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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 8.07.08

India bristles with laws. There is a law against every conceivable form of transgression, or perceived transgression, even such odd phenomena as designing a dress out of the national flag. Yet the effect of the laws often seem hardly visible. In the social sphere, the impressive number of laws protecting women from domestic abuse and dowry torture, punishing rape, molestation and trafficking, female foeticide and so on offer an illuminating contrast when placed against the actual situation of women. There is something skewed in the implementation — the law either misses the target or is turned on its head through misuse. So, although the law against dowry has neither stopped the practice nor been able to stem the torture and deaths of women, the Centre is being compelled to face the fact that it is open to grave misuse. Organizations representing men have been complaining for quite a while that the anti-dowry law is unfair, for under Section 498(A) of the Indian Penal Code, the police can arrest, without any investigation, all the in-laws that a woman names in her complaint. The law against harassment in the workplace is unfair too, for it ignores the fact that men can be victims.

The government was loath to accept that something could be wrong with these laws. But the men’s organizations have made their point, and a review is being thought of. They are reportedly asking for a more nuanced application of Section 498(A). It can be applied straightaway when a woman is injured or dead, they suggest, but when there is no obvious injury, the police should make their arrests when there is prima facie evidence against those named. And the women proved to have misused the law should be punished. The apparent imbalance in the legislation is a result of the anxiety to improve the situation of women in the marital home. So mental torture, which is difficult to prove immediately, was given a place equal to physical torture. But the use of law requires common sense too. Whether written into the provisions, or required simply when the law is being applied, it would help guard against abuse and the manipulation of positive bias. Fewer laws, but those tightly reasoned and appropriately used, would empower everyone, both women and men. There would be no need for debates with the government in which men and women are ranged on opposite sides like actors in an absurd drama.