove his innocence if he is to see free days. A large number of men are unable to prove their innocence in the face of false evidence produced by the wife. And even if the man is acquitted, the scars of a long emotional, mental and financial drudgery will stay forever. The defamation and damage caused might last forever as for most people there is no smoke without fire. It is this very fear of damage to reputation which keeps men from protesting against the wrong accusations.

False cases divert the attention from genuine cases of women who are really suffering the evil of dowry.
We cannot look at the law as a necessary evil and amendments should be initiated into the provisions of the Anti-Dowry Law. Its misuse undermines the sanctity of the very institution of marriage.
The police should make an effort to check out the genuineness of dowry-related reports while filing FIRs. Mere filing of an FIR under Anti-Dowry Law makes the husband liable to an arrest.

Strict punishment should be meted out to those found misusing the law. It should be ensured that the Anti-Dowry Law is not made unlawful!

Shruthi Venukumar