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HOME FIRES

Peace at home is often elusive. The Supreme Court has said that cases against certain crimes in the home can be quashed if the disputing parties show “a real desire to bury the hatchet in the interest of peace”. The idealistic aspiration behind this image is heartening: if husbands and in-laws beating up or otherwise torturing women for dowry or purely for the fun of it suddenly decide to turn over a new leaf, offer monetary and other compensations and promise a happy life so seductively that the complainant is eager to start over, nothing better. The court’s decision refers to non-compoundable offences: those that would not usually be quashed. But by taking on greater discretionary powers — the judiciary must decide whether the desire for reconcilement is ‘genuine’ and is guaranteed for the future — the courts can not only help make happier homes but also dispose of cases faster. This approach could reduce the backlog of cases and hinder lawyers who prosper by deliberately prolonging cases.

The Supreme Court has said that such a compromise is not to be thought of in cases of crimes such as murder or rape, which are crimes against State and society. Quashing a case when the parties concerned wish to kiss and make up can only happen when the offence relates to individual relationships and is “personal in nature”. By reducing the needless prolonging of domestic cases when both sides want an end to conflict, the court has taken a wise step. A distinction, however, is being made between a crime against society and one personal in nature. Can domestic violence be considered purely “personal”? As an offence, it cannot be shorn of its dimension as a crime against society — marriage is a social relationship, for example, validated by a social and legal act — especially since the nature and spread of domestic violence, against wives, mothers, sisters, say, exhibit the most disgraceful societal values with regard to women. And it is against this background of inequality that the question of ‘genuine’ desire for reconcilement becomes problematic. The woman may feel pressured to compromise sooner than is good for her. Arrayed against her are her stakes in her children, perhaps, the disapproval or helplessness of her natal home, a frowning society, her economic status. There is also the danger, not in the court’s decision but in its possible and wily misuse, that a “personal” space may be carved out where recognized crimes are no longer crimes at all. There should be checks against such a great danger.