26 Jun 2008, 0355 hrs IST, Himanshi Dhawan,TNN
NEW DELHI: Are we being fair on the not-so-fair sex? It would appear not. Laws for protecting women like the anti-dowry legislation and the domestic violence Act were vociferously opposed by men's groups on Wednesday at a consultation initiated by the ministry for women and child development and UNIFEM.
The burden of their argument was that these laws don't follow the fundamental legal premise that a person is innocent until he is proven guilty. "In 30% of the cases that come to us, there is a rift between the woman and her in-laws where the woman forces the man to choose between the two under the threat of slapping Section 498A of the Dowry Prohibition Act on the husband and his family," said Ashish from Save Indian Family (SIF).
He added that there should be a deterrent to prevent misuse of the law. Another representative Hemant from SIF said that 1.2 lakh women (women relatives of husbands) were arrested under the anti-dowry Act but the ministry of women and child development minister was not doing anything about it. "Are you a wife development or a woman development minister?" he asked.
Dr Anumapa Singh, who counsels couples, pointed to the anomaly in the domestic violence law in that the aggrieved party could only be a woman while the respondent could only be a male. "We have witnessed violence at home where the perpetrator is a woman. So why does the law hold a man as the accused?" she wanted to know.
TOI had reacted to an observation of the Orissa chairperson of the state commission for women on September 19, 2007, when she had said that these laws were being abused. We had felt there should be checks on such abuse and said, "In cases where a complaint is proved false beyond doubt, the accuser must face a jail term." This would act as a deterrent to the abuse of Sec 498A, we felt.
At the meeting on Wednesday, however, the men's group wanted the laws to be scrapped altogether — which is not such a good idea as it is undeniable that many women do get harassed by greedy husbands and in-laws and need legal protection.
Sanjay Bhartia of the Gender Human Rights Society said, "We have been opposing the domestic violence Act and have even submitted a memorandum to the Prime Minister last year on the issue," he said. Bhartia added that there was need to review the laws that were radically tilted in favour of women and open to misuse.
Men's organisations invited for the interaction landed up in huge numbers with posters and banners, disrupting the consultation with their sloganeering.
Faced with vehement opposition, WCD minister Renuka Chowdhury admitted that she was open to change the law. "Law-making is a dynamic process. We are ready to change the law but as of now there will be no amendments to it," she said.
Reacting to the constant allegations of misuse, Chowdhury said that there were enough deterrents in the penal code to punish those found guilty of misuse. She, however, did not spell out the deterrents.
Wednesday's protest came at a time when the Delhi police commissioner has issued instructions that only the husband and not the extended family can be arrested in anti-dowry cases.
Reacting sharply to this, National Commission for Women chairperson Girija Vyas said, "If the anti-dowry law is taken lightly, women will suffer a huge loss. Only 6% of the cases are false under the Act."
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