Gender equality does not simply mean principles of equality for one’s sex, it means equality in all aspects of life for both men and women. We often hear cases about offences against women and men automatically becomes the guilty party. However, on the other hand, crimes against men are not often reported or even discussed in India.But, due to the socio-economic changes affecting the family structure in recent times, men too have become victim of verbal, physical, emotional, psychological, and sexual abuse. Our society has failed to realize and acknowledge that not only men can be victims of offences like sexual abuse, domestic violence, but also, they instantly become guilty in the eyes of the law and the societyinstantly. For example, domestic violence is always discussed as an offence putting women in the position of the victim and the men in the role of perpetrator. Men abstain from reportingsuch crimes against them and prefer to be silent victims due to the prejudice and belittlement they will have to face from the society. As the laws in our society favor women as victims of violence, men do not get justice for their pitiable situationneither in the family nor the society. Hence, there is a need for gender neutral lawswhich are comprehensive in nature and respects the rights of both men and women.
As a consequence, to a very strong feminist movement throughout the world, unveiling the gross inequalities and atrocities that women suffer all across the globe, a rightful need was felt by the legislature to make amendments in the legal framework such that women could come on an equal footing with men.The legislations were initially a good stepping stone for bringing both genders to an equal footing and were fairly legitimate for the times, but the equality created by such movement was without an attempt to bring a system to balance the rights of both sexes,as much as men are exploited in many casesin terms that they are victimized by the so-intended women empowering legislations. Much less has been said about how we failed to put into effect every possible draconian law in the name of curbing crimes against women, condoning arbitrary arrests of men and imprisoning them in deplorable conditions without any evidence to indicate the existence of the offence.
ABUSE OF LAW
The number of false allegations against men has been steadily rising over the years. As per the National Crime Records Bureau(NCRB” report published in 2019, more than 1,25,000 men were acquitted due to false charges. So, now the question arises, whether men could fight these false charges in court to prove theirinnocence. But this is not the reality, the problem in India is that “Men are pronounced guilty unless proven Innocent”; so that men have been often completely maligned and tarnished with the arrest in such cases even before the courts have reached a judgment.
TheRajesh Sharmacase in 2017 was a path-breaking judgement which aimed to avoid any misuse of 498a of Indian Penal Code, 1860 widely known as “legal extortion.” It largely focused on creation of a family welfare committee and to preventthe automatic arrest of husband and his family members. This was a welcome move and had a positive impact as the number of false dowry cases reduced. However, later, the Supreme Court overruled this judgment which in turn boosted the confidence of ill intended wives to misuse the law, which resulted in increase in the number of casesunder 498a so much that there was a sudden increase of false cases to 21% in 2019 as compared to the previous year.
It’s not just men but women too have become victims of such false cases. More than 26 thousand women who were relatives of the men in such caseswere arrested under IPC498a, just on merely registering a complain to the police. Needless to say, there is victimization of women through the law which was made for them under the name of women empowerment.However, the conviction rate of 498a cases continues to remains low, proving the real picture of misuse of the provision.
WHAT THE LAW SAYS?
It is clearly evident from the number of false cases filed every year that the anti-dowry laws are being recurrently misused to harass and extort husbands. The practice of giving dowry was criminalizedfor the first time in 1961 under the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 and later it was included as Section 498A in the Indian Penal Code in 1983.Even under Section 113Bof the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, if a married woman commits suicide within a period of seven years of marriage, it must be assumed that her husband and his family had a hand in the offence, especially if there was evidence of prior dowry demands.
Until July 2014, Section 498A of the IPC permitted the police to arrest the persons mentioned in the complaint without the need of any warrant or without any investigation. The crime was non-bailable in nature, so chances of getting a bail were low and husbands usually lost their livelihood and dignity while being in custody. As a result, the Court had to direct the police to diligently use the Section 141 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, which contains a checklist, to decide whether making of an arrest of a person in a case is necessary or not. The Court also stated that in all arrests the magistrate must examine whether further detention was necessary.
These laws don't follow conventional legal grounds where a person is to be treated as an innocent person until proven otherwise in the courts of law, on the contrary as soon as the name of the accused is noted in the First Information Report (FIR), the man becomes an offender in the eyes of the law and the society. It can be inferred that the laws assume that women are always truthful, and there is not much needto look into the evidence of the offence.
There is growing a criticism that theselaws that are created to protect women are often being misused, more particularly the Section 498A of the IPC which is being prone to misuse. In Arnesh Kumar v. State of Bihar &Anr., 2014, a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court reviewed the enforcement of Section 41(1)(A) of CrPC which instructs the state to follow certain procedure before arrest, and went on to observe that the 498A of IPC has become a powerful weapon in the hands of ill intended wives where innocents were arrested without any evidence due to non-bailable and cognizable nature of the law.It was welcomed as landmark judgment to uphold the rights of innocent people.
Laws should be gender neutral and should not benefit one on the account of harm to another. Our lawmakers should take into account the current social setup and try to create check and balances in the legislations as well as the procedures which is followed to ensure that the abuse of any law can be curbed.Moreover, the abuser of law should also get punished heavily as laws are made for the protection of those whose rights are infringed.
The legal languageused in the enactments should be gender neutral rather than the use of the term man/men. This is significant as it indicates that the crime is capable of being executed by any gender. Similarly, the laws that are made with the purpose of empowering women should be done in such a way that the rights of men do not get marginalized.
Special courts could be created to adjudge the matters andspecialcommittees can be setup to look into this subject and its allied areas to identify the current issues to rectify them.
The promise of equality and equal protection under the law has been enshrined under Article 14of the Constitution,i.e.right to equality;although it appears to have lost its significance to our lawmakers when it comes to drafting of legislation on gender-neutral basis. Unquestionably, the legislature or the judiciary has no intention to discriminate against men, but unfortunately, while empowering women they have curbed the rights of men. Moreover,there is little or no acknowledgement of men as a victim on the issue.
The Indian legal framework has to evolve in accordance with the contemporary needs and requirements of an egalitarian society. Statistics have shown that certain legislations, which were formulated keeping in mind the safety and welfare of women have severely been misused forcing the legislature and the courts to step in and correct the mistakes. Gender-neutral laws are the need of the hour and should be promulgated by the government to eliminate any inadvertent discrimination on the ground of gender and must extend equal protection to all the sexes.However, the delay in promulgation of the same can be attributed to the lack of effective "social and collective cry".
It is high time that we should really start focusing on equality to fulfill the real purpose behind the term “gender equality”. We, as a society, need to understand and raise our voices against the injustices against men. Our courts have started to recognize the injustices against men and even there is a Criminal Law Amendment Bill, 2019, which is pending to make the crime of rape as gender neutral. The Indian courts are also punishing women who are misusing the law just to harass men. Everyone should be treated equally in the eyes of law and there should be no gender biasness in the name of gender equality.
National Law University Aurangabad