Tag Archive for Dowry deaths

A tribute to Satyarani Chadha, the face of India’s anti-dowry movement

Satyarani Chadha by Sheba Chhachi

With the demise of Satyarani Chadha, Indian women’s movement loses a stalwart warrior

By Juhi Jain

Satyarani Chadha, a stalwart of the 1980s anti-dowry movement in Delhi, a founder member ( along with Shahjehan Aapa) of ShaktiShalini, a women’s organization cum shelter for girls and women survivors of dowry and domestic violence, passed away this week. In her late 80s Satyaraniji was battling cancer and dementia for the last few years.

I met Satyaraniji (or Mataji as she was known to many) for the first time in the 80s at a meeting to discuss the dowry death of a young 19 year old girl in a posh locality in South Delhi. The distraught parents of the deceased girl sat numb staring into space, the atmosphere was heavy and no one knew what to do as the police had refused to register a case of murder.

Satyarani Chadha immediately took the parents to the police station and ensured that the FIR was recorded. Her words, ‘rone se kaam nahi chalta (it does not help to cry) hume apni betiyon ke liye sirf insaaf chahiye, tumhe hamari madad karni hogi (we want nothing short of justice for our daughters, you will have to help us)’ to the station officer resonated with a firm commitment to the cause for justice. The parents left the police station feeling confident and hopeful; young activists like me felt empowered and in control. This is how we have known Satyarani Chadha- strong, confident and ready to help. But she was not always like this.

Satyarani Chadha did not have the benefit of either vernacular or English education, nor the privileges of an elite class. She was a shy, middle class family woman until the tragic death of her 20 year old, six month pregnant daughter Kanchanbala, with 100% burns in her marital home. This event in 1979, 35 years ago changed her into an activist and a relentless crusader for women’s rights and justice. Along with the parents of over 20 dowry victims, she spent 27 years of stubborn pursuit and dogged determination, battling legal cases and visiting courts, till she finally got justice when the High Court upheld the conviction of her son-in-law for abetting Kanchanbala’s suicide.

Turning her grief into courage and deriving strength from her personal trauma Satyarani embarked on a life long struggle through her organization ShaktiShalini for women survivors facing domestic violence, dowry abuse and harassment in their marital homes. She spent many years guiding, counseling and supporting parents and girls facing harassment and violence at the hands of their husbands and in-laws for dowry.

Satyarani Chadha by Sheba Chhachhi

Sathyarani Chadha, staged portrait at Supreme Court, Delhi, 1991 (from Seven lives & a Dream) photo by Sheba Chhachhi

The image of Satyarani holding her daughters graduation photograph and sitting on the steps of the Supreme Court became synonomous with the anti dowry protests in the country. These were instrumental in bringing about two vital amendments to the anti dowry law of the nation, thus strengthening the rights of women and girls.

The first amendment, made in 1983, changed the definition of dowry in the law to include any demand for gifts at any time during the marriage. The second amendment was brought about in Section 113 A of the Indian Evidence Act (of 1986), according to which an abetment to suicide was presumed if a married woman killed herself within seven years of marriage and if her husband/in-laws had subjected her to any form of violence and cruelty.

I lost my daughter 35 years ago but in that process I saved thousands and thousands of others. But in the end, what did I get? He is alive, married and absconding, he is not in prison, but my daughter is dead. This disillusionment with law will always stay with me

But the victory in her daughter’s case and the reforms in the law were of little comfort for Satyarani Chadha. She said, “I lost my daughter 35 years ago but in that process I saved thousands and thousands of others. But in the end, what did I get? He is alive, married and absconding, he is not in prison,” she said of her son-in-law, “but my daughter is dead. This disillusionment with law will always stay with me.”

The Indian women’s movement will always remember Satyarani Chadha as a woman of grit and courage, with an undying perseverance and a staunch commitment to fight the social menace of dowry and violence in marital homes. She continued till the very end, a persistent struggle for women’s dignity, demanding from the government land on which shelters and homes for girls and women who were being harassed and subjected to violence in their marital homes could be built.

Satyaraniji, we salute and celebrate you, with fondness and admiration; we will undoubtedly miss your comforting presence but you will always dwell in our hearts inspiring, guiding and motivating us. At a time when the laws she helped strengthen are coming under adverse scrutiny by the Supreme Court with the judgment on no automatic arrests following 498A complaints, she will be more sorely missed. We must pledge to continue her struggle as it is not over still.

Featured photo: Satyarani Chadha, Anti- Dowry protest, Delhi 1981 by Sheba Chhachhi

SC judgment on anti dowry law sparks protests from women’s groups

dowry-death-india

Women’s rights activists are outraged as Supreme Court directs the police not to make immediate arrests under section 498A

By Team FI
Sparking nationwide outrage from women’s rights activists, the Supreme Court of India on Wednesday ruled that Section 498 (A) of the Indian Penal Code is used as “ weapon rather than shield by disgruntled wives” against the husband and his relatives.

The Apex court has further directed that the summary arrest on registration of the complaint must be stopped. Instead, the police must seek approval from a magistrate, stating good reasons for the need to arrest.

Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code was enacted in 1983 following a large number of dowry related murders where brides were murdered (mostly by burning) for not bringing enough dowry to the husband’s household as part of the marriage. Section 498A is a non- bailable offence and it protects women from being subjected to harassment and cruelty by her husband and his family.

After the introduction of the 498(A) several women came forward to lodge complaints of harassment against their husband’s relatives. The dowry demands were often accompanied by physical and mental violence. In these cases arrests following complaints were useful to stop the physical abuse. Indeed in the face of considerable societal consent and toleration both of dowry related torture and torture of women in the home, that these provisions of immediate arrest were found useful.

The judgment was delivered by Justice Chandramauli Kr. Prasad and Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose in petition filed by Anresh Kumar. “The fact that Section 498-A is a cognizable and non-bailable offence has lent it a dubious place of pride amongst the provisions that are used as weapons rather than shields by disgruntled wives. The simplest way to harass is to get the husband and his relatives arrested under this provision” states the judgment.

“It is a terrible judgment that takes the clock back over four decades” says Kavita Srivastava of People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). Kavita Srivastava demands that the Bihar government should move a curative petition challenging the judgment.

The court has also issued a set of directions to the state and the Police ‘to prevent unnecessary arrest and causal and mechanical detention.” The directions are:

a) All the State Governments to instruct its police officers not to automatically arrest when a case under Section 498-A of the IPC is registered but to satisfy themselves about the necessity for arrest under the parameters laid down above flowing from Section 41, Cr.PC;

b) All police officers be provided with a check list containing specified sub- clauses under Section 41(1)(b)(ii);

c) The police officer shall forward the check list duly filed and furnish the reasons and materials which necessitated the arrest, while forwarding/producing the accused before the Magistrate for further detention;

d) The Magistrate while authorising detention of the accused shall peruse the report furnished by the police officer in terms aforesaid and only after recording its satisfaction, the Magistrate will authorise detention;

e) The decision not to arrest an accused, be forwarded to the Magistrate within two weeks from the date of the institution of the case with a copy to the Magistrate which may be extended by the Superintendent of police of the district for the reasons to be recorded in writing;

f) Notice of appearance in terms of Section 41A of Cr.PC be served on the accused within two weeks from the date of institution of the case, which may be extended by the Superintendent of Police of the District for the reasons to be recorded in writing;

g) Failure to comply with the directions aforesaid shall apart from rendering the police officers concerned liable for departmental action, they shall also be liable to be punished for contempt of court to be instituted before High Court having territorial jurisdiction.

h) Authorising detention without recording reasons as aforesaid by the judicial Magistrate concerned shall be liable for departmental action by the appropriate High Court.

i) We hasten to add that the directions aforesaid shall not only apply to the cases under Section 498-A of the I.P.C. or Section 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, the case in hand, but also such cases where offence is punishable with imprisonment for a term which may be less than seven years or which may extend to seven years; whether with or without fine.

j) We direct that a copy of this judgment be forwarded to the Chief Secretaries as also the Director Generals of Police of all the State Governments and the Union Territories and the Registrar General of all the High Courts for onward transmission and ensuring its compliance “

Copy of the judgment

Featured photo courtesy: Zubaan Books