This incident happened earlier this month, and the surreal quality of the experience made me write this post.
I am standing in one of the ACMM courts in Bangalore, for my 498a case number to be called. I don’t expect anything to happen, just the usual drill: accused’s (myself) name will get called, the bench clerk will note that I am present, the judge will probably only barely look up, note down a new date on the file, and bench clerk will announce the next date for me to show up in court, which could be anywhere from 2-3 months from today.
But that’s not an incident with anything new or noteworthy. What I want to write is about a case which was called immediately before my case. This incidentally is also a 498a case. How do I know that it’s a 498a case? Read on…
This particular case number is called. A young woman appears in front, not very far from the bench clerk, along with her lawyer, and probably also her parents who I didn’t notice at the time. Four accused appear in the centre – one of the accused is the husband and another probably his brother, and the other two are the parents.
What caught my eye was that in this case the woman who is the witness going upfront, and instantly starting a dialogue with the judge. I mean we can all understand eagerness of an honest citizen who wants to prosecute the guilty, but when do you see a witness along with lawyer starting an impromptu chit-chat with the judge when the case number is called? That has to be a IPC 498a case my friend… and this kind of court scene happens only in India!
I am all ears now on what exactly is being talked between the judge and this woman. She is wearing a mild red lipstick, which probably is in matching combo with her red salwar suit. I won’t notice any of these things usually, but I don’t usually find working women or even housewives (read as homemakers for you politically correct, touchy, sensitive, women-empowerment types who still continue use the word househusbands for husbands who take care of home and children!) in Bangalore wearing any kind of noticeable lipstick so you have to excuse these minor details. The point I am making is that she seems to have come dressed to make an impression, like when people are going out for dinner to a fancy restaurant, or a party, or a family function. Subtle, but can’t be missed.
What’s even more interesting is that her lawyer has taken the backseat, and she is doing the direct talking to the judge. For once people you have to appreciate the power of an empowered woman, even if is used to score self-goals in a football match . She is asking questions like: “What do we have to do to settle…”, “where should we go…”; and the judge is quite patiently answering: “You have to file petition in high court…”, “You have to approach the high court…”, and so on. The whole exchange is quite amusing, or absurd depending on whether you are the easily amused type or the cynical type. The judge who usually will not even look up when a case is called is answering her as if he were a customer service representative of a mobile phone company and you were the caller with a complaint. I have nothing to say against the judge though; he is just being part of the system that’s been created based on precedents in IPC 498a cases by high courts and the Supreme Court, and he is merely doing his job in the most efficient way possible.
Why did I say this empowered, mild-red-lipstick wearing woman is scoring a self-goal? For that, you can go ahead and read my daily popular post on “advice to women on 498a, DV case, maintenance, divorce etc”, which is probably visited by many women too given the fact that I have even received calls even from female relatives of women who have filed complaints against husband, and these woman’s relatives are not too enthused with the prospects of the whole situation.
Now why did I title the post with the terrifying phrase: IPC 498a: compromise or die. Well, it is not to cause any alarm, certainly not to make you panic and start calling your in-laws with offer of settlement of how many tens of lakhs or which property you want to give away to your wife to settle the 498a case!
My intention is to highlight the bizarre and tragi-comical nature of the society and (lack of) justice system we are becoming into. Instead of putting a halt to this bizarre, time wasting, productivity killer, sometimes people killer of waste that is filing of spurious IPC 498a, and then courts, mediation, settlement offers, negotiations, CrPC 482 quash, mutual consent divorce; the nature of Indian society (and hence judiciary and legislature) is such that we want to take a shortcut to solve problems in society.
If we don’t settle the 498a case, what will people and society think of us? Well, what will they think when after your settlement and mutual divorce, when you try to find your second bride — that you are the innocent divorcee and your wife was the cruel monster? No my friend, by paying up you are being part of the system which believes that woman is always abla-naari and the tormented, and husband (and in-laws) are always the greedy, cruel, inhuman monsters. By paying up and settling, you can rest assured you can always face a lingering suspicion from society; and if by any chance your second wife and her parents are a little shrewd, they can play up on this weakness by keeping you under their thumb for your whole life. I can say this with confidence having seen many cases where the husband went into worse trouble in second marriage after paying up in the first marriage. And conversely, the evidence is also good that those who married second time after fighting it out and getting honourably acquitted in 498a are not facing problems in the second marriage.
A criminal case against us? We are from respectable family. Well so were all the freedom fighters who went to jail for many years and multiple times at that, and they only seemed to gain respect after that! And conversely, you will be voting for politicians in next elections knowing fully well that many of the MPs and MLAs have criminal cases against them, but that doesn’t let anyone lose their sleep at night and life goes on. Why these double standards, that criminal cases against politicians and biggies are motivated and false, but criminal cases against ordinary citizens must be true! Ever heard of the term called “Innocent until proven guilty”? If you are confident about your innocence, the society will believe you. But if you are the one who starts running when somebody shouts the word “thief”, then society will believe that you must have been the thief!
I am wasting my youth and years. My parents need grandchildren etc etc. Sure, make your cost-benefit analysis: how many lakhs to pay up, which property to sell, how will my next bride turn out, will she adjust with my parents, will she not threaten suicide like my first wife, will her parents not interfere in my marriage? Will she be willing to have children? Oh yes, don’t assume all women want to have children these days, some of them just want to have a warm body called husband inside the house; who can also double up as a cash dispensing ATM and a butler.
My point is that a 498a case is not the end of life. It is a mind game, and those of weaker mind succumb easily to the machinations of other party; and then they are ready to get fattened again and get slaughtered again in the next marriage. After all, isn’t it quite likely that once you are proven to be a bakra, you will always be a bakra!
Now back to the courtroom drama. As I leave the court hall on the first floor and reach downstairs, I see the two families standing next to each another. There is a kind of uneasy expectancy in the air, like things might get resolved but as of now no one knows how it will turn out to be. The woman’s husband hands over a water bottle to his mother. It is reasonably hot in Bangalore. I sense the feeling that the two parties don’t even want to sit down and go through the talks. That would be like inviting someone who wants to rape you to a soft bed so that the experience gets more comfortable for everyone!