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BW Businessworld

The Future Of Firebomb Feminism

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Modern attitudes to permissive relationships may have served to greatly enrich the lives of some business executives but the price they come at doesn’t receive quite the same attention. You will be amazed at the energy we lawyers put into privately advising managerson the fallouts of office romances! I will put it to you bluntly: bad performance apart, the biggest risk you face right now in getting chucked out of your job comes from your ex-lover embarrassing both of you with a nasty criminal case. And why might that be, you may well ask?

Let me explain. One of the mind numbing ideological generalisations of our times is that Indian women can’t be protected enough because all Indian women are oppressed. In the upshot, progressively more draconian pro-women laws and procedures have been promoted in a politically correct nightmare of activist frenzy and anyone who opposes this has been labelled a monster who should be ritually drawn and quartered on Main Square at high noon. The result is a class of litigation that is providing windfall gains to many very angry women. Two are particularly lethal: (1) Section 498A which seeks to punish a husband or his relatives for being cruel to a married woman, and (2) Section 375, i.e. Rape. To the first of these, I now turn.

In the decade or so that I practiced law in the trial courts in the 1990s, it was standard operating procedure for all divorce lawyers representing the wife to look at screwing the husband in a busted marriage under two different laws: anti-dowry provisions and Sec 498A of the Indian Penal Code. It made perfect sense. By the time the case was in court, it was all about the money anyway. So dowry laws allowed us to walk into the husbands home and pick up practically everything of value on the ground that it came with the wife, whether it did or not. Truth never interfered with a good opportunity. As for the rest, we targeted the in-laws to pressure the husband into a generous financial settlement. There was a catch though: the cops were always sceptical and it was sweaty work.

Strident feminism in the decades since has changed this. Today, if you make a 498A allegation, the cops immediately scoop up everyone you name regardless of age or gender and consign them to the dungeons. Quicker than you can say Bail Bond, the husband’s family buy their peace and pay off the wife. The ones that don’t or can’t, spend the same or even more money to engage in the ultimate rich man’s hobby: criminal litigation. High Courts around the country – and that include Delhi, Jharkhand, Karnataka, and Punjab and Haryana - have been alarmed at these shenanigans. Finally, the Supreme Court has now intervened in a case featuring the usual story of dowry demands by the in-laws. [Arnesh Kumar v State of Bihar in Criminal Appeal 1277 of 2014 decided July 2nd, 2014].Some of the court’s observations are truly enlightening.

From statistics published by the National Crime Records Bureau (“Crime in India 2012”), the Supreme Court learnt that in 2012, 192,762 people were arrested under 498A, up by 9.4 per cent from 2011. Some 4.5 per cent of all crimes reported nationwide were Section 498A crimes! It gets worse: 6 per cent of all people arrested by the cops across India were accused of 498A crimes. Here’s the irony: a quarter of those arrested were women! The court also noted that of the 372,706 cases pending under this provision, 317,000 were likely to result in acquittal! Naturally, the court could see the location of the one true sin in the matrimonial city. Naturally, it reminded the police that arrests should be made only where necessary. It even created a procedure for the police to follow when they made – or chose not to make – an arrest, and that includes recording reasons for making arrests. The upshot I guess then is that while the police still retain great discretion to screw the groom, every broken marriage will not immediately lead to an arrest.

Unfortunately, no such optimistic note can be tooted about the ever expanding incredible reports of rapes that now do the rounds of TV and print media every day. I live in India’s ‘Rape Capital’ and I read a lot of papers. A fair number of cases are about willingly accompanying the accused to some out of the way place or thinly populated block of flats and then being raped after consuming a drug laced drink. In a variation of the theme, ladies accompany friends (who they sometimes meet on social media) to hotels and then get raped by them.

On a ball park, about half of the reports I read are about women who say their consent was obtained on the promise of a job or a marriage. Clearly, as the law is currently being administered by the cops, sleeping with someone in exchange for a job is fine but to then fail to provide such a job is not a breach of contract, it is rape. Agreeing to live with someone without marrying him for a decade or more is fine but if the women then decide that she wants to get married, and he doesn’t immediately agree, she has been retrospectively raped for a decade. What remains after you exclude all these pumped up distortions is what the Nirbhaya type horror is really about: infants and minor girls violated, village girls picked up by hoods and gang raped and so forth. It seems like the Rape Capital has exaggerated its achievements.

Look at the statistics: our Rape Capital reported 1,441 rapes in 2014 of which presumably half are genuine cases. In comparison, the Rape Capital also reported 1,693 road accidents in which 1725 people died in 2013 of which presumably half were women. Clearly, awoman has a greater chance of dying on the road than of being violated. How come I don’t see every traffic accident followed up with wholesale arrest of all the accomplices (people sitting in the car), long period of detention, bitter court battles for bail, sensational news reports, 20 year jail terms? Isn’t that because a car crash has no ideological bias?

Even the Delhi High Court has had enough of the monkey circus. The week before the court closed for vacations at the end of May 2014, we had three different judges dealing with false cases. Justice G.P.Mittal and Justice Suresh Kait quashed two different FIRs, one claiming rape of a minor and the other of a young executive. Later that week, Justice Kailash Ghambir faced a case of a girl who had consensual sex for two years and then claimed rape because the guy wouldn’t marry her. The judge couldn’t bring himself to sympathise with the girl’s plea that she was being threatened and blackmailed by the boy and ran the risk of being killed if she blurted out the truth. He took the view that rape cases were being used as “a weapon for vengeance and vendetta”. I can add blackmail and coercion. If you are a young business executive facing a failing marriage or are just someone who had adopted a permissive lifestyle, you are right on course for a tryst with 498A, rape or both.

So what is the nutshell here? If you are a women and live in India’s Rape Capital, the good news is that you are at a much lower risk of rape than sensationalists would have you believe. The bad news is that if you marriage falls apart, in an environment where the court system works really really slowly, getting a satisfactory settlement just got harder because Sec 498 lost its coercive power. On the other hand, if you are a man, the good news is that courts are beginning to push back the crazy laws that are making victims of grooms. The bad news is that while the courts may still be sympathetic to your plight, it’s going to take a legal eagle charging a fancy fee a lot of sweat, toil and tears to get you out of the crap-hole.

(The author is managing partner of the Gurgaon-based corporate law firm N South. He is the author of “Winning Legal Wars” and “Bullshit Quotient: Decoding India’s corporate, social and legal Fine Print”. He can be contacted at [email protected]).