By Dr Aruna Sharma
An internal committee of the Supreme Court has cleared Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi of sexual harrassment charges made against him by a former employee of the apex court. Despite this, the country’s public opinion is sharply divided on the case. Irrespective of the merits of the case, the allegations against the CJI made the judiciary sit up and take notice the plight of men accused of harrassment who undergo torture, extortion and public humiliation.
Wronged women must get justice at all costs. No woman should be denied her rights, but at the same time one should not turn a blind eye to the rampant misuse of sexual harrassment laws. There are a large number of cases where men are falsely implicated under laws covering sexual harassment at work place, dowry harrassment and domestic violence.earing him of charges. The question is whether they will get quick justice like the CJI did.
The suffering of the accused in such cases is magnified by delays in court proceedings. The outcome of the complaint against the CJI will be a positive one if the Supreme Court issues strict directions to shorten court proceedings and end harrassment.
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Even in domestic violence cases, misuse of sexual harrasment laws and related sections is rampant as no court has initiated perjury proceedings against complainants for false charges.
It is important that the society has the right balance. The Supreme Court did not appreciate the need for a body to verify harrasment charges before initiating judicial proceedings. It is important that the society has faith in the system. There is a need to set examples — it can’t be that women are always right and men always wrong. Thus, its high time that the Supreme Court issues clear directions to lower courts and rebuild faith in the judicial system. It will become all the more necessary when Triple Talaq Bill becomes law.
The advisory issued by the home ministry on steps to be taken by police and the judiciary when a complaint is filed under Sec 498A was required as the abuse of law was rampant. Same is the case with directions given by the ministry of women and child development for a preliminary inquiry before the start of proceedings so that false charges are eliminated.
The judiciary and the policy makers cannot be prejudiced. They have to ensure that mechanisms are in place for imparting justice, innocent people are not harassed and those who file false affidavit are penalised.
There are several cases that follow a familiar pattern. Girls find a suitable boy, marry him, make his life hell for couple of years, ensure no child is born, walks out and shoot multiple cases under domestic violence, 498A, 125 for maintenance, 406 to demand jewellery. In most of the cases, the husband’s family is also dragged into the case. The consequence is that the family gets summons, dates with long gaps, leading to harrassment. The family finally settles the case by making heavy payments and gets a divorce. Definitely, this is not the is not intention of these laws, but they are misused for extortion.
While there should be strong laws to prevent dowry harrasment and marital violence, there should be checks and balances to prevent their misuse. The following steps could end harassment of several innocent victims.
1. Cases under Section 12 should be admitted by court only if supported by medical reports or preliminary findings by police backing domestic violence claims.
2. Section 498A cases should be allowed only if documentary evidence of expenses is produced along with income tax returns. Families should be encouraged to have registered documents on expenses incurred in marriages.
3. Jewellery given by the groom’s family to be retained by groom’s family as the bride is just a custodian and not an owner.
4. Under Section 125, no maintenance should be allowed if the woman is qualified and capable of working.
5. Define the role of wife under law. Just marrying for a couple of years cannot be the basis for life-long maintenance, when the husband will have to support his new family and children.
7. If the couple has a child then wife should be given maintenence along with expenses for a decent living.
8. Divorce should be granted in 6 months as people who file false complaints try to delay judicial process.
9. Sexual harassment at work place , when proven wrong should result in stricture against the complainant
9. False affidavits should be made punishable with 10 years in jail.
The steps listed above will discourage false complaints and end the resultant harrassment. The judiciary has come under the weight of the numerous cases and the pendency results in people losing faith in the judicial system. The time has come to speak out and ensure justice not only to wronged women, but also to wronged men. The false cases are actually weakening the cause of women. The need of the hour is a system where women are protected and men are not harassed with false charges.
(The author is former secretary, ministry of steel, government of India. The views are personal.)