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Supreme Court’s Judgment Ignores Lived Reality of Married Women

This article was earlier published in the EPW website.Flavia Agnes (flaviaagnes@gmail.com) is a women’s rights lawyer and director of Majlis, which runs a rape victim support programme in Mumbai.

The judgment of the Supreme Court in Rajesh Sharma v State of UP delivered on 27 July 2017 seems to convey that the violence inflicted upon women is a mere figment of their imagination and that cases registered under the anti-dowry law—Section 498A—of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) are false. Further, it implies that women are irrational beings. Without weighing the implications of their actions, in the heat of the moment, they file false complaints of cruelty and dowry demands. Later, when reality dawns they want to retract and save their marriages. But by then it is too late, the marriage is broken irretrievably. Mind you, the marriage does not break because the husband’s family demands dowry, humiliates the woman or throws her out of the matrimonial home. The only reason that marriages break, according to our judges, is because the wife approaches the police and files a complaint. Adding insult to injury, the judges proclaim that the guidelines issued by them to the police not to arrest the accused until a family welfare committee investigates the case and sends in a report will be beneficial to the wife.

This narrative projected by our judges is totally out of tune with the lived realities of women. The experiences of several women’s organisations indicate that women approach the police as a last resort. This is because they, more than anyone else, are acutely aware that there are very few options open to them outside the marriage. Their natal families do not accept them. The government has failed to provide alternatives such as emergency shelters, halfway homes, subsidised housing, jobs for single women, prompt injunctions and maintenance orders, etc, as have been done in several other countries where the issue of domestic violence came out of its closeted existence in the 1970s and 1980s.

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