The conversation around Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, a provision that addresses marital cruelty, is saturated with the discourse of ‘misuse’, and the belief that it is the province of ‘scheming wives’ making ‘false allegations’. However, not all cases filed under Section 498A reach the courtroom at all. Before cases go to trial, the police conduct an investigation, and may close the case if it is found to be ‘false’ or the result of a ‘misunderstanding’. This paper explores the trajectory of such cases through interviews with women and stakeholders, and analysis of police reports. It was found that women approach lawyers and the police when they are facing violence they are unable to tolerate, to leverage police intervention. Laywers direct them to Section 498A to leverage the pressure of arrest. Women agree to close the case once some degree of ‘compromise’ has been effected by the police. The number of these ‘false’ cases paradoxically feeds the discourse of misuse, and judicial reluctance to convict. Women continue to turn to the state for support in ending violence. There is thus an urgent need for a vastly improved network of social services and better connections between multiple women-centric laws.
Anjali DaveTata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, India