By Anindya Chatterjee
(Editor’s note: Ever since India-West’s award-winning 2005 article on the abuse of Indian dowry laws was published, we continue to receive mail from men who say they have been accused of demanding dowry, and are unfairly victimized by their wives who invoke Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code. One such Indian American man, Anindya Chatterjee, tells his story here.)
Recently I came across a travel advisory issued by [the United States Customs and Immigration Service] back in May 2004. Among the various issues faced by India at that time, one section read “Dowry/Visa Demands.”
As per the advisory, “A number of U.S. citizen men who have come to India to marry Indian nationals have been arrested and charged with crimes related to dowry extraction. Many of the charges stem from the U.S. citizen’s inability to provide an immigrant visa for his prospective spouse to travel immediately to the United States. The courts sometimes order the U.S. citizen to pay large sums of money to his spouse in exchange for the dismissal of charges. The courts normally confiscate the American’s passport, and he must remain in India until the case has been settled. There are also cases of U.S. citizen women whose families force them against their will into marriages to Indian nationals.”
This advisory would have little interest to anyone unless someone actually undergoes the traumatic experience himself.
I am one such a victim of dowry harassment charges.
I am in the U.S. for almost a decade and call the U.S. my home. In early 2010, I got married to [name withheld], a resident of Dhakuria, Kolkata, who was an equally qualified working lady. After staying seven months in the U.S., she returned back to India in October of 2010. Unexpectedly in January 2012 she filed a cooked up complaint u/s 498A/406 IPC against me, with multiple allegations of dowry harassment and torture. Even my parents were implicated who stayed hardly for 25 days with her. Realizing the importance I immediately rushed back to India to help police in its investigation, but to my disbelief police issued a Lookout Circular (travel restriction) and the court also curtailed my freedom to travel based on just the verbal allegations.
Even before being proved guilty, I was already being treated like a criminal in my own country. As a result I abruptly lost my U.S. job and my life came to a halt. After more than a year and multiple requests, the court eventually allowed me to travel, while my entire family suffered enormous ignominy, depression and financial loss.
Till date even most Indian are unaware of the misuse of 498A. Nonresident Indians and U.S. citizens are the perfect prey since they are considered free ATMs with readymade immigration benefits to offer.
Recently the Supreme Court of India observed, “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 shield by disgruntled wives. The simplest way to harass is to get the husband and his relatives arrested under this provision. In a quite number of cases, bed-ridden grand-fathers and grand-mothers of the husbands, their sisters living abroad for decades are arrested. (Criminal Appeal No. 1277 OF 2014, http://judis.nic.in/supremecourt/imgs1.aspx?filename=41736, Supreme Court of India Criminal Appellate Jurisdiction).”
Eventually, I decided to legally fight back the false allegations levied against my family. The trial started in May 2014. Honorable 10th J.M, Alipore Court, Kolkata appreciated our effort for seeking justice and allowed for speedy trial. Finally on Nov. 17, 2014, the court honorably acquitted all of us since neither the complainant nor any prosecution witnesses were able to prove a single allegation of harassment or torture. While parting in its order, the court observed, “It cannot be ignored that the de facto complainant is highly qualified and is a working lady. Therefore in view of her level of consciousness, the cause of delay shown by the de facto complainant in the FIR cannot be considered as sufficient explanation. According to this court delay of more than 13 months in lodging the complainant itself designated it as ‘after thought.’”
One can read the full acquittal judgment at my blog.
Although my family is extremely happy that truth has prevailed, I still feel justice is not fully served as long as the Indian justice system fails to punish those who initiate such false cases. Isn’t punishing such persons also necessary to make sure law is not misused by such individuals?
I am slowly trying to concentrate on my career and regain the lost years fighting the false allegations. During the course of this traumatic ordeal I found many U.S.-based victims who are silently suffering in apprehension of losing a job, getting arrested, etc. Not just the Indian police and judiciary, even the society at large is quick to “assume” men guilty if the complainant happens to be a woman.
That is when I realized the importance of starting an online support group (Justice2NRI.org) to help such NRI men and their families who are victims like me. Within a year our group has grown to 90 members. Apart from supporting each other we also share our knowledge and experience.
It is high time the U.S. re-initiates the advisory against Indian dowry law misuse, to save innocent citizens and residents from being trapped with 498A.
(Anindya Chatterjee is a Los Angeles-based IT professional who currently volunteers with an Indian NGO working for men’s issues. — Editors)
Source: India West