‘A law made to save lives…has taken many lives’ reads the tagline at the end of the trailer of ‘Martyrs of Marriage’ a feature-length documentary film on the misuse of section 498 A in the Indian Penal Code. Deepika Narayan Bhardwaj took four years to make this film on the misuse of section 498A.
Bhardwaj spent all her life savings on the project that focuses on the misuse of IPC 498A–that deals with a husband or his relative subjecting the wife to cruelty. A 2015 report estimates that roughly 10 percent of dowry cases filed are false. MoM focuses on the victims of these cases: Men and their families. Bayside Journal spoke to Bhardwaj for the same. Excerpts:
What inspired you to make the film?
Four years ago I came across several instances around me including one in my own family where the issue was absolutely different, but it was projected as issue of dowry and domestic violence. Absolutely made-up allegations were levelled against the family and the family was in extreme trauma because of all these false allegations. It was kind of a shock for me as to how things like this can happen. When you have not committed a crime, then how can you be accused of a crime?
What was the sort of research you did for this film?
I went to police stations and gathered data. I had a lot of conversations with people and visited courts to read several judgements where the courts had come down on the misuse of 498A. I came across the ‘Save Indian Family’ organisation where I met men and women who were going through incidents of harassment such as these; I wanted to understand the problems that they are going through. I went through articles, the National Crime Bureau’s records and spoke to lawyers during my research period. I even went through several Supreme Court judgements and spoke to female police officers and retired judges to have a better understanding of both sides.
How did you start work on the Rohtak case?
I was having a conversation with my friends from MRA (men’s rights activists) after I blindly believed the version the girls and the media were telling. We kept arguing about it. One of the acquaintances challenged me to go enquire about it. I came back with two reports on this incident. And it turned out was that these girls had done similar things with a lot of people. They would hit people and then make videos so that they could claim they were being molested. Then there would be a compromise or a settlement after which they would drop the case. All of these things were documented and after my reports were out more and more people wanted to talk to me about the cons that these girls were.
You can check the report here
What’s your biggest takeaway from Martyrs of Marriage?
The story of Uma Challa; she is one of the case studies in the documentary. Her brother wanted to part ways with his wife (Uma’s sister-in-law) on good terms. But there were false allegations levelled upon Uma that she was mentally harassing her sister-in-law over phone from USA. Also that she called her sister-in-law’s mother stupid. So these were the kinds of allegations that were there in an extremely serious offence under 498A. Uma had to quit her studies abroad and come back to India to face trial. She fought for five long years. But they kept fighting and eventually won the case. She fought it really hard and also went on to become an activist. It’s her story that really inspires me a lot.
Solution to curb the misuse of 498A
A lot of people have this plea that 498A be completely abolished. One section demands absolute repeal of the law, while the other section wants it to be bailable. Personally, I feel if the false accusers start getting punished for filing frivolous cases, then the problem can be solved to a great extent. Another thing is make the law gender neutral and bring a false case punishment clause so that nobody can misuse it.