It was one of those showery August evenings in Mumbai. The clouds had started turning tar-black as I left office and true to my anticipations, it started pouring cats and dogs by the time I reached the coffee shop. I was finally meeting Samar (name changed), a very good friend and travel buddy, after two long months of persuasion.
I still remember the day I had met Samar for the first time. He had accompanied a friend on our trip up north. A shy, well mannered guy, quite content and always smiling. Samar has always been the easy-going person who finds happiness in small things. He loves to explore and share his journey through his pictures, yearns to make his life a personal bestseller and always striving to be a better version of himself with each passing day. Lastly, he is an amazing cook. He is a perfect mix of what they consider to be traits of an ideal husband or a life partner many girls would dream of. And here he was, waiting for me outside the coffee shop. I was absolutely taken aback the moment I saw him. He had reduced to half his size since the time I had last seen him. Physical stress can leave you exhausted but mental trauma breaks a person from within.
We ordered our coffee and settled at a table near the window. The sound of thunder forced me to concentrate hard to listen to Samar.
“I am a victim of Section 498A” Samar blurted out while sipping his coffee. Some common friends did know about it but he wanted his story to be told to everyone. I have refrained from mentioning his real name due to an impending divorce. “I paid dearly for being a liberal husband and made many mistakes by lacking the skill of pre-emption. I must have been little more alert” spoke Samar in a brittle voice, looking lost in his coffee.
Where did everything start from? 8 months past Samar’s marriage, his phone rang one fine morning, displaying an unknown landline number from his hometown. His parents never called in morning. He reluctantly answered the call and what he heard came as a shocker. He was asked to report at the local police station asap. Samar was left dumbstruck. “I called my father immediately and he confirmed the news” recalled Samar.
Who was it? “It was from the police station” said Samar. He was totally gob-smacked since, his was a family that held in good repute and famous for their humble manners, something Samar too had inherited. But what was the matter? The officer informed about a dowry harassment and domestic violence report that was lodged against Samar the previous night by his runaway wife of 6 months. She had gone to her home with her father after 2 months into the marriage and never returned. All efforts from Samar and his family to make things work had gone downhill.
It was an arranged marriage. The hunch about something being fishy did strike in Samar’s mind soon after his engagement. “She always avoided talking to me on phone. She made excuses of either being busy or about the work pressures at office. I thought she might be nervous so never forced her” Samar recollected. Was there an affair? Yes. The guy was from her neighborhood and the parents were very well aware of everything. They did not approve of their match thence, arranged her marriage with Samar. “Had she confessed, I would have certainly accepted everything gracefully but she had other plans, very adroit ones. I came to know about them only after it was too late. By then, I was already up a gum tree” uttered an angry Samar.
When it comes to Indian parents, it has almost been the thumb rule in more than 90% of the cases to forcefully marry off a daughter the moment they become aware of an affair. Isn’t this gross? And what about the man she is married off to?
What irked Samar more was the fact that she continued with her affair even after their marriage and when he confronted her, she plainly refused. The fact that the marriage wasn’t consummated even after 2 months should have raised alarms in Samar’s intellect but he still managed to remain tolerant. He decided to ask for help and consulted his mother but she was given a rough treatment by the daughter-in-law, who otherwise wanted to be extricated. Desperately wanting his marriage to work, Samar then approached his in-laws. What he received in return was a cold shoulder from his father-in-law saying, she wasn’t their responsibility anymore. Somehow, the father-in-law still came and took her back in pretence of talking to her. What followed was un-ending mental agony for Samar and his family. The in-laws suddenly stopped all communication. The phone call from police station after 6 months of no-show from the in-laws and his wife left everyone utterly stupefied.
How can anyone just shrug their shoulders off when their actions and decisions are totally responsible for each and every consequence? What about human rights? Where is humanity leading?
What did the police say? Thanks to the July 2014 verdict of Honorable Supreme Court on the amendment of the Section 498A, Samar was spared from facing immediate arrest. This gave him time to speak to his wife and her family. The police also advised the same. Did his in-laws agree to speak? They did, surprisingly. That’s when their true intentions behind the entire drama came forth. They demanded an outrageous amount of Rs. 25 lakhs to settle matters out of court (read divorce) and to withdraw the case.
“Their demand left me baffled. Everything she did was premeditated and calculated. She used to record all my calls. She had blocked me from every social media and whatsapp. She stayed in Mumbai for 4 months without my knowledge while I was still trying to get in touch with her. She also got hold of my bank statements. She had maintained a record of each and every giveaways and gifts she received on wedding day from her parent’s side (starting from jewellery to number of spoons) which, she later claimed to have been demanded by my parents in dowry” informed Samar.
I completely support women empowerment but not at the cost of human rights. Every revelation from Samar came with surprise package. This, was an open case of legal terrorism.
What was decided thereafter? “I had to strike a bargain. I was absolutely fine by me losing my job or going to jail and spending rest of my life proving my innocence but I wanted to avoid any further anguish for my parents. My father is a government employee and once implicated in a court case, he would lose his lifetime’s earnings, set aside the honor. There was no way I wanted to surrender to her demands when I was nowhere at fault. But at the same time, I had to disentangle myself and my family from this nuisance since it was stuck like a thorn in our flesh since many months. After many rounds of discussions and arguments, we finally sealed the deal at Rs. 6.5 lakhs. I have already paid 5 lakhs and the remaining amount goes to her on the day she signs the divorce papers” informed Samar with a sigh of relief.
Why do common people have to come to a compromise to avoid being entangled in the web of judiciary and long pending trials?
How does he feel about this entire fiasco? The emotions are mixed. He feels angry that he rushed into the marriage. He regrets for not having listened to his instincts earlier. After the complaint was lodged, the police had also informed him that he should have sent a legal notice to his wife at her address asking her to come back. This way, the police could not have filed the FIR and the wife could not have tricked him away of his hard earned money. “This is the biggest mistake I did. I should have approached someone and spoken to more people about what was happening with me. May be, someone might have given me some advise. I did not even feel the need to google it. I was such a dumb” said Samar.
What now? “This episode of my life has been too taxing. I would certainly want to regain my composure. Get hold of life again. My parents would finally be able to pacify themselves.” I look at a smiling Samar. Does he feel revengeful? “Forgiveness is the best revenge. If not for everyone, it is for me. Forgiveness gives you peace of mind and I am saying this with my personal experience. I want karma to decide, after all, karma is bitch. I would just sit back and watch” pat came his reply.
When I ask about the changes in him when he looks back at life, he gives me the wittiest of his replies – “My hair has turned grey.” I could not help but laugh out loud. Sipping off the coffee that had turned cold by now, we decided to bid goodbyes as the rains did not seem to draw to a close. I wished him luck.
I could not hold back my thoughts about our entire conversation. The moment I reached home, the first thing I did was to research and try to know more about Section 498A of IPC and the ratio of its misuse. What I found was appalling. The law that was made to protect women against dowry harassments and domestic violence is being irrationally misused by rather disgruntled wives. The NCRB data, which the Supreme Court referred to while pronouncing the judgment regarding 498A, reveals that in 2013 around 93% cases of crimes against women were booked under section 498A. Among them, the accused was convicted in only 15% cases. This statistic makes the law as one of the most abused laws in the country.
Did Samar and his parents really deserve to go through this ordeal? What was the need to harass a family to this extent for extorting money? Has misusing a law become the new practice of extortion?
According to the data released by National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) in 2013, between 2007 and 2013, the number of cases pending trial under Section 498A of IPC was 4.66 lakhs in 2013 against that of 2.67 lakhs at the beginning, a rise by a staggering 75% in 7 years. Out of this number, the conviction rate was 15.6% in 2013 against that of 21.2% during 2007. The number of acquittals increased consistently and the number of cases withdrawn was more or less equal to the number of convictions in each year. For every case that resulted in conviction, 5 other cases resulted in acquittal while one case being withdrawn. The net result is that only one out of every 6-7 cases resulted in conviction. Source
After going through the data, my mind remained unsettled for quite sometime. I hope the best for Samar. Because he is a dear friend, he was able to share every aspect of his miserable and short marriage with his inner circle of friends. There might be many others who just do not know how to speak about their marital woes. Recently, I came across a friend who narrated a similar incident where the husband committed suicide by jumping off the 7th floor of his building after not being able to cope from the misery and torture his wife made him go through by her threats of ending her life if he did not agree to leave his parents. He was married for 2 years.
For men like Samar, who are victims of domestic harassment cases and are often at the receiving end of domestic violence, should open up about their dilemma and must not shy away from asking help. There have been quite a few number of people and organizations, working towards this cause. Deepika Bharadwaj, an independent journo, famous for her documentary on Martyrs Of Marriage, has been actively fighting against misuse of 498A. Save Indian Family Foundation (SIFF), a prominent Men’s Right Organisation in India provides guidance and support to men and their families, who face domestic violence and false cases of dowry harassment and section 498A. The Kolkata chapter of SIFF, Hridaya-Nest by Amit Gupta had launched an app named SIF in April 2014 which offers details of 50 NGOs in 50 cities in 25 states where people could personally seek legal counselling and support.
Men, in our society are taught to show a strong face come what may, but, there is no way that men do not feel vulnerable. After all, they are human beings too.