Mon, Jul 07, 2003 - Page 9 News List

Bitterness of wives leads to abuse of India's anti-dowry laws

Women's rights groups in India are concerned that vendettas by some estranged wives could bring India's vital and hard-won anti-dowry laws into disrepute

By Amrhit Dhillon  /  THE OBSERVER , NEW DELHI

But women's groups have reacted to the judge's call with dismay. The All-India Democratic Women's Federation (AIDWA) has written to the chief justice of India urging him to deny a review.

"It's taken decades for women to pluck up the courage to use these laws and now they want to dilute them," said Brinda Karat, AIDWA president.

"There may well be a few cases of abuse. But dowry-related violence is so horrific that these laws are life-savers for women and it would be disastrous to dilute them. Dowry-hungry men will think they can get away with murder, literally," Karat said.

Too docile

As it is, she said, Indian women are so culturally conditioned to be docile that very few actually invoke them. AIDWA says only 40,000 cases were registered last year -- "not even a drop in the ocean" -- compared with the violence it says women experience over demands for more dowry.

Lawyer Rani Jethmalani, who specializes in dowry cases, also believes that the number of false cases are miniscule. Marriage is sacrosanct in India, she says, and women will go to any lengths to save theirs.

"I know women who have gone back to their husband and in-laws even after they tried to murder them. Given this attitude, how many will falsely accuse their husband, knowing it means the certain end of the marriage?" Jethmalani said.

If the chief justice agrees to a review, AIDWA, the National Commission for Women and other groups plan nation-wide protests.

"We fought long and hard for these laws," Brinda Karat said. "We're not going to give them up easily."

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