My colleague recieved a call from a beleaguered tribal woman of the Paraswada block of Balaghat district in Madhya Pradesh. This lady reported that she had been beaten up by her husband and in-laws in her marital home. She had reported the matter to the police. The police booked her husband and in-laws under section 151 of the Indian Penal Code. She had called my colleague, who had earlier worked in Balaghat, to know what the section 151 was related too.
Colleague to me, “Natalia, quick! Check what is the Section 151 of the Indian Penal Code about.”
Me, “Yup looking it up now. What’s the matter? Colleague narrated the details to me.
Google result: Section 151 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 (Yes, 1860!) – Knowingly joining or continuing in assembly of five or more persons after it has been commanded to disperse. It is an offence against public tranquility which essentially means preventing a riot-like situation and/or for curbing rioting.
This lead to a volley of questions which I am sure sounded hare-brained and insensitive to the caller.
Me to colleague, “Ask her if she was beaten up outside the house? How many people beat her?”
Colleague to caller, “Didi, were you beaten up outside the house? How many people beat you?
Caller to colleague, “Inside the house only. 4 people – My husband, my brother-in-law and my parents-in-law.”
I told my colleage that the accused were not booked for domestic violence at all and we had to communicate the same to the lady. We told the lady that the offence should have been registered under section 498A of the Indian Penal Code which deals with domestic violence and other ugly aspects of a bad marriage and to check if she could get someone from PRADAN, Balaghat to help her. End of the call.
Section 498 of the Indian Penal Code is a cognizable, non-bailable and non-compoundable offence.
- Cognizable: The police are legally bound to register and investigate a cognizable offence.
- Non-Bailable: This means that the magistrate has the power to refuse bail and remand a person to judicial or police custody.
- Non-Compoundable: A non-compoundable case cannot be withdrawn by the petitioner. Andhra Pradesh is an exception.
The call had left my colleague and myself angry, frustrated and even helpless. Here was a rural, tribal woman who hadn’t completed school and yet was well aware of her rights. She had faced violence at the hands of her own family and in her own home. She had rightly taken the matter to the police. The police instead of doing what was required of them by the law simply made their work easy by registering an ‘offence’ that did not take place i.e. they reported that they tried to shoo away the accused from a public place, the accused did not obey and hence they filed a complaint!
Is it any wonder then that perpetrators of abuse believe that they can get away with it? Is it any wonder that the police are vilified across the board for not acting against crimes agaisnt women? The police can do nothing to stop someone from getting violent inside their homes but that does not mean that they refuse to fulfill their legal duties when such a crime is brought to their notice, even if the victim is poor and underprivileged.
Anyway, it is absurd to expect the law to take its course in uneducated, underprivileged tribal India.