Dowry wars: The big issue that has India divided

Men say their rights are violated by a law that protects brides.

An intense lobbying battle is being fought as the Indian government prepares to amend landmark legislation introduced nearly three decades ago to protect women who were being attacked, harassed and even murdered for refusing to pay dowries.

Amid an increasingly vocal campaign by "men's rights" organisations, who claim the law has been misused in order to extort money from husbands, the government has asked its legal advisers to investigate and suggest options for reform.

Women's groups say the legislation is vital to protect countless numbers of brides against violent demands for dowries and must not be watered down. They claim that up to 25,000 Indian women are killed every year because of the inability or refusal of their families to make such payments to the family of grooms.

The payment of dowries was banned in India in 1961 but remains commonplace and may be on the rise. In 1983, Section 498a of the Indian penal code was introduced to offer additional protection to women, by ruling that any husband or member of his family convicted of "cruelty" or violence associated with attempting to force such payments should face up to three years in jail.

The culture war being fought in newspapers and between activists highlights subtle changes in Indian society and an increasing willingness among some women to report domestic abuse. Women's groups say the campaign by men to change the law is nothing more than a backlash from those opposed to female empowerment.

Mithun Kumar is typical of those who say the anti-dowry laws are being misused. The 30-year-old from Bangalore, employed in the IT industry, had an arranged marriage in 2007. He claims he discovered his wife was continuing to keep in touch with a previous boyfriend and wanted to maintain an affair with him. "She said if I didn't go along with it, I would go to jail," he said. Mr Kumar said his wife and her family then filed a case against him with the police, claiming he had demanded a dowry from them. He told the police he was innocent, but was arrested anyway. He is fighting the case in court.

Rajesh Vakharia, a self-employed 42-year-old from Nagpur, claimed his wife and her family made similar allegations five years after their arranged marriage in 1999. "I was held for six days in the police station," he said. "She wanted to extort money from me. I would not pay and fought the case. Eventually I won, but for fours years I was not able to see my son. What is happening in India is very sad. There is no protection for men."

The campaign to scrap Section 498a is being led by groups including the Save the Family Foundation. An official, Niladri Das, claimed men in India were increasingly resentful of "biased" laws. He said that more than 95 per cent of men charged under 498a were later acquitted and that was proof the law was being misused. "A woman can make any accusation she wants," he said. He said claims that 25,000 woman a year were killed was "a lie propagated by feminists in order to get money from international NGOs". He added: "We are not saying there are no cases, but these figures are highly inflated."

The government appears to agree with the men. Law minister M Veerappa Moily recently referred the legislation to the country's law commission, which advises the government on legal reform. The commission's chairman, PV Reddy, a former supreme court judge, said they would soon be publishing a consultative paper. "There is misuse, it's been referred to in court judgments," he said. "There is misuse in regard to any law, not just this one. But this is not an ordinary crime. It's about marital discord. It's a very sensitive issue."

Women's rights campaigners say any dilution of the act would be a big mistake. They argue that women face widespread sexual and physical abuse in India and say that if a law is being misused, then the police and courts need to act more efficiently rather than change it. They also argue that the continued practice of dowry payments in the country, and the attendant preference for male children, has helped contribute to the widespread abortion of female fetuses. The problem is so prevalent that in some parts of India there is a marked gender imbalance. A 2001 census found that in Punjab for every 1,000 boys there were only 793 girls.

Donna Fernandes, a veteran women's rights campaigner from Bangalore, said she knew of no empirical evidence that showed 95 per cent of men charged under Section 498a were acquitted. Furthermore, she insisted, an acquittal did not necessarily amount to a misuse of the law as women may withdraw an allegation because of pressure. She said: "Women are moving ahead. Today they are more economically independent. They don't need marriage. They say 'To hell with it if he can't respect me.'"

Ms Fernandes said her organisation, Vimochana, collected statistics from Bangalore that showed up to 100 married women were being murdered in the city every month, though not all were necessarily related to dowry payments. She added: "If this law is being misused, then why are so many women dying?"

Among those urging the authorities to retain the law is Girender Singh, from Delhi. His 24-year-old daughter Anshu was found dead in January last year, just 45 days after she was married. Mr Singh said Anshu's husband's family had repeatedly made demands for money and while he did not pay a formal dowry, he handed over around £6,000. His daughter's husband was arrested on a charge of murder and the case is before the courts.

Mr Singh declined to talk about Anshu's case but instead forwarded a copy of a letter he had sent to the authorities in which he expressed his "pain and agony" and asked they not dilute the legislation. "In truth, is there any law to save girls and married women in India except 498a?" he wrote. "A little fear of 498a might save the girls and women from heinous crimes which are on a rising trend in our great Indian society."

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

English Teacher

£110 - £130 per day + Pay between ?110 - ?130 Day: Randstad Education Cardiff:...

SAP Deployment Manager

£480 per day + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Deployment Manager-Ta...

Microsoft Dynamics CRM Consultant

£50000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Urgently seeking a Dynam...

Test Lead - Financial Reporting - Banking - London

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: Test Lead, London, Banking, Financial Reporting, ...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game