Steel secretary Aruna Sharma, as per a report in theprint.com, believes that a ‘narrow approach’ to women’s rights is causing men to lose their faith in the justice system. The narrow approach Sharma talks about centres on many pieces of legislation such as the anti-dowry law, the domestic violence laws, etc. She has also written to the women and child development minister, suggesting how the system skewed unduly in the favour of women can be tempered. Complaints of marital/domestic violence should only be admitted if are supported by medical reports or findings of preliminary investigation by the police. Dowry-related complaints, similarly, should only be admitted if documentary evidence of expenses along with I-T returns of the dowry-giver is submitted. And, for submitting false affidavits, women must get a 10-year jail term. Otherwise, men will lose their “faith in (the) institution of marriage, resorting to live-in relationship or surrogate children, and leaving India”.
There are instances when the law is abused to harass or even victimise individuals. But is this just limited to the laws relating to crimes against women? Many laws guaranteeing tenants’ rights are misused. Such cases may seem anecdotally common, but are likely to form a minuscule overall number. Similarly, of the 14,953 cases under the Dowry Prohibition Act that the police investigated in 2015, as per NCRB, just 361 cases were found to be false. Of the 569 cases filed under the Domestic Violence Act 2005, just 10 were found to be false. In fact, the very low number of domestic violence cases filed perhaps indicates that there is under-reporting of the crime. Leaving aside the merits of her arguments, Sharma’s main thrust, however, needs serious consideration—the instances of misuse of the laws, however minuscule in number, undermine people’s faith in the law. The need is to ensure that in such instances, the imposition or punitive measure against the complainant proves a deterrent.