Usually my impression is that as far as judicial decisions are concerned, Chennai is a place filled with white knightery, where it is easy to get judgments in favour of women; even based on flimsy evidence but more based on emotions. I remember reading a judgment where a woman was granted maintenance under DV Act after a one-night stand with an office co-worker at his house. Some “beneficial legislation” interpretation it must be that one night spent with office co-worker in his house turns that into a live-in relationship! The problem with such benefit-and-relief-awarding interpretations is that interim maintenance gets awarded in DV cases routinely with no evidence of any violence whatsoever, because the DV Act is drafted in such a way that it talks only about what reliefs can be given to woman; and not about after giving what kind of proofs the asked reliefs can be given!
But going in reverse gear, now Chennai high court has said openly that Domestic violence act (PWDVA) is not gender-neutral and is prone to misuse.
Madurai: The Madras High Court on Thursday called for a “neutral and non prejudicial” law to protect genuine victims of domestic violence, irrespective of the gender, noting that existing law contains a flaw that lends itself to easy misuse by women.
“The notable flaw in this law is that it lends itself to such easy misuse that women will find it hard to resist the temptation to teach lesson to their male relatives and will file frivolous and false cases,” Justice S Vaidhyanathan said.
He was dismissing a petition by a woman who sought to stop the promotion of her father-in-law, a government school teacher, citing pendency of a criminal case filed against him and other in-laws on a complaint from her.
The judge pulled up the woman for using domestic violence act as a tool to ‘wreak vengeance’ on her father-in-law and imposed a fine of Rs 5,000 on her.
A find of Rs 5000 is quite a drastic step going by standards of penalties and fines imposed in Indian courts. That tells that the judge was serious enough in sending more than a message, which is to penalize the woman who was using DV Act for her own agenda.
The petitioner had submitted she was thrown out of her matrimonial home after she lodged a police complaint accusing her husband of demanding dowry and father-in-law of attempting to molest her based on which a case had been registered.
She came to know that her father-in-law was going to be promoted as headmaster, she said contending that as per rules a person having a criminal case against him was not entitled to be promoted.
She made a representation to the officials against her father-in-law to take departmental action, but no action was taken.
Usually it is seen that the father-in-law is quite protective of daughter-in-law and in many cases will start questioning his own son believing the sob stories of daughter-in-law, rather than his own son who he has known for years. Maybe such false cases filed by daughter-in-laws will slowly wake up some more elderly white knights in the population, who are usually the last to understand that the old traditions and rules of society can’t be applied blindly anymore, hoping that they will work just like in the past.
By the way, I think it is the first time that any high court in the country has questioned the foundation of and commented on ill-effects of a law like Domestic violence act. So far the trend in judiciary has been to avert the gaze from rampant misuse, keep ordering interim maintenance to all women who ask for it; and give some platitudes once in a while about misuse of IPC 498a (and neutralize it simultaneously by recommending to make it compoundable). This could be a sign that judiciary itself is not feeling comfortable by their own decisions, and where it might lead society in future.