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MISUSE OF FAMILY LAW IN CONTEXT TO PREETI GUPTA & ANR. VS. STATE OF JHARKHAND & ANR

INTRODUCTION

The term “misuse” means the misapplication of certain things that are not meant to be. This term is most commonly used in the legal field in recent times. The major issue that has grown to the point where an immediate solution or remedy is required is the misuse of the law. Ironically, the most stringent laws in India are the ones that are being misused or misapplied.

The provisions related to women in the Indian Penal Code, and the Dowry Prohibition Act, are the most misused provisions of the law in India.[1] 498A[2] which is in the domain of family law is stated as the most notorious provision and under a notion backing the wrong side rather than being used within the object and intention of such law. The misuse of family law is a greater issue in recent times. There are various aspects of family litigation where the law has been misused and cases of an unfair advantage of the stringent provisions are prevalent. This blog attempts to elucidate such hindrances with the help of one of the instances in context to Preeti Gupta & Anr. Vs. State of Jharkhand[3]

Preeti Gupta & Another vs State of Jharkhand & Another[4]

It is a case of dowry harassment. The complainant filed a case under sections 498-A[5], 406[6], 341[7], 323[8] and 120-B[9] of the Indian Penal Code, read with sections 3[10] and 4[11] of the Dowry Prohibition Act, against all immediate relations of her husband. She filed the complaint against her husband, including her mother-in-law, father-in-law, unmarried brother-in-law, and married sister-in-law. The case was filed earlier before the Judicial Magistrate of Ranchi, later appealed to the High Court of Ranchi, and then the sister-in-law of the complainant filed the petition before the Supreme Court of India.

It was first noted by the SC that there was no case of harassment in Ranchi, where the family of the complainant’s husband resided.[12] Also, the couple used to reside in Mumbai alone. In this case, the court determined that the acts involving or subjecting animals to cruelty occurred in Mumbai, where the complainant and her husband live. The court found the allegations made against the in-laws of the complainant are completely false, and hence they cannot be proven guilty.

Further, the court held that the “in-laws,” who are not residing along with the complainant or may not be living together, do not constitute any offence against them and cannot be proven guilty. It has granted leave to the petitioners and quashed the allegation under 498A[13] against them.

According to this case, it was determined that it was significant to find out the real truth in the process of the trial with due diligence and extreme care. The allegations with respect to harassment by the husband’s close relatives, who had been living in different cities and never visited or rarely visited the place where the complainant resided, would have an entirely different complexion. The allegations in the complaint must be scrutinised with great care and caution[14]. The tendency of misapplications against the husband and his close relations is increasing day by day, and it is seen that it is going beyond the intention of the legislature, through which the innocents had to suffer through painful periods. The ultimate object of justice is to find out the truth, punish the guilty, and protect the innocent.

ANALYSIS

The misuse of family law is a new challenge to the judiciary. It creates a pathway filled with troubles and riddles to deliver justice in the case of matrimonial litigation. The major offences against women, like dowry harassment and physical and mental abuse, are the spotlight issues before the Court of Family Judges. The provisions for such offences were enacted to protect the dignity of women, and since it was noted that these acts were filled with extreme cruelty against women, the provisions were made in a way that there was no way to escape them. Although it is beneficial to have such stringent and protective provisions in place, it has become their most powerful weapon. According to the survey conducted by Fight against Misuse of Dowry Law, it was found that over 98 percent of the cases filed under Section 498A are false.[15] Hence, the tendency to misapplication the enactments beyond their object and against the intention is evident.

CONCLUSION

Though the courts are quashing certain false implications in the process, there are many cases in which the law has been successfully misused; unfortunately, we could not even find the quantum of the cases. Hence, there is an immediate need for amendment of the provisions, which are being used as weapons against the intention or the true cause. The court may come up with a new set of guidelines to find out the truth and curtail false cases and the misuse or misapplication of certain provisions that are made to protect the dignity of women. According to the Indian legal system, it is strongly stated that “not even a single innocent must be punished in any case.”[16]. But in the cases of crimes subjected to cruelty, the law was very stringent, which made it an easy way to misuse and blackmail innocent people. Laws being so strict can also end up being one-sided. Hence, it is necessary to bring up the balance between “punishing for the offences subjecting to cruelty in the best possible way” and “misusing such stringent provisions” so that the real truth can be found out and no innocent can be punished. Because everyone has the right to seek justice. One approach would be to set an example by punishing offenders (who abuse the law), considering them to be the source of public scepticism about the law. The law is completely flexible for the right means, but it must not be questioned.

Author(s) Name: Thota Sai Srinija (Presidency University, Bangalore)

References:

[1] V.K. Bahuguna, ‘The misuse of law — a challenge to Indian judiciary” (Daily Pioneer, 24 September 2021) <https://www.dailypioneer.com/2021/columnists/the-misuse-of-law—–a-challenge-to-indianjudiciary.html#:~:text=Crimes%20against%20women%20are%20attracting,to%20have%20been%20made%20in>  accessed 30 March 2023

[2] Indian Penal Code 1860, s 498A

[3] Preeti Gupta & Anr. v State of Jharkhand (2010) AIR SC 3363

[4] Ibid

[5] Indian Penal Code 1860, s 498A

[6] Indian Penal Code 1860, s 406

[7] Indian Penal Code 1860, s 341

[8][8] Indian Penal Code 1860, s 323

[9] Indian Penal Code 1860, s 120B

[10] Dowry Prohibition Act 1961, s 3

[11] Dowry Prohibition Act 1961, s 4

[12] B Indulia, et al., ‘Pat HC: Allegations against Husband’s Relatives Must Be Scrutinized with Great

Circumspection in Proceedings under S. 498-A of IPC’ (SCC Blog, 03 April 2019) <https://www.scconline.com/blog/post/2019/04/02/pat-hc-allegations-against-husbands-relatives-must-be-scrutinized-with-great-circumspection-in-proceedings-under-section-498-a-of-ipc/?> accessed 20 March 2023

[13] Indian Penal Code 1860, s 498A

[14]  ‘Excerpts from Preeti Gupta Vs. State of Jharkhand 2010’ (SIF Jharkhand, 12 May 2021) <https://sifjharkhand.in/preeti-gupta-vs-state-of-jharkhand/#>  accessed 29 March 2022

[15]‘1000-culprits can escape but one innocent person should not be punished hc states in perfunctory investigation of a brutal murder’ (SCC online) <https://www.scconline.com/blog/post/2020/09/09/madras-hc-1000-culprits-can-escape-but-one-innocent-person-should-not-be-punished-hc-states-in-perfunctory-investigation-of-a-brutal-murder/rutal-murder/>  accessed 20 March 2023

[16] V.K. Bahuguna (n 1)