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Old couple lose house, blame misuse of dowry Act

LUCKNOW: First the context. In 1994, in the case of Joginder Kumar vs State of UP, the supreme court made the following observations. That under section 498 A (Dowry Harassment) of the Indian Penal Code, "No arrest could be made in a routine manner or on a mere allegation of commission of an offence made against a person." This judgment was on the merits of this case alone; but in subsequent rulings, the supreme court and high courts have routinely also said that arrests, especially under 498 A, should only be made "after some investigation as to the genuineness and bonafides of a complaint", where family members, especially senior citizens and minors are involved. Following the SC guidelines, in fact, police departments across the country have also issued circulars saying that allegations against family members must be established to a reasonable extent before action is taken. "The supreme court has only issued guidelines based on the merit of cases. Implementing those guidelines, however, is the responsibility of the state authorities," says R P Chugh, advocate, supreme court. Incidentally, the supreme court has also ruled that a wife has access to the 'household' that she has 'shared' with her husband. This, however, is also being flouted. In fact, the 'misuse' of the Dowry Harassment Act is an open secret. Take the instance of Lucknow-based Asha Rani Agarwal and her husband, Gopal Chand Agarwal. The septuagenarian couple disowned their son and daughter-in-law in 2007 and severed contact with the couple owing to a family dispute. In 2008, however, the couple got entangled in a legal battle involving dowry harassment. Interestingly, despite having no legal rights over the house and with the legal battle still on in court, the daughter-in-law has allegedly taken possession of the old couple's home, thereby forcing them to take refuge in a local 'dharamshala'. Though DIG Rajeev Krishna has taken cognizance of the offence and has also ordered the lodging of an FIR into the matter, the couple have still not been reinstated into their homes. "When we informed the police on March 29, local officers took us to the house and left us at the doorstep. After that, we were not only denied entry but also beaten up. My husband was admitted to Balrampur Hospital where he is being treated for his wounds," says Asha Rani Agarwal. Despite official records proving that they disowned their son and his family, and other records proving their forceful eviction, the Agarwals are still awaiting justice.