98 % MISUSE of DOWRY LAW IS OKAY !!! – Renuka Chaudhary
RENUKA SPEAKS: Renuka Chowdhury says Domestic Violence Bill will empower women.
Karan Thapar: Hello and welcome to Devil’s Advocate. Will the UPA Government’s Domestic Violence Bill convert innocent husbands into offenders and criminals, and worse, will it empower motivated women to act viciously and get away with it? Those are the two key issues I should raise in an exclusive interview with the Minister for Women and Child Development, Renuka Chowdhury.
Ms Chowdhury, let’s start with the definitions under this Act, which are so wide that they are worrying. To begin with, there is the whole question of what the Act means by domestic violence – it covers verbal abuse, emotional abuse, economic abuse and anything that tends towards them. I put it to you, that’s so wide as to be either meaningless or dangerously self-embracing.
Renuka Chowdhury: I don’t know why you have to see it in two extremes. Why have you not ever noticed that women live in dangerously self-embracing situations? That it’s none of this, even if you see it as porosity in the Act or that the ambit is too wide. Please understand that women are burnt to death, beaten to insensibilities.
Karan Thapar:But the cure is not imprecision, the cure is not vagueness of legislation.
Renuka Chowdhury:Absolutel y.
Karan Thapar:Let me explain why this Act is imprecise. For instance, emotional and verbal abuses are defined to include insults and ridicule. That means you can’t be sarcastic to your wife, it means you can’t call you brother-in-law an ass or a mother-in-law a nag even if both are those are correct. Surely, that’s a level of silliness, but it’s a part of your Bill.
Renuka Chowdhury: I want to tell you what you deem as silly is really not something that I have created today. Under the IPC section, speaking in a way that is denigrating to the status of women, which removes her from her dignity, is very much an Act under the IPC. So I don’t see what are you getting heated up about today.
Karan Thapar:But you are here interfering in normal conversation between two adults. As Soli Sorabjee writing in The Indian Express pointed out, you are reducing an important and serious issue to the level of silliness.
Renuka Chowdhury: I don’t think anything that happens to a women in the sense of her domestic violence can be termed as silly. It is over-trivialising and over-simplifying this Act. Please understand that despite all the checks, women are burnt, one in six women is raped, murdered, beaten to death, sent in to mental asylums. I don’t think that’s funny.
Karan Thapar: No doubt. But that’s not what your Act concentrates on. Look, for instance, at economic abuse. It is defined by the Act as deprivation of any economic or financial resource, which the aggrieved is entitled to by custom and it includes disposal of household effects. Under that language, if a husband was to sell the family television at a time when his marriage was going through a bad patch, it should be deemed to be domestic violence. Now, that’s ridiculous, but it is very much a part of the Act.
Renuka Chowdhury:Is it anymore ridiculous than the fact that well-to-do men suddenly turn around and claim that they have no money, that they are bankrupt because they have to pay alimony to a woman – where human dignity is involved.
Karan Thapar:But what your Act has done is to take trivial issues – that could happen quite innocently, inadvertently and turn them into offences and crimes.
Renuka Chowdhury: I don’t agree with you. We are saying, we are facilitating and setting up a legal framework where by we expect to…
Karan Thapar:A very bad legal framework, insufficient legal framework and an imprecise one.
Renuka Chowdhury: Please listen to me. Can I be allowed to talk or otherwise this is deemed as domestic violence, this is professional violence.
Karan Thapar: That’s the danger; you are proving my point.
Renuka Chowdhury:Absolutel y.
Karan Thapar:A mere interruption becomes domestic violence.
Renuka Chowdhury:Interrupt ion? This is an overrun! It is an interpretation of what is an interruption and verbal overrun.
Karan Thapar:Don’t you think you are proving my point?
Renuka Chowdhury: You may think so, but let’s wait for what others think. But I want to tell you what I think. I think that if there is harmony within the house, there is nothing for anyone to fear. But if there is complete disharmony, where one partner is completely incapacitated, made to be dependent on another partner and they are harassed… you have no idea what harmony means.
Karan Thapar: That’s a biased statement which you are elevating into a principle of false philosophy. The reason that in fact it isn’t true is very simple: look at the range of people covered by your Act. It talks about aggrieved persons, and aggrieved persons are defined as any woman who is or has been in a domestic relationship. Then it defines domestic relationship as the relationship between two persons who live or have at any point of time lived together in a shared household.
Put them together and your Act covers not just wives, but wives who have been divorced, girlfriends who you have separated perhaps as long as a decade ago. Why are those included in the ambit of this Act?
Renuka Chowdhury: Why? Because, women even in those relationships have been harassed and held to ransom. There have been enough divorced women who have been divorced because of various reasons, and money is not returned.
Karan Thapar:Divorced women have a decree that is given by a court; an alimony that is given by a court; the divorce has been adjudicated; it is legal. There is no need for you to interfere.
Renuka Chowdhury: Fair enough. Let us assume there is no need for us to interfere.
Karan Thapar:Don’t assume, it’s a fact.
Renuka Chowdhury: Ok, if it’s a fact. But please tell me do you think a woman is given a divorce easily where a man doesn’t want (to give divorce). Go to the court and have a look.
Karan Thapar: When a divorce is given and granted by a court, there is no need to go further back in the picture. But you do.
Renuka Chowdhury: I tell you why we do it. If a man violates his custodial rights; if a man violates his restraint order; if after a divorce a husband keeps stalking me or harassing me; if a man turns up and smashes my windows – don’t you think that keeps happening, Mr Karan Thapar?
Karan Thapar:It may happen. But that’s not what your Act concentrates upon. Clause 3-C doesn’t just limit the ambit of the Act to former girlfriends you have separated from or former wives, it even talks about any person related to the aggrieved person. This means it’s not just the former girlfriend, arguably it’s her step-brother as well – this is becoming ridiculous at this stage. It means – let me interpret this for you – that a husband cannot threaten to verbally abuse. Note the words: just threaten to verbally abuse the step-brother of a former girlfriend who he parted with 10 years ago. That ambit is taking a major concern to a ridiculous extent.
Renuka Chowdhury:Oh my God! I tell you, you are looking at such extremely ridiculous situations.
Karan Thapar:It’s part of your Bill.
Renuka Chowdhury: You should be writing for a television series.
Karan Thapar:I am afraid your Bill seems to cater for it. That’s the problem.
Renuka Chowdhury: Ok, if that’s how you interpret it. But a man would, I am not surprised.
Karan Thapar:It is not a question of a man would. The reason I am pointing out the ridiculous extremes is that laws are always judged by the extremes, not by the middle position.
And what your law does – because of the wide ambit of the definition of domestic violence and because of the long range of people it covers – it tends to convert innocent husbands into offenders and criminals, and worse, it gives the power to motivated women who want to be vicious, or forgive me bloody-minded, to get away with such behaviour. That’s why it is potentially dangerous.
Renuka Chowdhury:Karan Thapar, you have to understand that this Bill addresses a family as a unit within a prescribed legal framework. If the ‘innocent husband’ as you call him is ‘innocent’ and his behaviour and attitude to his partner in life is of mutual respect and concern, there is no anxiety for men to suddenly feel victimised and victims of the whole thing.
Karan Thapar: But the point is how do you define the offence you hold him guilty of? Sarcasm becomes an offence; calling your brother-in-law an ass becomes an offence.
Renuka Chowdhury:No, calling him an ass doesn’t… that’s your personal equation. If your brother-in-law and you are not happy with each other, you are going to look at excuses. But if there is basic harmony and you call a friend or brother-in-law an ass, he is not going to take you to court, let me tell you.
Karan Thapar: Let me point it out to you why this is such a dangerous Act. Critics are pointing out that this Act is going to go the way of the anti-dowry law; it’s going to be deliberately misused.
Let me point out what the Supreme Court said in July 2005 about the anti-dowry law. It said many instances have come to light where the complaints are not bona fide and have been filed with an oblique motive. In such cases, acquittal of the accused does not wipe out the ignominy suffered during and prior to the trial. Sometimes adverse media coverage adds to the misery. Your act is going to go exactly the same way as the anti-dowry law.
Renuka Chowdhury:I want to tell you, when we bring out an Act, we help set a direction for a certain socially-accepted behaviour. Those are the broader parameters. Because of a minute percentage of people who misappropriate the Act, are you saying that I should not bring an Act, I should be in denial that women are not domestically harassed, that they are not kicked, removed from their home, denied access to their children, to their own earnings, and that they have no recourse to law?
Karan Thapar: Let me answer your question. You talk of a minute percentage of people?
Karan Thapar: The Centre for Social Research with regard to the anti-dowry law did a study after the Supreme Court judgment came out in August of 2005 and it concluded that of every 100 cases brought under the anti-dowry law, 98 per cent were false. Only two were correct. It’s not a minute percentage; the level of abuse that this could incur is phenomenally high.
Renuka Chowdhury:It’ s okay.
Karan Thapar: It’s okay? It’s acceptable?
Renuka Chowdhury:It’ s not acceptable, don’t put words into my mouth. No, I am very clear about it. Kindly listen – the law is not a static issue. Law reflects the need for a society to be given direction. We have put in broad parameters and we will see in which this direction this law goes. But even if this statistics are telling you that 98 per cent of the cases reported are violated and are wrong, please tell me the statistics of how many women are killed everyday, forced into abortions, raped against their will, denied access to society and property. Tell me those statistics and we will talk about it.
Karan Thapar: There is no doubt that women in India need protection. There is no doubt that domestic violence is one of the worst features of our society. The problem is you are protecting women at cost of exposing men to gross injustice. That’s why this Bill is wrong. You are creating one right against another wrong.
Renuka Chowdhury:Karan Thapar, why didn’t you do two rights in your shows earlier for those women who have no access to any justice in this country despite the establishment of laws? Are there no laws on Sati?
Karan Thapar: But you don’t have to give them access to justice at the cost of men being treated badly. That’s what you are doing. You are exposing men to injustice, harassment.
Renuka Chowdhury:We are not, we are not.
Karan Thapar: You keep talking about direction. You keep talking about importance of setting a direction for society. Clause 17 of the Act gives divorced women and former separated girlfriends – and I use that language very carefully: divorced women and former separated girlfriends – the right to claim residence in the home of their former husband or their former partner even though the Act says they may not have any right, title or beneficial interest in the same. What’s the justification for that?
Renuka Chowdhury:Because the woman is removed from her house. She is threatened, coerced and you have an ex-parte divorce, which has been granted…
Karan Thapar: A divorced woman has a decree, and I cite, granted by a court. She has an alimony granted by a court. A divorce can only happen when a court grants it.
Renuka Chowdhury:No, no certainly not. I cannot accept that every divorce case has been examined in its…
Karan Thapar: A divorced woman has an annulment, a divorced woman has an alimony given by a court – surely the merit (of the case) has been taken into account.
Renuka Chowdhury:No, no, not necessarily. Not necessarily on the merits of the case, not at all.
Karan Thapar: Are you saying the judges are wrong?
Karan Thapar: Are you stepping in to correct what judges have done?
Renuka Chowdhury:I am not correcting judges. I am empowering my women to have the right to access the dignity to their life, if they have been denied justice on other foras, if they have been given ex-parte divorce. In the absence of this, they have had no money to go and appeal in a court and they are denied their right, and if the husband suddenly declares he is bankrupt and has not given an alimony.
Karan Thapar: You see my point. You have just qualified the problem by adding six different ifs. Your law, however, doesn’t add any of those ifs. Clause 17 begins with the phrase notwithstanding any other law in operation anywhere else in the country. Despite that divorced women and former girlfriends have a right of claim in the residence of their former partner or former husband. So, none of your ifs qualify, if you had put the ifs into the law I would understand.
Renuka Chowdhury: All right, so?
Karan Thapar: You need to amend it to actually incorporate your position.
Renuka Chowdhury: All right. We will see if the need arises, we will do it. First, let it come into being.
Karan Thapar: It has, on the 26th of October.
Renuka Chowdhury: And rather well, so far we haven’t had any complaints about the misuse of the law.
Karan Thapar: So now you accept, with limited reference to Clause 17, there is need for amendment?
Renuka Chowdhury: There is always need for corrections and amendments in any law as we progress as a society develops and the needs arise. But for one hypothetically – before I reach the bridge and cross it – if you want me to make amendments, I won’t.
Karan Thapar: In other words, let men suffer first, then I will correct the wrong I have done.
Renuka Chowdhury: It is not such a bad idea, except that I have such pity for men.
Karan Thapar: Ms Chowdhury, the great danger of the Domestic Violence Act, which came into force on October 26, is that in the hands of a bad judge and a good prosecuting attorney, it can be used to harass innocent men, to entrap innocent husbands and deny them justice. That’s the danger of the imprecision of the loose wording and the huge ambit of so-called offences included here.
Renuka Chowdhury: All right.
Karan Thapar: You accept?
Renuka Chowdhury: They may be.
Karan Thapar: What do you mean may be?
Renuka Chowdhury: If you are saying so, you are so convinced of it. You won’t even listen to what I have to say.
Karan Thapar: I have been listening to you. You seem to agree with me.
Renuka Chowdhury: I don’t have an agreeable concept of what is listening.
Karan Thapar: But tell me something. If this Act in the hands of a bad judge or a clever prosecuting attorney can inflict injustice on innocent men, does it not need amendment?
Renuka Chowdhury: Mr Karan Thapar, every law in this country is in the hands of a bad judge and a clever prosecutor. It is nothing new or unique, the situation. Hence, when we have bad judges – your words – and clever prosecutors – your words – where do the women of this country take recourse to regarding the situation they live in?
Karan Thapar: But do they need a bad law? That’s the problem. You are adding to the situation of bad judges by giving them a bad law.
Renuka Chowdhury: You are only telling me it’s a bad law for men. It’s not a bad law for women.
Karan Thapar: But that’s only 50% of the Indian population?
Renuka Chowdhury: Yes. But my tragedy is I have women who are no longer even 50 per cent of the population.
Karan Thapar: You really believe you cannot do justice to women without doing injustice to men?
Renuka Chowdhury: I don’t want to do injustice to men.
Karan Thapar: You have just done it.
Renuka Chowdhury: If you see it that way. Isn’t it injustice against women that we have rape laws in place and dowry laws in place and they have never been adhered to, that women are killed every minute?
Karan Thapar: If 98 per cent of the cases brought under the dowry laws, as I told you, turn out to be false – according to statistics given by the Centre for Social Justice – if the Supreme Court itself has opined on the subject roughly at the same time last year, I am sure you don’t need to add to the bad laws by creating more.
Renuka Chowdhury: It’s the courts which have been proactive. The High Court just recently ruled here, saying that for seven years after a woman is married, the family will be held accountable for her death. Why would a court state that extreme order? Do you think that is a fine law? You agree with the opinion of the court?
Karan Thapar: Absolutely. I do. But I am not talking about murder, I am talking about offences that are just limited to sarcasm. I am talking about sarcasm to the step-brother of a former girlfriend covered by this law. That’s why it’s a bad law.
Renuka Chowdhury: Step-brother of a former girlfriend depends on a one-to-one basis. You don’t have to be a relative of a woman for sarcasm. As a citizen if you misbehave with another citizen, under the IPC you can be held up. There is very little that is new in this law.
Karan Thapar: Let me point to you why this is, in fact, a dangerous law that can be misused in the hands of bad judges or clever prosecuting attorney. Clause 4(1) says any person who has reason to believe that an Act of domestic violence has been or is being or is likely to be committed, can inform the authorities with no liability if he or she is wrong. Secondly, at that point of time, a magistrate can impose a protection order that can severely restrain the rights of the accused. You are creating a devilish situation entirely on the basis of mischief-makers and title-tattlers snooping around.
Renuka Chowdhury: Maybe. Maybe initially you will have the title-tattlers, you will have everything. But I also like to believe that maybe you will save so may lives where we know that in-laws are planning to kill them or force her into a Sati death or go for PNDT Act.
Karan Thapar: You may also end up trapping innocent in-laws, because of paramours and other malignant people.
Renuka Chowdhury: “Innocent in-laws” have nothing to worry about. Innocent in-laws live in harmony with their daughters-in- law. There should not be problem.
Karan Thapar: The problem is that mischief-makers create trouble where there is disharmony. And Clause 4(1) permits them.
Renuka Chowdhury: Mischief-makers do create trouble everywhere. It’s mischief-makers who do tell us that women are opiated and forced to commit Sati. It is mischief-makers who report on Income-Tax laws, if you remember, earlier.
Karan Thapar: But you don’t need a law to tackle Sati.
Renuka Chowdhury: Of course, you need a law to tackle Sati.
Karan Thapar: But it’s already a crime in India. We don’t need a new law.
Renuka Chowdhury: Sure. But what is the success ratio? What are your success stories?
Karan Thapar: Let me point out the problem with Clause 4(1). It permits anyone who is inimical to you – leave aside the enemy of yours – to go and mischievously and maliciously report on things he claims you are doing and get away with it. In fact, it even permits your wife’s paramour to turn up and make mischief against you and to do so with impunity.
Renuka Chowdhury: Yeah, but I will tell you something, Karan. It is irrespective of that – these are preventive checks we are putting. Do you think the law is an ass, they will suddenly come and arrest you?
Karan Thapar: I’m afraid this law is an ass. That’s exactly what I am saying. This law is close to close to being an asinine.
Renuka Chowdhury: That’s your opinion. That may be there. But I want to tell you there are very few sections under this law, which are not existing under the IPC.
Karan Thapar: In which case, you didn’t need it. It’s redundant. So why to bring it about?
Renuka Chowdhury: It’s not redundant. Basically, we are empowering the IPC to do it. Delhi has reported that in the last year, 8,000 marital discord cases were reported to the police and there was little the police could do. How do you answer that?
Karan Thapar: Let me ask you one simple question. From Soli Sorabjee to ordinary Indians, there is great concern about the imprecision and dangerous wording and the dangerous ambit of this law. Are you prepared to listen and amend it?
Renuka Chowdhury: Of course. We are prepared in a democracy to listen and respond to a situation that could be an aberration on the societal fabric.
Karan Thapar: But you are going to wait for a situation to happen and then you are going to respond?
Renuka Chowdhury: That doesn’t deny the right for us to bring about a law like this. It is a unmet need and women across the country have not yet protested.
Karan Thapar: You are saying to me that a bad law is better than no law at all?
Renuka Chowdhury: If you want to say it that way. Any law is better than no law at all.
Karan Thapar: Ms Chowdhury, a pleasure talking to you on Devil’s Advocate.
Renuka Chowdhury: Well, thank you. But be careful.