By Joanna Lobo:
Filmmaker and activist Deepika Bhardwaj finds out that the law against dowry can be misused against men.
Kapil Rastogi, 32, received a phone call from the police a few days ago. His wife had slapped IPC 498A on him. Again.
Kapil, a resident of Shahdara, Delhi married Urvashi Chaturvedi in 2007. A few days into their marriage, the problems began.
“My mother was living with us. My wife insisted we live separately. My mother is alone, who would take care of her?” says Kapil. Six months later, Urvashi went to her parents’ home and threatened legal action he didn’t relent. He refused. She then filed a case against him and nine members of his family under IPC 498A.
IPC 498A has been hailed as a life-saver for married women under the scourge of dowry. The criminal law is defined as follows: “Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine. The offence is cognizable, non-compoundable and non-bailable.”
Any woman can use this section to file a case against her husband, his parents and relatives. Even if the allegation is false, there will be a trial and the husband is considered guilty until proven innocent. The Supreme Court of India has called the misuse of the law “legal terrorism”.
“It’s a law that is being used as a tool of revenge. There are not too many people who know about its misuse…it’s an issue that needs more awareness,” says Deepika Bhardwaj. This year, Deepika will be releasing a documentary called Martyrs of Marriage (MoM) that gives a first person account of those who have suffered, fought and won their battle against the law, and of those who are currently fighting for their life.
It tells the story of people like Kapil.
Kapil has given up all hope and desire to reunite with his wife. He already gave her a second chance. A few years after she filed the case, she begged forgiveness and promised (in court) to give their marriage another shot. She took back the cases against him and even agreed to have ailing mother live with them. Then after the birth of their daughter, Urvashi started her demands again. Last year, she left the house and said she wouldn’t return. She threatened to hurt his mother. Kapil refused to relent. She filed the harassment case again. “I don’t want to live my life under these conditions anymore,” he says.
Kapil’s story is unusual in that he knows he has to fight and is preparing for it smartly. There are many who prefer to end their lives because they don’t have the resources to fight.
Deepika’s first brush with IPC 498A happened when a close member of the family was accused of demanding dowry. She had seen something similar happen with a friend too. She started researching the law and chanced upon a suicide video of a man who was accused of harassment under the law. “That was the breaking point for me,” says Deepika. “People have died because of being implicated in false cases. I knew I had to bring the issue to the larger public,” she says.
Highlighting The Misuse
MoM is Deepika’s effort to bring out the many reasons people misuse the law, from incompatibility issues to extra-marital affairs. “Dowry death is recognised under Section 304B of the IPC but there’s no provision for people who are traumatised because of these sections,” she says.
Over the two years of her research, Deepika has taken on the mantle of an activist – she has organised and taken part in morchas protesting abuse of laws, she guides people and connects them to support groups. Even today, she receives about six to eight calls from people asking for her help.
“It’s a law that is meant to protect women but its abuse affects women too – mothers, sisters and other relatives of the accused,” she says.