Allahabad HC Adds "Cooling Period" Before Arrest In Dowry Harassment Cases

In September 2018, the Supreme Court had overruled its order which had introduced the concept of a Family Welfare Committee.

The Allahabad High Court introduced a controversial "cooling-period" that prevents arresting a husband or his family facing harassment charges under the anti-dowry law, a directive that goes against precedents set by the Supreme Court.

The Allahabad High Court on June 13 stayed immediate arrests till a three-member family welfare committee (FWC) attempts to resolve the situation through mediation with all concerned parties and "their four senior elderly persons". A magistrate or concerned investigating officer would immediately refer all complaints filed under section 498A Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860 to this committee and act on the same after considering its final report.

Justice Rahul Chaturvedi clarified only those cases will be referred to the FWC where there are no traces of injuries and the accused is charged with offenses that attract a jail term of less than 10 years.

The high court's safeguards to prevent the misuse of the anti-dowry law were inspired by a July 2017 Supreme Court judgment which was overruled by the top court a year later.

In July 2017, a bench comprising Justices AK Goel (since retired) and UU Lalit had put an end to automatic arrests in dowry-related crimes. The bench had also constituted family welfare committees that would probe the veracity of complaints filed by wives. However, in September 2018 a three-judge bench led by then Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra partially modified the July 2017 order where it withdrew the constitution of family welfare committees.

Section 498A IPC, popularly known as the anti-dowry law, is a cognizable non-bailable offence where a conviction will attract a jail term of three years and a fine.

Also Read: Right To Say Yes Vs Expectation Of Sex: Reading The Verdict On Marital Rape

Growing tendency of masses to nail husbands, family members with sweeping allegations

The Allahabad High Court introduced a "cooling-period" before arrests as a safeguard "keeping in view the growing tendency in the masses to nail the husband and all family members by general and sweeping allegations".

"The traditional fragrance of our age-old institution of marriage would completely evaporate over a period of time if such gross and unmindful misuse of section 498-A IPC would keep on pasted rampantly," Justice Chaturvedi said.

The judge observed that the rampant practice of exaggerating every matrimonial case with "pungent and caustic allegations" and dowry-related atrocities involving the husband and all family members is "adversely affecting our social fibre, especially in northern India".

Referring to the case at hand, the judge condemned the "deplorable" "graphical description" of the crime that the victim alleged in her FIR. "The FIR is the place where the informant gives the story…It is not soft porn literature where the graphical description (of the crime) should be made," Justice Chaturvedi observed.

"In our traditional Indian family, where they are residing in a joint family with an unmarried son, it is highly improbable and difficult to digest the allegations of demanding sexual favours from her daughter­-in-­law by father-­in-law or brother-­in-­law," the judge said choosing to "simply over-look these graphic and distressful allegations" of the victim.

"The Court records its strongest exception to such type of language used by the informant. The language of the FIR should be a decent one and no amount of atrocities faced by the informant would justify her using such type of caustic expressions. FIR/complaint is the gateway of any criminal case even soft and decent expression would well communicate the alleged atrocities faced by her.

Also Read: Karnataka HC Upholds Rape Charges Against Husband

Live-in relationships sneakily replacing traditional marriages

Apart from issuing guidelines, Justice Rahul Chaturvedi observed that in the metro cities, the doctrine of 'live-in relationship' has "silently sneaked into our socio-cultural ethos by replacing our traditional marriages".

"This is a ground reality, and one has to accept it willy-nilly which is nowhere similar to our traditional marriage, the judge said. Live-in relationships are stress-free companionship without any legal obligation, with many complications, responsibilities, and legal liabilities, the judge said. "It is a voluntary agreement in it that unmarried male or female decides to live together in one roof in a sexual and romantic relationship which seems to be marriage in alternative or substitute to the traditional marriage in which unmarried couple lives together without marrying with each other free from its legal implications, commitment, and responsibilities," he added.

"In fact, this is an offshoot of traditional Indian marriage just to save the couple from the hazards and legal complications and bickering between them," the judge said.

Also Read: Life Imprisonment In India: What Does Double Life Term Mean?

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