Remember in July this year when the Supreme Court decided to play hardball with women’s lives by diluting Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC)? The SC had stated that immediate arrests can no longer be made and also that a district panel will review complaints filed before permitting the police to arrest the accused. This massive watering down of the 498A, which essentially protects women from domestic violence and dowry-related harassment, left a gaping question mark with regard to women’s rights in India.
Turns out, the SC has had a change of heart and is now considering repealing the dilution of 498A, according to a report. An SC bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra said it is not in agreement with an earlier verdict (Rajesh Sharma v/s Union of India) of setting up district panels for reviewing cases of dowry-led violence under 498A. Chief Justice Misra’s panel plans to review the earlier judgement and repeal the diluting directive if supported by persuasive arguments. The panel believes that the dilution is not conducive for women’s rights in India and that it takes the SC’s progressive stance on women’s rights two steps back.
It’s about time that the SC reconsiders its stance on Section 498A, considering there have been 24,771 dowry deaths from 2012 to 2015. The SC’s July directive not only made it difficult for women to find relief from abusive families but also made it difficult to file a case for protection from domestic abuse. In Indian law, 498A of the IPC was the only clause that provided immediate relief for victims of domestic violence and protection from abusive environments. The SC’s dilution essentially took the power of a woman to seek immediate help away from her. I am thankful for the timely consideration of Chief Justice Misra to review a possibility of revoking the July directive. But it needs to be swifter than we’d like to believe it will be, for according to National Crime Research Bureau (NCRB) data, there have been 22 dowry deaths per day on an average since 2012. Unless there’s swift action against the watered down arrest process under 498A, the dowry death numbers will show no sign of dipping.