To do(wry) or not to do(wry), that is the Act
Nazir Ahmad Rather
Chandigarh, February 19: The stringent dowry laws, meant to deter dowry-seekers, are being increasingly misused by the very people they are meant to protect. The last three years have seen a steep rise in the number of cases of harassment for dowry with the Chandigarh police.
During this period â€” January, 2003, to January, 2006, â€” cases relating to 11 dowry deaths and 250 dowry-related harassment were registered in the city. Ajaib Singh, head of the Women and Child Support Unit, says 70 per cent of the 1,000-odd cases that they receive every year pertain to dowry, but only 20 per cent of these are genuine. â€˜â€˜It is unfortunate that more and more people are misusing the stringent provisions of the law out of sheer spite.â€™â€™
â€˜â€˜People generally make use this law to facilitate a divorce. And often, itâ€™s the lawyers who advise the women to implicate their in-laws under the provisions of this Act,â€™â€™ says Shantosh Singh, chairperson of Women Welfare Counselling Cell at Sector 17.
A police officer narrated the case of a woman who had slapped a dowry case against her husband and in-laws only because she wanted the family house to be in her name.
Often, the number of items given in dowry is inflated to claim a high settlement amount. â€˜â€˜At times, they add car and other consumer durables to the list even if these were never given in the dowry,â€™â€™ says a cop.
Ajaib Singh cites the case of a middle-aged woman with a 19-year-old daughter who too took recourse to the Dowry Act to seek divorce. â€˜â€˜She insisted that her husband was demanding dowry from her parents even though she had been married to him for over 20 years.â€™â€™
Lawyers also admit that the stringent laws against the dowry are misused to a great extent,â€˜â€˜There are only 10 per cent cases based on truth, and people usually come to us and ask specifically to mention the element of dowry in their divorce petitions,â€™â€™ says Amrikh Singh Kalra, advocate at Punjab and Haryana High Court.
â€˜â€˜Most of the cases are fabricated and the element of dowry is exaggerated in them. Basically women want to have a quick solution to their problems and the laws against dowry provide the easiest way out,â€™â€™ says advocate Amarjit Singh Jattana.
There are many who feel that legal luminaries should find out ways to prevent the misuse of this Act. â€˜â€˜With so many people filing cases under this Act, there may come a time when we begin to suspect even a genuine case,â€™â€™ says Ajaib Singh.
Experts believe that there are no foolproof solutions to the problem. Sociologists look at a more holistic solution. Dr Sangeeta, a sociologist in the Women Counselling Cell at the Support Unit in Sector 17, feels people should be more cautious at the time of getting into a matrimonial alliance.
â€˜â€˜Factors like family background, financial position, health, mindset, aspirations, previous romantic interests, et al, must be taken into account before forging an alliance. Often people marry in a hurry and repent at leisure.â€™â€™