Government’s proposal to make way for a compromise between a couple in a dowry case at the onset of trial to avoid misuse of anti-dowry harassment law has drawn sharp criticism from activists and lawyers who say this would pressurise women to suffer more atrocities, a view not shared by some other legal experts.
Former judges of Delhi High Court, Justices S N Dhingra and R S Sodhi countered the opinion that the proposed dilution of the law would trigger more harassment to women, saying the amendment would fix the presently broken and misused system which falsely implicates husbands and the in-laws.
While women activists Ranjana Kumari and Barkha Singh and senior advocate Rebecca John were of the opinion that the proposed dilution would lead to greater exploitation of women in matrimonial homes, the two retired judges said changing the law would be a positive step and provide a better route to justice for falsely implicated husbands and in-laws.
Under the proposed amendment, Section 498A (subjecting woman to cruelty by husband and his family members) of the Indian Penal Code would be made a compoundable offence with permission of trial courts,as suggested by the Law Commission.
If the offence is made compoundable, it would allow the woman to settle the matter at the trial court level itself and withdraw the complaint.
Currently, the offence is non-compoundable and non- bailable, thus providing for immediate arrest of an accused and making any conciliatory effort by the warring sides virtually impossible. Also, the provision for a compromise under the present law is almost non-existent.
Section 498A entails a jail term of up to three years.
Condemning the proposal, Ranjana Kumari, Director of Centre for Social Research, said this change would adversely impact the effectiveness of the law.
“With this amendment, there will be more pressure on a woman to go for a compromise and settle disputes with her in-laws even if she does not want to,” Kumari said.
Supporting her view, Barkha Singh, Chairperson of Delhi Commission of Women, said there was no need to change the law as majority of women were getting justice under the current legal system.