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Bera Murder Appeal Partly Allowed

By Vijay Panjwani, Advocate.

Thursday May 3, 2012.

The murder appeal raised important issues:

(i)           of excessive incarceration than maximum permissible under  which accused appellants finally convicted by Supreme Court .

(ii)          indiscriminate use of Section 302 IPC prescribing capital sentence rather than 304-B IPC in a case of dowry death.

(iii)        no bail to mother in law continuously for 14 years and one month.

Lawyer appointed by supreme court to defend  neglected to file bail application on behalf of mother in law for many years.

Briefly the facts are that a young woman named Mayarani was married to Gokul in West Bengal. A part of the agreed dowry was satisfied at the time of marriage. Both families were residents of neighbouring villages and belonged  to weaker section of society.They worked as daily wagers. A few months after marriage  Mayarani’s  in-laws started taunting her about lack of dowry, at her inability to do household chores, and on her physical attributes. Mayarani was a large boned well fed fat woman. She was addressed to as ‘Bhondi’ a term used in Bengal for fat women.

In the third year in-laws patience ran out and the and demand for ‘arrears dowry’ became a daily routine but no physical violence was reported to any one. However, in-laws encouraged her to commit suicide. They said a fat woman must bring a fat dowry. Finally, unable to bear the mental torture Bhondi escaped to her parental home from where she was returned to her in-laws with promise to pay ‘arrears dowry’. Bhondi and her mother were abused and insulted. And four days later at 2 PM news reached Bhondi’s parents that she died of burn injuries at 6 AM in the morning.

The medical evidence showed the body was charred. No external injuries were found. All internal organs- liver, kidneys, viscera was intact. In such a situation the doctor failed to find injuries and wrote ‘no cause of death could be found’. The police stuck to its strange version that Bhondi was killed by strangulation  in the matrimonial home by in-laws and then taken out and her body burnt partially and brought back to matrimonial home. The forensic report and  burnt  items seized from the crime scene said some other story which was hidden but not so cleverly as to escape scrutiny in supreme court. The doubts once raised about the veracity of evidence do not go easily.

The prosecutor in supreme court  was unable to show from record evidence of ingredients to prove murder. The appellants/accused [thru vijay panjwani] were shown not to have committed   murder . In a plea bargaining appellants counsel suggested conversion of   murder  to a lesser conviction of dowry death. For reasons recorded  the supreme court set aside the high court  judgment  on muder with life imprisonment and convicted the accused/appellants under section 304-B for dowry death to sentence already undergone. Husband and father in law were on bail since 2006 after 8 years incarceration and mother in law 14 years imprisonment in Midnapore Jail. The fine was set aside and bail bonds of the male accused persons discharged.It is for readers to form an opinion how this category of family cases should be tried.




Dt: 3-5-2012.



There is this group of men and women on the internet who seem to have a deep and abiding contempt for the Section 498A of the IPC – the Dowry Act. This section of people seem to see the Dowry Act as a weapon evil women use against men. They find nothing illogical in the fact that a woman who has no property to her name and will essentially be rendered stigmatized and alone in the world will do this out of the blue – for no reason at all. Worse, it seems that a majority of women are like that and the Dowry Act should be repealed. New terms are being created domestic violence against men. It seems our phenomenally misogynist police force targets these men for being bad to women.

They pull out statistics out of unmentionable parts of their anatomies, and a general population addicted to never thinking for themselves nod their heads gravely. After all, isn’t it better to agree with the one more likely to be more difficult to disagree with? These are also coincidentally people who haven’t raised their voices against any other victimization of women either. They are also coincidentally people who believe any laws protecting women are misused by women – women in India have nothing better to do than make false claims of domestic violence, rape, molestation, and so on.

This is nothing out of the usual. Our culture is deeply misogynistic. It is the norm to believe the woman to be wrong anywhere she conflicts with a man. The smallest things start looking like proofs. There are actually men who have claimed wives “forcing them to watch” soap operas as domestic abuse. No, they don’t mean they are tied in a chair, eyelids propped open with matchsticks and a gun at their heads. They simply mean that their wives watch soap operas when they are in the room, and they will, of course not do something else. They will watch and whine. They are men. They have penises. They are being abused.

Anyway, coming to some of the ridiculous claims floating around, but dangerous, because they encourage a contempt for women at large as abusive creatures and resistance to any women’s rights. This is dangerous in a country losing women like it had a leak. Incidentally, some “bold” women too share this contemptuous hatred. Misogyny is not limited to the male of the species.

One popular article quoted by these people is called Tortured hubbies, victims of 498 (A) in IBNLive. It describes two men who allegedly were falsely accused and comes to some data that is going near viral.

Statistics suggest that Gokul and Sohail are just the tip of the iceberg.

*In 2004, 58,319 dowry cases were registered

*1,34,757 men were arrested

*47,828 cases have reached the chargesheet stage

*10,491dowry cases were not chargesheeted as they were based on frivolous ground.

*However, 5,739 men have been convicted but more than four times that number have been acquitted (24,127)

The first three statistics are simply factual numbers. The second two seem to be the key ones driving people to seeing 498 (A) as the greatest evil since sliced television.

Out of 58,319 dowry cases, 47,828 or 82% were chargesheeted – which means the cops found enough to make a case – they have to write something in that chargesheet, you know?

Then, you have 10,491 or 12% cases that were not chargesheeted as they were based on “frivolous ground”. Considering how it is unlikely that the “frivolous ground” comes from data, I can only assume it is a quality assigned by the reporter. A case not being chargesheeted can have many reasons. A common one is the victim being bullied into silence. Another common one being that cops DO NOT WANT to do it. Two examples from this blog:

  • I am a victim of domestic violence. Police have made three visits to my home after receiving calls from me when my husband got dangerously aggressive. In EACH TIME, they wanted me to “understand”. Understand what? That my husband has the natural right to terrify the daylights out of my child at 3am? My case is comparatively minor. There is no physical violence involved, though there is constant mental harassment.
  • Try Naina Singh’s story. She died under inexplicable circumstances a few hours after being fine and speaking with her mother. There were abundant reasons and signs to suspect murder. Her mother claims there were dowry demands. The police were initially helpful, and then not. They ruled her death natural. A couple of weeks back, after a long struggle, the court ORDERED the cops to file a case.

This is how willing the police are, to file cases. Sometimes it may be a simple matter of not having enough evidence to convince them, even though they are not required to have evidence. In a country where women are openly paraded naked or asked by the village leader and entire village to commit suicide because they had the misfortune to be gang raped, a charge sheet not being filed can’t exactly be proof of “frivolous”. Even if it was, 82% cases getting chargesheets filed and 18% being “frivolous” is nowhere near “misuse of 498(A)”

Now for the “damning fact”:

However, 5,739 men have been convicted but more than four times that number have been acquitted (24,127)

So, we consider the total men getting judgment as 5,739 + 24,127 = 29,866. A conviction is about having evidence and  proving the case convincingly in court. Geelani is acquitted. Strangely, it is this same bunch of idiots also saying that he shouldn’t have been. Why one standard for those acquitted in a dowry case, and another for a terrorism case, when the laws for both are “flawed”? Anyway, logic has little to do with these claims. Moving on.

This 5,739 men convicted means a 9.8% conviction rate. This is being interpreted as misuse of dowry act, so let us see what else is being used in the country to hassle innocents, right?

According to Times of India:

Of the 1.37 lakh IPC cases pending before various magisterial and civil and sessions court in Mumbai in 2006, just about 2,512, or 1.83%, ended in convictions , while a bulk-6 ,366 cases-resulted in acquittal orders. More than 92% of the cases remained pending.

Should we scrap the entire Indian Penal Code, while we are at it? No? Think again:

The trend worsened in 2010, when of the total 1.68 lakh criminal cases awaiting justice, the prosecution could secure conviction orders in just 1,948 cases, plunging the conviction rate to an all-time low of 1.15%.

Now, should we scrap the IPC? Its not working in Thane either:

The conviction rate in cases filed by the Thane police commissionerate has never touched the 1% mark in the last five years. From 0.31% in 2006, the conviction rate slipped to 0.26% in 2010. Out of the 69,481 cases pending in various courts in Thane in 2006, only 218 cases ended in conviction orders, while 2,472 resulted in acquittals,

What do you say? If something with a conviction rate of 9.8% is misuse, then this is absolute total misuse, right? When are you trying to get rid of the entire penal code? Go read that article. All the numbers in it are worse than this one. Another article, again TOI.

Maharashtra saw the second-highest number of FIRs filed for sexual harassment in 2010.

Earlier in the same article:

An abysmal 5% of sexual harassment cases decided in Maharashtra last year resulted in the accused being convicted, way below the all-India average of 52 %.

Hmm… maybe we should scrap the sexual harassment laws in Maharashtra alone. Conviction rate as a measure of the utility of the law is plain old ignorance of the legal system. I refuse to take responsibility for your stupidity.

Anyway, you get the idea. Get a calculator, open up a google search and figure this one out for yourself if you still don’t get it.

Moving on, there is a minor claim to dispose.

99.8% dowry cases r false as per law ministry report

Don’t go hassling this guy, because this is a very popular claim. No one knows where it originated. No one has provided me a link to such a law ministry report. This one is beyond stupid, because the number of dead bodies and hospitalizations alone crosses 0.2% of all dowry cases. This time, do the googling yourself, because even if you counted individual reports, you’d get enough hits to debunk this one. [Hint: If you use total number from above example, 58,319 then 0.2% of it is 116.6 cases. In the entire year, were there those many dowry deaths and hopitalizations? Now add the cases that don't make it to the media and the cases that don't involve death or hospitalization, because the complaint was filed on time.]

Then there is this bizarre cult AIMWA that has come up that claims

Out of 100000 men surveyed during that one year, 98% of men faced severe domestic violence at the hands of their wives.

I say cult, because there are dozens of sites with almost the exact same content and claims.

The only problem with this statistic is that the people they surveyed may sound like a random sample of Indians, but in fact were the complaints their helpline got. No shit Sherlock! What did they expect? A men’s abuse helpline would get calls about tailoring classes?

This is like saying 100% of the population of India is under the age of 10 years, because you surveyed a primary school. This is like saying 40% of the population of India gets killed everyday, because the police helpline receives 40% their calls about deaths everyday. This statistic is more a reflection o9f lack of education than the reality of men.

To the best information I tried to find out, there was ZERO investigation attached. You can call them now and tell them your wife beats you, and you’re in their statistics. Hmm… no wonder they think the Dowry Act is being misused baselessly? After all, don’t we see ourselves in the world?

If these statistics were true, it is impossible that an account like mine that staunchly condemns abuse against women would have about 50% followers male and supporting me!!!

And it goes on and on. People WANT to believe women as evil creatures, and will quickly grab whatever authoritative sounding bullshit they come across without examining it too much, because they are in a hurry to use it. Media too, ever hungry for sensation likes these “popular” alternatives to the depressing thought of women victims. I have yet to see any media outlet debunk this bullshit of men being “equally” abused in India “by women”.

Does this mean that there is no domestic violence against men? Of course not. There is. And there needs to be more done to recognize it and support victims. At the same time, it is nowhere near “equal prevalence” as these sites like to claim. The great damage these people do with their rubbish claims is that they drown out genuine problems men face in piles of bull shit.

Does this mean that the Dowry Act is perfect? Of course not. It is a desperate measure to protect. It bends rules. At the same time, that bending is seen as a necessity because of the prevalence. Are there improvements possible? Of course, and several have been suggested, including a notable one to record all gifts at the wedding and sign off by both parties. Another one might be to keep copies of receipts all expensive “dowry” items provided as proof and make it more evidence based, but that will take time. Steps should be initiated to minimize the harm to men accused wrongly. At the same time, seeing as how there are far more women than men harmed, it is not a useful idea to remove the act completely and offer criminals impunity simply because their crimes happen in the privacy of homes and without neutral witnesses. The number of innocents harmed would be far higher, but they would be women, which is why many misogynists don’t care and would prefer to save the few men wrongly accused instead.

As for men claiming that they were falsely framed, show me the man who admitted that he harmed his wife for dowry! There was one person on Twitter who claimed that he had three cousins married and all three got falsely accused under the dowry act. Let me get this right. Three separate women from three separate houses enter your family and have the same police case against their husbands? Is it possible that they spoke the truth? Or are we supposed to take your word for the ultimate truth and condemn them for liars? You would, of course immediately report if your cousin actually asked for dowry? Bull shit. Worth considering, since I hardly know anyone at all with a dowry case filed against them – true or false – and this person has three cousins from the same family being accused of the same thing.

The other problem with these people is that their purpose with these strident accusations is to deny women the attention they need rather than make a cause for the needs of men. Their intent is to sabotage claims of women’s rights supporters and prevent any statements that show women as victims of men from remaining. This is less about the victimization of men, as it is the denial that women do suffer more discrimination than men – a fact well established in so many statistics, surveys, papers and more that it is like claiming the earth is flat.

Unfortunately, this attitude of aggressive fact writing leaves no room for the vulnerability of men. When I invited several to debate actions that could be taken to help men survivors of sexual abuse in conflict, exactly ZERO of them showed any interest. One actually went back to recommending that far more “common problems” like wives forcing husbands to watch soap operas be taken up first. This is the bullshit bandwagon.


More needs to be done to reduce the risk of harm to women because of the practice of dowry. A proactive approach would go a long way toward preventing dowry related crimes.

We have laws against dowry. The laws are not against dowry deaths and abuse alone, but the practice of dowry is illegal according to THE DOWRY PROHIBITION ACT, 1961. (Act No. 28 of 1961). Our policing of this is non-existent. It seems as though the law enforcement is apologetic and hesitant to enter people's personal space to enforce law. Personal space of course being defined as whatever people choose to define it, including illegal practices.

Shy smile of a bride in a Hindu wedding by kunjan detroja

As though "allowing" giving and taking dowry to happen is not a crime unless "crime" is committed. Conveniently forgetting that Dowry IS crime. Our police force is reactive rather than proactive, and there needs to be massive reform in terms of applying the writ of the law without waiting for complaint or worse, outrage after dowry deaths claim lives.

As a result, our main contact with dowry as a practice is through its victims. Dead women. Women in hospital. That is too little, too late. Not to mention an increasingly influential if illogical view that complaints of dowry and domestic abuse are just ways women victimize their in-laws out of greed.

Sure killers of women should be punished, but that is the punishment for murder. Where is the enforcing of the Dowry Prohibition Act unless a complaint is made?

  • If dowry happens off the public domain, then informers need to be cultivated among those where it is prevalent. Approach matrimonial services, recruit informers conduct stings and put people behind bars for accepting dowry WITHOUT the marriage happening and women and their reputations being hostage to retribution and thus silent. THAT will give any anti-dowry movement teeth.
  • Spend some money on public service ads - make heroes out of people whistle blowing dowry. Trigger more such heroes in society.
  • Publicize a helpline number for dowry people can call if they come to know of any wedding or domestic situation involving dowry.
  • Ask doctors to alert police about suspected mistreatment of women - regardless of whether the woman wants to complain or not. Even if every case cannot be investigated without specific details about abuse, enough alerts about a certain family should automatically trigger an investigation - possibly in collaboration with social workers. This will also help with domestic abuse.
  • Condemnation of dowry by religious leaders: Encourage religious leaders to openly condemn the practice of dowry and educate their followers.
  • Stop treating dowry and the abuse around it as a multiple choice answer. It is illegal. Period. If you see it happening, you don't need a victim's permission to tell the cops. Nor do cops need a victim's consent to investigate a crime. In fact, not having the victim's consent will keep her safer if she is not the one getting the family in trouble, and get the family cautious knowing that others have noticed and that they are under investigation.
  • Get into the space of the dowry doers, so that that space is no longer safe for them to operate in. THAT is how this is going to stop - not by providing a safe zone of allowed crimes and only acting when any spill over happens.
  • Drugs happen off public areas too. How do police combat drug trafficking? Same logic. Cultivate informers, infiltrate, set up stings, catch red handed, put behind bars. This MUST be done, or we might as well scrap  THE DOWRY PROHIBITION ACT, 1961, because abuse, injury and murder are covered by other regular laws too.
  • And other organizations or individuals can do it too. Inform your local police station that you will be pretending to accept/give dowry, and send them info on when they can do a sting. This kind of thinking should be encouraged in colleges.
  • There were some who called it entrapment. So? Dowry is still a crime. Do we call drug busts invalid because the undercover cop pretended to strike a deal? What kind of garbage logic is this?
  • Publicly show on national television and publicize highly a dowry bust. Let people know that the person they are making a dowry deal with could be setting them up for prison and there is no way of knowing if that person, or anyone who knows - relatives, friends, siblings.... could inform by simply calling the number you see everyday on TV. Make it known that that way lies destination prison. Highlight it. THAT is the best deterrent you will ever be able to create.
  • Be okay with being wrong - in investigating someone who isn't giving or taking dowry. That is the whole idea of investigation - finding out.
  • Make post mortems of women dead within 7 years of marriage mandatory. They are required by law. Enforce it. There should be an additional law punishing families that cremate or otherwise dispose the body before a post mortem can be conducted. Remember Naina Singh? It isn't such a rare incident. ENFORCE it.
  • Arrest cops who shield dowry crimes in India by preventing investigations as party to the crimes.
  • Many politicians are among those shielding and committing gender crimes. Allegations and suspicious coincidences must be immediately investigated. Any confirmed links should automatically disqualify that person for political space. No matter what their role or position.

This should do the trick. We have the laws. Now we need to get serious about them.

And then back it up with public service messages and in depth public debates around the practice of dowry. Blow the shroud of silence to bits and talk about this openly and take on the challenge.

Blow this practice of dowry out of the water. Finish it comprehensively. It can be done. Let us do it.