Tihar overflowing with dowry cases: How infamous Delhi jail
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Tihar insiders call it the 'Saas-Nanand' barrack. It's a part of Central Jail Number 6 in Delhi's infamous prison, which holds only women accused in dowry harassment cases, almost always the mother-in-law and her daughters.
One fifth of all women prisoners in Tihar are accused in dowry cases under sections 498A and 406 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
Delhi has hit the high-growth lane in the registration of dowry cases, and already-crowded Tihar is getting choked by the onslaught.
From nearly 1,500 cases in 2011, the number of dowry cases registered went on to cross the 3,000 mark in 2013. In 2014, the Delhi Police has already registered more than 1,275 cases of dowry, and police officials expect the annual total to go higher than last year.
Most police officials freely admit that the dowry law has become a "tool to fleece families facing the legal heat over dowry and harassment allegations''.
It's a bizarre situation, and the stringent law that was introduced as an amendment to the IPC in 1983 helps create it. An offence under Section 498A is cognizable, meaning the police are duty-bound to register and investigate it; it is non-bailable, meaning bail can only be sought - and refused - by a magistrate - and when the case comes up in court; it is non-compoundable, meaning the complainant cannot withdraw the case.
No wonder then that the way the law is used has been described as "legal terrorism" by the Supreme Court.
Such dowry cases are in the thousands, but the conviction rate in these cases is as low as 15 per cent. The national conviction rate is between 12-15 per cent, according to the National Crime Records Bureau.
According to Delhi Police data, the number of dowry cases the force registered has doubled in two years. In 2011, the police registered 1,585 such cases, a number that rocketed to 3,045 in 2013. In 2012, Delhi Police had registered 2,046 dowry cases. And Tihar is bursting at the seams.
"There are over 280 in-laws and other family members booked in dowry cases. Most are women," said Tihar Jail spokesperson Sunil Gupta.
"The Saas-Nanand barrack is only for women accused in dowry cases. We keep them apart from hardcore criminals," Gupta added.
According to a senior police official, the dowry law has become a tool to extort money from the groom's family. After witnessing such trends, the Delhi Police prepared appropriate guidelines.
"Three years back, the police chief set the guideline that in such cases the victim's husband would be treated as prime accused, and permission will have to be taken from Deputy Commissioner of Police to arrest the victim's inlaws, and from the area Assistant Commissioner of Police for arresting the husband," the officer said.
There's unanimity on this issue.
"We arrest accused after following guidelines from various agencies. After giving counselling, we choose arrest as a last option," Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime Against Women) Robin Hibu said.
Gupta said that the mothers-in-law, who are mostly quite elderly, are the ones who get depressed in jail and adjusting becomes a problem for them.
"The nanands or sisters-in-laws who come in jail for few months are mostly aged between 18 and 26 years and also face a lot of difficulty and depression. These women know that their being in jail means they will be ostracised for life in society; they fear that no-one would marry them. It is emotional trauma for them and most are seen crying for days," a jail official said.
Since the under-trials in the dowry cases are first-time criminals and not hardcore ones they are treated better by the jail authorities.
"Most of the women are semi-literate women from Delhi and the villages around. We keep them away from the seasoned criminals and treat them softly in comparison to the other criminals," Gupta said.
Tihar authorities say that older women accused in dowry cases need medical help, and the younger ones booked in these cases usually need counselling.
Apex court's warnings are going unheard
By Harish V. Nair in New Delhi
For 43-year-old Arjun Dev, a resident of Jangpura in South Delhi, the Supreme Court's July 2 verdict seeking a crackdown on rampant misuse of the anti-dowry act came too late. But he is happy that the highest court of the land has once again taken note of the harassment and torture people like him face.
Dev, a software engineer, got married in June 2005 and differences soon cropped up between him and his wife Priyanka.
A housewife, Priyanka kept demanding hefty sums from him and spent all the money on needless shopping and tours with her friends.
A year later, when he reduced the amount, she left for her parents' home.
In mid-2005, she filed a case of dowry harassment and domestic violence against Dev. Police immediately arrested Dev, his 80-year-old ailing father, and his 75-year-old mother.
Nor did they spare his two sisters, who were settled in the UK, and arrested them after summoning them to India. They spent three months in jail before being granted bail by the Delhi High Court.
The case dragged on for seven years, during which Arjun became depressed and eventually lost his job.
"Priyanka agreed to our request for an out-of-court settlement thrice, but then went back on it and demanded more money. We finally reached a settlement early this year and now the divorce proceedings are on," Arjun said.
Dev and his mother Alka are among the hundreds who converge on the lawns of the Patiala House Courts complex in the Capital every Sunday morning, where they are provided counselling and guidance by Save Family Foundation, an NGO working against the misuse of gender-biased laws in India.
Amit Lakhani, executive member of the NGO, said: "We noticed that many of these men have suicidal tendencies. Many NRI husbands who faced similar situations are also contacting us."
"This is not the first time that the SC has lashed out at the misuse of anti-dowry laws. The CrPC had also been amended to this effect. But what is not happening is the implementation of directions. Police, magistrates and all presiding officers of the lower courts need to be made aware of it effectively. The Centre should make 498A bailable. There should also be a strong clause that if it is found to be misused, the complainant should be punished," Lakhani added.
Way back in 2003, the Justice Malimath Committee report had recommended making 498A bailable. The Law Commission has also stated that it should be bailable.
There have been several debates in Parliament regarding the same, but in vain. Amendments to Section 41 of the CrPC on steps to be taken by the police when faced with such complaints were done in 2010 and arrest guidelines were issued.
Police were asked to get in touch with the husband's side for verification before lodging an FIR, but the ground reality is that no rules are followed and atrocities on innocent men and their families continue.
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