IPC Section 498A and The Institution Of Marriage In India
The exchanges between some of the strong, opinionated women who believe in liberal feminism and the Save India Family Foundation (SIFF) members have predominated a whole lot of recent discussions on DC. My articles received harsh responses from most SIF members and sometimes offensive comments. Editors had to operate overtime trying to catch up with the foul mouthed and mostly baseless accusations. For the most part I was confused. I had no idea who these people were and why they were so mad about my father being feminist. I didn't know why they referred to me as a man-hater. I was introduced to a new term: Feminazi.
I have always believed that there is an upside to everything and so it was that this brutal onslaught brought on by the SIFF members forced me to wonder what it was that had made them so bitter towards feminism. At first I just assumed they were male chauvinists. But surely chauvinism wouldn't be motivation enough for these people to be on a public forum ranting like this. Then there were these snippets that would fall out of their lengthy comments. These small peeks allowed me some insight into their stories and roused my curiosity immensely. I wanted to know what was behind this anger. I tried being nice. I asked questions. I ignored the cutting sarcasm and criticism and I mustered every bit of my patience in trying to find out what they were so mad about. I thought about giving up but my need to find out was so strong that I went online and searched. Google, as always, opened up its wide and sometimes indiscriminate ambit. So I went to Youtube and searched for 498A and I was in for a surprise.
There was footage of shows on Zee TV, there were interviews with people who has been booked under the Indian Penal Code, section 498A and there were debates on Indian television shows where people argued relentlessly over whether a domestic violence act was necessary. I didn't see any victims of abuse speak up. I didn't see interviews of any battered women like the ones I've seen on Oprah. In the shows titled "Abuse of Section 498A", the story was narrated by the man who claimed he had been falsely accused unlike something like Dateline-NBC where both parties are interviewed.
The interviews with family members who were accused of dowry harassment is what interested me most. Why? Because they were women. They were mothers, sisters who had not lived with the couple, at times not even in the same country and they had been listed as accused.
But frankly, no matter how touched and how affected I am by somebody's testimony, I always like to maintain that there is another side to the story. What I did decide to write about is the one observation I made while watching all the footage. One by one, I watched the cases and lo behold, the one strikingly common factor stood out: arranged marriage.
People narrated how the alliance had been recommended by an aquaintance and how problems began when the girl insisted that he leave his parents and set up a house with her. Some of the men also described how they found out about their wife's pre-marital affair almost a year into the marriage. Oddly money issues were prominent. The men claimed that the woman had demanded money or had complaints about his finances. Some men narrated that their wife's family had been insulting and they had suffered humiliation. Some of the relatives who had been arrested stated their confusion over even having been included on the accused list.
This made me wonder about an issue that thus far hadn't been on the forefront of my thought process while discussing section 498A: the issue of marriage in India. Every year, at least one Indian post-doctoral fellow or young doctor in our city flies back to India and within a period of 5 weeks returns with a shy bride. When asked about how long they'd been dating, they giggle and clarify that it was an arranged match and they hadn't known each other until a few days before the engagement. Maybe its just me, but doesn't a decision as important as who to spend your life with, deserve more attention? If marriage is a gamble, shouldn't one do their best in trying to ensure that the odds are in their favor.
The other noticeable lapse seems to be in the area of discussions that people have before they tie the knot. The parents ensure compatibility in terms of religion, caste, horoscopes etc but what about the important decisions of life. True, one can't possibly sit down and decide everything at one go but how about a few relevant areas: children, lifestyle, finances, whether they will be living in a joint or a nuclear family set-up, what kind of careers will they adopt after marriage and when will they plan for children. These are basic issues that would affect the fate of any marriage. Agreed, that circumstances and even personalities may change after marriage. Isn't that all the more reason to take some time before binding yourself legally and emotionally?
People seem more worried about what such a law will do to the divorce rates. I honestly want to know how many people really care more about the nation's divorce rates over their own happiness? If you are unhappy with a person, if there are serious incompatibilities, would you choose to live with the person for a lifetime because your nation's divorce rates is escalating? I doubt it. It is somewhat of a ridiculous rationale to prevent domestic violence laws. A more logical approach would've been to ammend the laws and make them gender neutral.
As I watched and heard people's views on some of the shows on Youtube, I wondered what the absence of a domestic violence or dowry law would mean for women. Should they be stuck in unhappy marriages? I have often heard complaints from men that women who prefer a nuclear family set-up are mean, insensitive nags who don't care about his family. And I wonder if they never thought to discuss this issue before they took the plunge. There was a time when women would live happily and without complaints in a joint family. They would invest a better part of their day in serving their old in-laws. With changing times, women have careers, they now are conditioned to voice their needs and their preferences. The lack of proper dialogue within a marriage, interference from in-laws, breakdown of communication are all seen as causes of emotional and mental distress. How does a woman deal with this distress? Is it fair for men to want an educated woman, who has a brilliant career, an education to match his, a modern sense of thinking and still wants to live in a cramped house with his parents and siblings? Or is it an issue to be addressed between couples before the "I dos" are said.
It was convenient for many an NRI man to hop on a plane and return with a wife who could cook for him and fill the loneliness of life in a foreign country. What about the emotional health of the woman who is suddenly away from her kin in a new country such as the U.S. where the social life is sometimes defined by your work place or weekend visits to the temple. I have had a few friends confess that sometimes it is just pressure from the family and the lack of a social life that prompted them to look toward matrimony.
With the advent of such a stringent act, it is time to speculate about the metamorphosis that the very institution of marriage will undergo in coming years. Nobody deserves to be thrown in prison because they invested less time in evaluating a prospective bride. It could very well be that one makes a bad judgement or is cheated. Nontheless precaution seems like a better option compared to the harrowing struggle that families have to go through once things boil down to the legal bond that marriage is.
A few weeks ago, in one of the angry comments to my article, a guy vehemently declared that men would now think a million times before they get married. Maybe they should. Maybe marriage does deserve a million considerations before the final decision is made.
IPC Section 498A and The Institution Of Marriage In India
- » Published on July 13, 2007
- » Type: Opinion
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