Bengaluru: The city has one of the lowest conviction rates for dowry-related cases at 0.5% compared to the national average of 12.1%. This finding emerged in a report compiled by the Bangalore Police to be submitted to the state government.
There has been widespread debate about the misuse of Section 498(A) of the IPC by women to harass husbands and in-laws to wrongfully implicate them in dowry cases. The Bangalore Police records present a different view, as less than 9% of 4400 cases filed in the last 10 years in the city were found to be false. The total number of cases filed was 500 in 2013, which reduced to 476 in 2014 and 486 in subsequent years.
The SC ruling in 2014 regarding the misuse of Section 498 (A) has put women further at a disadvantage when faced with dowry harassment. Nazia S. (name changed), 17, has been visiting police stations with her father Sayed Khadar, 36, seeking help against harassment meted out by her husband, Syed Shahid, 24.
“After seeing my daughter suffering, I brought her home, but her husband keeps making threatening calls. He says that he will rape my other daughter, if I don’t send Nazia to his house. I went to the police station, but the police said they can’t arrest her husband because of the Supreme Court order. I have had to pay every policeman I meet, buy them coffee, lunch and snacks, just to get them to listen,” said Khadar.
Nazia had married Syed Shahid in December 2015, despite knowing that he was unemployed and was involved in criminal activities. A month and-a-half into the marriage, Shahid and his parents started to harass Nazia for dowry. “My husband and his family stared to beat me up asking me to bring money. I went to my parents and explained my situation. My father arranged for INR 60,000 and sent me back to my husband’s house. After a few days, the harassment began again,” Nazia recounted.
Nazia even attempted suicide, but survived. Khader brought his daughter home but threatening calls from Shahid continued. The family again approached the Madiwala Police Station, but were turned away citing the SC order.
Nazia started to work to support herself, but Shahid continued to cause trouble. “When I was returning home from work my husband and his friends surrounded me pointing a knife and threatening to kill me if I don’t go with them. With help from office friends and my manager I took him to the Madiwala Police Station. The police refused to arrest him asking me to go to the Mico Layout Police Station the next day. By then, Shahid had escaped. The Mico Layout Police said that they would arrest him, if I would bring him along,” she added
According to Nazia, when she approached the Vanitha Sahayavani with a social worker, she was counselled to go back to Shahid’s house.
This is similar to the issues facing Famidha, (name changed) 26, and her father, Hussain Khan, 65. Since the past three years, they have been making the rounds of police stations seeking help to end harassment from Famidha’s husband, Moinuddin, 32.
Famidha has been married for four years and has a child. She had an arranged marriage and her parents paid INR 2 lakh as dowry and gave her jewellery worth INR 4 lakh. After a year, her husband stopped contributing money home, when Famidha asked him he would beat her ask her to bring money from her parents. Her father arranged money a few times, but the harassment continued. Fed up, Famidha and her father decided to file an FIR. Instead of taking action against Moinuddin, the police tried to counsel Famidha into going back to her husband’s house.
Famidha said, “At the beginning, my father arranged for INR 50,000 and sent me back but he started to beat me again because his sister and mother claimed I had brought bad luck to their family. They would also hit me and I had many marks on my face and body from the beatings. When my father found out, he took me to the nearest police station in Siddhapura to file an FIR. The police took INR 3,000 to file the FIR and we had to buy them lunch, tea and coffee.”
The police counselled Famidha to return to Moinuddin’s house each time. Things came to a head when Moinuddin ran away with all of Famidha’s jewellery and their property papers. “Within three months he returned and we took him to the Sheshadripuram Police Station. He confessed that he had taken my jewellery and assured me that he would return it, but he never came home.”
In December, Famidha found out that Moinuddin had married again and approached the police for help. However, she was told to bring her husband to the station, which she couldn’t do. Looking for help to resolve this matter, Famidha approached an NGO called the Ambedkar Mahila Sangha. They promised to take up her case with the police and made her pay INR 15,000. “They came to our house to collect the cash and that was the last time we saw them. After that each time we visit their office in Chamrajpet, we are told Madam is busy or on holiday,” Famidha added.
According to Assistant Sub-Inspector, Krishnappa C.S. there has not been any changes with regards to 498A cases after the SC judgment. Hence, in most cases that have to do with family problems either the police take on the case or send complainants to the all-women police station or Vanitha Sahayavani for counselling.
“We do take the FIR from the women on the first day of her visit to the station and ask her to bring the husband and in-laws the next day for more inquiry. To identify if the case is genuine we check if the women has any marks on her face or body. Arrests are usually made based on the severity of the case. If it’s a family problem, we try to counsel them in the station or send them to Vanitha Sahayavani,” Krishnappa explained.
According to Vimala Sham, President, Amrutha Mahila Sangha, women find it hard to get help from the police for dowry-harassment cases. “The women who come to us have already gone through different kinds of counselling. All they need is legal support, so I connect them to friends, who are lawyers and social activists,” she said.
Udaya Raju a Bangalore-based criminal lawyer who has handled dowry-harassment cases since the past 20 years said, “For cases filed under Section 498 (A) the conviction rate is low and the accused often gets acquitted, as the victim doesn’t submit necessary evidence and courts demand evidence.”
When informed about the women struggling to file such cases, Udaya said, “If a woman gives a complaint against her husband or in-laws and has proper evidence, the accused would be arrested immediately. If they refuse, she can ask the police to give his statement in writing and she can submit that to the Magistrate Court and file Section 200 (B) along with 160/3. The court will take action against the police and she will win for sure.”
Rohini Katoch, IPS, Deputy Commissioner of Police, South-East said, “Police refusing to file an FIR is a cognisable offence and they can be prosecuted. There have even been instances of such police officers getting suspended.”
Bangalore Police Commissioner, Praveen Sood said, “I agree that raising an FIR in this country has been difficult and it is still an issue in such cases. But, we are working hard to eliminate this issue.”
(Elizabeth Mani is a Bangalore - based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)
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