Abu Dhabi: India’s anti-dowry law meant to protect women from harassment by their husbands and in-laws is rampantly misused against Indian men in the UAE.
A Dubai-based lawyer said more Indian men are falling victim to the law, with wives using it to settle scores with their spouses.
“It all comes down to money. Women today feel more liberated and are aware of their rights,” said Devanand Mahadeva, a Dubai-based lawyer specialising in family and inheritance law. “Some even go as far as misusing the law to harass their husbands and extort money from them.”
In India, dowry or a financial gift to a prospective groom and his family was outlawed in 1961. In 1983, sections 304B and 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) were enacted to make it easier for an Indian wife to seek redressal for harassment by the husband’s family.
In 2012, 106,527 Indian husbands and their families were charged under 498A, up 7.5 per cent over 2011.
Dubai officials said at least 15 divorce cases involving Indian expats are processed in UAE courts daily. “Section 498A under IPC is a non-bailable offence, non-compoundable and cognisable offence,” said Mahadeva.
“A person charged under a non-bailable offence can get bail only at the discretion of the judge. A non-compoundable offence means the complainant cannot withdraw the case until it is dismissed or disposed of.
“A cognisable offence means when a case is registered, a due investigation must be conducted before arresting the accused.
“But authorities often arrest people before investigations.”
He added that a person charged with 498A has to prove his innocence. “Those convicted face a jail term of three to seven years and have to pay a penalty to the wife and her family.”
Arrest before probe
Mahadeva said that while authorities in India are supposed to register a case, investigate it and only then make an arrest, it does not always happen this way. “In most cases, people don’t follow due process and the arrest happens before the investigation. The way it works is the wife registers the case, and a summons is issued to the husband and his family. Their failure to appear in court results in arrest.
“NRIs are arrested at Indian airports as soon as they land,” he said.
Dubai resident Rakesh Sinha is the latest victim of the misuse of 498A. Sooraj Mehra, Rakesh’s brother-in-law, told XPRESS: “It has destroyed our lives. Financially and mentally we have been drained out.”
In November 2009, Dubai-based banker Rakesh married Sneha, also an MBA graduate. “But the marriage didn’t work out and they started to have fights. In March 2011, Sneha packed her bags and flew back to India,” recalled Sooraj.
But worse was to come. A month later Rakesh received a summons from an Indian court in Rajasthan charging him and his family under Section 498A of the IPC. “We hired lawyers to look into the matter and when we knew we were not getting anywhere, Rakesh decided to go to India to put an end to the ordeal.
“But he was detained at the airport and later arrested. His passport was impounded. Although we got him out on bail, he was stuck in India for three months.”
In July, Rakesh paid Rs3.5 million (around Dh213,000) to his wife in an out-of-court settlement as this was the only way he could get his passport and return to Dubai.
“The court would set a date for hearing and Sneha and her family would never show up. They knew they could not prove Rakesh guilty and hence kept avoiding court hearings. Eventually, we had to pay off the girl, so Rakesh could move on with his life,” said Sooraj.
“We spent Rs1.5 million (around Dh91,460) towards lawyers fees, besides other expenses for staying in hotels and travelling back and forth from the UAE. We had to beg and borrow from family and friends to pay for the court settlement. We feared Rakesh would lose his job. Luckily that didn’t happen and his company retained his services. The case was finally settled in July.”
Alauddin, an Indian messenger boy working in Dubai, is another victim. Hailing from Andhra Pradesh, he married his childhood sweetheart in May 2008, against the wishes of her parents. But the marriage soon fell apart. “Her family filed a case against me under section 498A. I was summoned by a court in India. But my company refused to grant leave. So I quit my job and went to India to fight the case.
“For three months my wife’s family failed to show up in the court as they had little evidence against me. Finally, the court dismissed my case. Although I did not pay her money, I lost my job. I have now found another job in Dubai, but nobody can take away those months of mental torture.”
Citing another case, Mahadeva said a husband charged under Section 498A did his own investigation. “What they found was shocking. The woman was twice divorced and had remarried to extort money from the husband. Their case was also quashed in the Indian court,” he said.
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