In an unusual case, the Supreme Court explained to an estranged wife, how demanding enhancement of jail term for her husband on charges of dowry harassment, would do no good to either spouses. The top court guided the woman to co-habit with her husband, with whom she was embroiled in a matrimonial battle since past 21-years.
The couple got married in 1998 and their relationship soured leading to filing of the criminal case by the woman in 2001. The litigation saw failing of several mediation bids at the instance of courts.
In 2002, the trial court had convicted the husband under Section 498A (dowry harassment) of the IPC and had awarded a jail term of one year besides imposing a fine. It however had acquitted her mother-in-law and the sister-in-law of same charge. The appeal of the husband against the judgment was rejected by the revision court.
Against this, a plea was moved in the high court which upheld the conviction while reducing the one year jail term to the period undergone by him in prison earlier. The wife wanted enhancement of the jail term.
The top court was now hearing the appeal of the woman against the Andhra Pradesh High Court order by which though the conviction of her husband was upheld, but the jail term of one year, awarded by courts below, was reduced to the period undergone in prison by him.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday made the wife to agree to withdraw her plea seeking enhancement of jail term for her husband in a dowry harassment case.
Chief Justice N V Ramana, heading the bench which also comprised Justice Surya Kant, got both spouses together for an interaction before it through video conferencing, reported The Indian Express.
As the woman was not comfortable in speaking English, the official language of the apex court, the CJI conversed in Telugu and also explained her statements to fellow judge. The CJI told wife,
If your husband goes to jail you will lose the monthly compensation as he will lose his job.
Lawyer D Ramakrishna Reddy, appearing for the husband, a government employee at Guntur district in the state, said the CJI explained the legal situation to the woman in Telugu making it clear that the enhancement of the jail term was not going to help either of the spouses. Reddy quoted CJI Ramana and said,
If we enhance the jail term what benefit you will get, you may have to forego the monthly compensation.
The wife heard CJI’s advice patiently and instantly agreed to live with her spouse provided she and their only son are maintained properly by her husband. The top court then asked both the spouses to file separate affidavits in two weeks giving the undertaking that they want to live together.
The wife has undertaken to withdraw her appeal against the high court verdict by filing an application to compound the dowry harassment case against her husband who, in turn, will be withdrawing his plea seeking grant of divorce decree from a trial court in Andhra Pradesh.
- The offence of dowry harassment under Section 498A of the IPC is a compoundable offence and parties cannot settle such cases on their own
- The intent of top court may be in the interest of securing the woman, however, making her agree to live with her ‘dowry harasser’ because she may not get monetary benefit, seems very unreasonable
- MDO has always maintained that if a man is guilty of demanding and harassing his wife for dowry, he must face the law
- However, in the above case, the apex court court has allowed a “compromise” where wife would not demand enhancement of jail term and husband will withdraw divorce – after 21-years!
- What is the message that will go out to several other women and men in society? Genuine victims of dowry harassment may feel it is waste of time to approach courts, actual perpetrators of dowry (husbands) may feel it is ok to get away as women are dependent on them monetarily for life
- What is the message that will go out to several women who want to misuse this law? Can this IPC not be used to threaten a man with jail term, or pay up (this is already happening across India in large numbers – in both urban and Tier II, III cities)
- What is the point of making a couple co-habit after 21-years of bitter battle? Do we really believe things can be normal as before, or technically the man here was forced to take the woman back in exchange of no further jail term? Isn’t the woman here expected to go back to her dowry harasser because she can fend for herself?
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