In a shocking move, the Govt. of India has decided to broaden the ambit of the controversial Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code. In wake of a lot controversies sprouting up against Section 498A and a lot of civil society groups raising their voices of dissent against Section 498A which they allege is being used as a weapon of “Arrest on Demand” by disgruntled wives against their hubbies and in-laws, the Govt. of India is seriously considering to replace all the criminal sections of the Indian Penal Code by Section 498A by broadening its ambit to cover all sorts of crimes.
Section 498A, of late, has started catching the attention of one and all right from the women’s groups lobby to the men’s rights activists to prominent lawyers to the judiciary to the Home Ministry to the Rajya Sabha. Several prominent offices of the Govt. have asked the Govt. to “rationalize” the law.
Even the Rajya Sabha has asked for opinions from the civil society about amendments to Section 498A. What with, the civil society groups fighting against the section, mentioning it undemocratic, unconstitutional and a weapon for unleashing “Legal Terrorism” – a coin termed by the Honorable Supreme Court of India, the Govt. of India has slowly realized the hidden potential of a law like Section 498A.
Said a government source, on conditions of anonymity, “Yes that’s correct, we are seriously considering the option of doing away with all the criminal sections of IPC other than Section 498A and we are also considering modifying it’s definition. The new definition is work in progress and cannot be revealed now but it will cover all sorts of crimes from blackmail, extortion, threatening, kidnapping, physical assault, demanding money in the name of marriage, etc. Just see, how much of fear the current limited definition has induced in the minds of a section of civil society (husbands and their families) that they are getting ready to fight the Govt. against it. Imagine how much power the Govt. will get (resulting in better governance) if its definition was expanded and more crimes were covered under it.”
A Supreme Court lawyer, again on condition of anonymity said, “I am yet not officially aware of any such move by the Government. But if it happens, it will be nothing like that. Our judiciary is so pathetic and slow. They take years to decide cases. This has eroded the fear of courts from the minds of criminals. On top of that, these Human Rights Organizations have drastically altered the process of arresting a person. Lack of fear of arrest is giving rise to crimes. Section 498A is the only section in the whole of IPC which legalizes arrest without investigation. If its definition is expanded it will certainly induce more fear about the criminal justice system and we can have a better society.”
But a senior police officer, who has also worked for many years as a jail warden did not seem too happy with the move. He said, “This is ridiculous. Already the prisons are full with husbands booked under Section 498A for flimsy and frivolous reasons. Forget harassing their wives, they cannot even kill a mosquito and we have to look after them. Our load increases so much and the Govt. does not think about it. Imagine if any, Tom, Dick and Harry is booked under Section 498A, will there be any difference left between the prison and the outside world? People will start treating the prisons as a free public resort”, he fumed.
With varied opinions, the Govt. is still thinking how to implement the new system and how much time it will take to modify all the existing official texts about laws and legal procedure? Said another Govt. source, again on condition of anonymity, “It is definite that there is a lot of willingness inside the Govt. to implement this, but we have to work out the modalities and come up with some deadline to get it implemented.”