489 A- A Psychological Perspective – 12 Jan 2011

The law is a very good based on democratic, egalitarian and libertarian principles. The law is based on the assumption of equal rights to both man and woman to live a life of dignity and respect. The woman has equal rights to work to earn her livelihood and enjoy freedom to decide her life. Hence the law is good but it is the attitudes of the people that are troublesome which makes them abuse / misuse the law. It is the attitudes of both the man and the woman that needs to be questioned and put to examination. Wrong/ perverse/ abnormal attitudes of man makes him think that the woman must bring huge dowry, that she must obey him, must follow his rules, must be subordinate to him, must please him by all means possible, must be subservient to his parents, must work or must nor work according to his will, etc. Such attitudes can cause tremendous mental harassment to the woman and then if he also eventually subjects her to violence and abuse to impose his will on her it becomes physical cruelty. In such a case it becomes necessary to evoke the law by the woman.

Wrong/ perverse/abnormal attitudes of woman who think that she can nag/rag him on issues, that it is the sole duty of the man to take care of her, who take the husband for granted to fulfill all her unjust needs and to provide her with all luxuries of life, will take recourse to the law not for justice but to take revenge and to ‘teach him a lesson’ if he goes wrong in some way.

The law should be evoked only when there is continuous violence and mental cruelty of the woman in a marriage and there seems to be no end to it. In other words, the law should be evoked only when all strategies of coping with the situation and resolving the marital crisis between spouses have failed and violence and harassment continues in the marriage.

There are many individual coping strategies that people use to resolve conflict between their partners in marriage and if all efforts fail to give any good results, couples should seek professional help from a psychologist and marriage counselor. This neutral third party psychological intervention becomes a must for two reasons; one is to analyze the marital crisis from all angles and identify the causes for conflict between the partners and two, is to find appropriate remedies for the same by planning regular sessions of individual therapy, couple therapy and family sessions. In the majority of cases violence and abuse stops as the counseling and the negotiation process proceeds. In some cases where there is non-compliance to the process of counseling and where violence re-erupts and continues, the couple should be separated and asked to live in different homes. If there is no headway in reconciliation between the couple and the violence continues, divorce should be recommended to the couple. If that too fails as a solution to be agreed by both parties, the law of IPC 498 A can be evoked as the last resort to save lives and further abuse. The reasons for violence and abuse in a marital situation can be various.

It is important for people to know the different reasons for marital conflict and discord. Marital discord can be due to the following reasons –
a. Incompatibility or different personalities or differences in opinions in major areas of life.
b. Unmet physical and emotional needs of either of the spouses.
c. Too high expectations from either side, about life style, money, sex, children.
d. Infidelity or extra marital affairs by either side.
e. Physical cruelty like violence, rape, abuse, etc
f. Mental cruelty like demands for money, harassment on various issues by in-laws in daily routine household matters, continuous hurting comments and  questioning etc.
g. Personality disorders like histrionic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, etc.
h. Psychological / psychiatric disturbances in any of the spouse like Paranoia, Schizophrenia, Depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder etc.

As a psychologist the main point for us to ponder on deeply relates to the attitudes and the behaviour of both the individuals who get married and the behavior of the family and specially the in- laws. Physical cruelty can be defined by physical violence resulting in physical injury, harm. If there are repeated acts of violence by the husband the behavior becomes criminal and the law can be evoked. The excessive demands for sexual intercourse and for experimental sex which the wife may be unwilling to indulge in may also be placed in this category. Forced sex may lead to assault and rape by the husband.

Mental cruelty is more difficult to define. Continuous verbal abuse of the wife, abusing her parents, asking for money from her parents, not allowing her to do a job, forcing her to comply with everything her in laws ask her to do, arm twisting her to do things their way, no freedom of movement etc can lead to mental harassment of the woman which could lead to psychological distress and illness such as depressions, psychosomatic complaints and hysteria.

Attitudes towards women that need to be challenged– old attitudes would want the “bahu” to be docile, submissive, take care of domestic duties and care for the parents and also work and earn money but not make her career the top priority. The thought that the wife has secondary position in the family and that the man is primary is rampant in our society. Social attitudes many times condone hitting, beating and shouting at the wife. ‘So what if I beat my wife, so what if I shout at her, so what if she has to do all the work, so what if she has to listen to the in laws’ are common attitudes being expressed by men and society all the time. This type of thinking acts as mental blocks to the concept of equality and freedom for the wife. Such attitudes infringe upon her human rights to live a life of dignity and respect.

The 498A law is based on the assumption that women have equal rights as the man to live a life of dignity. This fact has to be understood by the men and the women not only in its letter but also in its spirit totally before a rational discussion can be done. The law is progressive in thought and spirit but the society’s perverse cultural norms and social practices are still not entirely egalitarian as far as women are concerned. It also means that we have to agree first that the old thinking of the subjugation of women is wrong and that the modern thinking of equality of men and women is right. We have to stand  together first on this basic assumption before we can proceed into the discussion in a proper manner.

A perverse mind will not understand the concept of equality of women and hence will not accept the modern law as valid. In such a case the good law stands condemned by such a category of people.

To repeat, the law needs to be evoked when all other strategies fail to stop the violence and the harassment that makes the life of the woman miserable for normal functioning. Actually, in the case of a marriage that breaks down beyond repair the best solution is separation and then divorce. It is the aggrieved party that would want the divorce and it may happen that the other party declines to agree for divorce for reasons that are emotional and irrational. If this solution also fails to be acceptable to one member the law could be evoked to seek justice. 

It should however be the last resort.

It also has to be understood by women that once the law is evoked, the marriage breaks down further to a point of becoming irretrievable because of the fall out of the law. The police arrests of the husband and his family (if they have been implicated too), the social disgrace and shame, the police and public humiliation all leads to bad feelings and a total breakdown of the bonds of relationship. The ensuing bitterness and hostility between the two opposing parties makes enemies out of them where no further bonding is possible. This is ironic as the very purpose of the law which is to save the woman and settle her back into the family is defeated. Justice comes only in the form of punishment of the erring man and his family. Justice does not come in the form of rehabilitating the woman respectfully in the family. In fact she is most likely to be totally rejected by the family after they have suffered the law.

If the woman is ready for such an ultimate effect of the use of the law she should evoke the law.

However, it is not the law that needs to be condemned but its misuse and hence its improper use. The misuse occurs primarily on the sentiment of seeking revenge and vengeance. A woman who has suffered and felt victimized has the choice to break the marriage and seek divorce. That is the most rational decision to take. However in some cases she may not opt for a rational solution like divorce but may instead decide to evoke the law only for the purpose of seeking revenge and punishing him. Such a thing needs to be condemned in strong words.

Take another example. If a man has fallen out of love with his wife and wants to end the marriage through divorce the woman may disagree for divorce and may instead resort to punish him through the law by making a false case of violence against her husband. In such cases the specific law of 498 A is being used as a tool by some women to punish, victimize, harass and seek vengeance from the husband. This is a clear case of misuse of the law and needs to be condemned. A point to note for the legal community here would be to realize that when a marriage which has failed beyond redemption, to reject a divorce petition would not serve any purpose. For, when the soul is lost there is no wisdom in trying to keep the shell intact. When there is no ‘marriage’ left in spirit between the couple the stamp of legality on a marriage serves no purpose.

If two people who have been married for some time and now cannot live with each other for some reasons (mentioned above), and if all the strategies of reconciliation including counseling have failed, the best possible solution would be a mutual divorce. This would ensure a peaceful breakup of the marriage with minimum harm to both the parties. When one spouse decides to be vindictive and teach a lesson to the other they take the law into their own hands and make a mess of whole thing.

The marital crisis then becomes a sordid battle which is fought in full public glare and the end result is only further pain, suffering and emotional trauma to all. Such scars may remain for life and mar the personalities of all persons concerned. More so, the children are worst affected, if there are any.

Published in The Hitavada Womens World – 12 January 2011

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