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No arrest of innocents, proof of cruelty must in dowry cases: Supreme Court

Highlighting concerns regarding the misuse of anti-dowry law, the Supreme Court on Thursday said that no arrest or coercive action should be taken without verifying the allegations.


The apex court ruled that the account of an alleged victim cannot be taken at face value and directed all states to set up family welfare committee (FWC) in each district. Unless the FWC gives its report on the issue, no action should be taken against the husband and the in-laws, said Supreme Court.

Under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), a woman, who has been subjected to marital discord, can also accuse the husband’s relatives, including parents, minor children, siblings and grandparents. Therefore, the bench has ruled that in such cases, the human rights of innocent people must be checked. 

This a shift from the judicial conception of women being seen as innocents who silently bear the injustice inflicted upon her and takes the matter to the court mostly in worst-case scenarios. However, the court had to change its stance given the rise in the number of false allegations on the groom and/or his family. 

"It is a matter of serious concern that a large number of cases continues to be filed under Section 498A alleging harassment of married women... Many such complaints are not bona fide. At the time of filing of the complaint, implications and consequences are not visualised. At times, such complaints lead to uncalled for harassment not only to the accused but also to the complainant. Uncalled for arrest may ruin the chances of settlement," the bench said, reported The Times of India.

The court also said bail applications of husband and in-laws should be decided expeditiously, preferably the same day it is filed, the report added. 

Moreover, dowry harassment cases where the groom and his family are based outside India, the court cannot impound their passports or issue Red Corner Notice against them.

“It is a heinous crime to hang one's wife to death but a husband cannot be convicted without any reliable evidence,” a Delhi court said in 2016 while acquitting a man and his family members in a murder and dowry death case. (Read more)

The presumption of culpability against an accused in a dowry death case under the Evidence Act would be "activated" only when there is a proof that a deceased woman had been subjected to cruelty for the demand of dowry, the Supreme Court said in November 2016.

The provision to secure convictions in dowry death cases was inserted in the Evidence Act, which provides that instead of the presumption of innocence, the accused would be presumed prima facie guilty in such homicides if a woman dies within seven years of marriage and there is proof of cruelty.

The apex court directed that a designated police officer should be appointed to deal with complaints filed under Section 498A.

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