In 2005, in the case of Sushil Kumar vs. Union of India, the Supreme Court classified the misuse of Section 498A as legal terrorism. This law had been in effect for over two decades, leading to numerous innocent men and women being thrown unjustly behind bars. Despite Supreme Court concerns, no reduction in false cases under Section 498A occurred. In 2014, the Supreme Court in Arnesh Kumar vs. State of Bihar stated that innocent individuals were still being sent to jail under this law without proper investigation. The court emphasized that no man or his family could be arrested under this section without a thorough inquiry.
Legal experts believe that Section 498A is the Indian legislation that is most frequently abused. Originally designed to stop dowry-related harassment of married women, it has been weaponized by women seeking retribution for disagreements in their marriages. Many women have used Section 498A as a weapon against their husbands, even in cases where the woman is the one who is genuinely abusive, cruel, involved with another guy, or just doesn’t like living with old in-laws. Although courts have acknowledged fake cases, during the past 40 years, few judgements have resulted in women being imprisoned or facing severe punishments if they are found guilty of forcing a false case.
A new law known as Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, Section 69 of the Indian Penal Code, is expected to be just as harmful, unilateral, and prone to widespread misuse. This legislation stipulates that a man faces up to ten years in prison if he initiates physical relations with a woman by making false promises of marriage, employment, or advancement without intending to follow through on them. According to this provision, it is even illegal to hide one’s identity in order to be married.
Reading this law for an ordinary person might not seem strange at first. It’s evident that forming physical relations by lying is wrong. But how will this law determine whether any form of deception occurred in consensual relationships? Simply based on the woman’s statement, it will be assumed that the man deceived her, leading to his arrest and prolonged legal proceedings. Even if it is eventually proven false, the man’s life could be ruined.
For the average person, reading this law might not seem unusual at first. It is obvious that lying is improper while establishing physical relationships. However, how would this law decide if relationships that were consensual involved any kind of deception? It will be presumed, just from the woman’s statement, that the man was dishonest, which resulted in his detention and drawn-out legal proceedings. The man’s life might be destroyed, even if it turns out to be untrue.
The question arises – what exactly do lawmakers intend with this law? Are they suggesting that empowered, educated women of the 21st century, fully aware of right and wrong, cannot resist falling for deceptive relationships and need legal protection? How can consensual relationships, formed with thought and understanding an adult woman, be categorized as a crime? If a person offers a job and fulfills the promise, will this law no longer consider it an offense? Does the law imply that creating physical relations for job or promotion is acceptable?
Before the introduction of Section 69, thousands of cases have been adjudicated in our justice system, where women, after years of consensual relationships or live-in arrangements, accused men of rape, claiming they were deceived into such relationships. I have highlighted cases where a single woman has accused multiple men accusing them all of rape by giving a false promise of marriage, leading to arrest of several innocent men. Recently, the Madhya Pradesh High Court dismissed a rape on false promise of marriage case, stating that the woman had filed three similar cases in different cities, yet she faced no consequences.
As Section 69 stems squarely from the perspective of rape on false promise of marriage, with the aspect of rape being carved out from the provision, extreme misuse of this law is undeniable. If any relationship breaks for any reason, the woman can accuse the man of offering a false promise of marriage, leading to his arrest. Whether the relationship lasted a day or ten years, if the man refuses marriage, the woman can file a case, as the law does not specify the duration or the period within which the man’s intention can be judged to be deceptive. In workplace affairs going wrong, the woman can claim that she was deceived on false promise of job or promotion.
Looking at National Crime Records Bureau data, in 2015, cases of rape on false promise of marriage constituted 21% of total reported rape cases in India. By 2021, this figure had risen to 51%. Clearly, women began using such allegations against men for various reasons.
In December 2022, the Odisha High Court urged lawmakers to seriously consider the validity of laws concerning consensual sex based on false promises of marriage. In this case, the accused, despite providing bail, faced a legal battle initiated by a woman he was in a live-in relationship with. The judge, Dr. Sanjeeb Kumar Panigrahi, stated that laws should not be used to regulate intimate relationships, especially where women have agency and willingly enter into relationships. He further emphasized that the law-makers explicitly excluded such situations in the context of Section 375 of the IPC concerning ‘consent.’
In December 2021, a sessions court in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, acquitted a man accused of rape based on false promises of marriage. The allegation was made by a woman with whom he was in a live-in relationship. The court argued that, despite being married, the woman willingly engaged in a live-in relationship, proving that she had full knowledge of the nature of the relationship and was a willing partner. The court concluded that consensual sexual relations between the parties could not be termed as rape.
It is essential to rethink and redefine laws like Section 69, considering the complexities of consensual relationships and ensuring they don’t become tools for revenge or manipulation.
In India, there have been cases where women, despite being married, have accused a man of rape by falsely promising marriage after having extramarital affair with him. Instances have been reported where women, after having prolonged affairs of 5, 10, or 15 years, falsely accused men of rape by deceitfully promising marriage. There are also cases where adult women filed cases against underage boys, alleging rape due to false promises of marriage. Such misuse of Section 375 has already raised concerns in Judiciary and it is important to consider the implications before introducing new laws.
The Allahabad High Court has observed that false rape cases are surging, especially after long-term relationships break, and women file rape cases based on false promises of marriage. Before enacting new laws, it would have been prudent for the government to thoroughly contemplate and discuss such provision.
According to this law, the entire responsibility of physical relationships lies solely with men, absolving women completely. This law is inherently discriminatory, biased, and promotes prejudice, necessitating a reevaluation to prevent unwarranted damage to lives.
The Indian legal system had an opportunity to make laws equal for everyone, irrespective of gender, particularly addressing physical, mental, and sexual violence against men. Instead, the government has introduced laws that exacerbate gender-based terrorism. When will our justice system see the consequences of the misuse of these laws resulting in suicides among men? Who is responsible for these young deaths, and how long will society tolerate this injustice against men and their families?
India has collectively taken a stand against abuse of its daughters and it’s an effort worth an applaud. But why is India completely neglecting its sons? It’s a question that must be raised in a just and equal society especially with its committed aspirations to become a developed country in next two decades.