Apex Court rules against ‘automatic’ arrests under dowry law
The Supreme Court has ruled that the police can no longer “automatically” arrest the accused under the anti-dowry law without sufficient reason and proof. The apex court expressed concern over the misuse of Section 498A of IPC by unhappy wives against in-laws and husbands. The court asked state governments to ensure that the police don’t follow the prevalent practice of arrest first and then proceed. The police would have to furnish reasons and proof to magistrate before making an arrest.
The court observed that Sec 498-A was introduced to curb harassment of women at the hands of husbands and his family. However, since it a cognizable and non-bailable offence, it is frequently used as a weapon rather than shield by disgruntled wives. The court quoting crime statistics, said nearly a quarter of those arrested under Sec 498A in 2012 were women, most of them mothers and sisters of the husbands.
The court observed that the unreasonable arrest limits freedom, brings disgrace and casts scars on the individual arrested. It, therefore, directed police to make no arrest just because the offence is non-bailable and cognisable. It also directed the Magistrates to put on record that the reasons given by the police justified arrest. If these directions are not adhered to, it would invite departmental action and amount to contempt of court.
Section 498-A was introduced in the Indian Penal Code in 1983. It provides for maximum imprisonment of 3 years and fine while the maximum sentence under the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 is 2 years with a fine.