The Supreme Court on Wednesday brought some relief to husbands slapped with cooked-up dowry cases by estranged wives, saying the police can no longer ''automatically'' arrest the accused in such cases.
A bench of Justices Chandramauli Kumar Prasad and Pinaki Chadra Ghose called the anti-dowry law itself ''dubious'', while expressing concern over the misuse of Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) by disgruntled wives against in-laws and husbands.
The court asked state governments to ensure that the police don't go on an arresting spree in dowry harassment cases, which currently they are quick to do.
The attitude to arrest-first and then proceed with the case was "despicable" and must be curbed, the bench said, adding that police would have to give reasons and proof of dowry harassment to a magistrate before making an arrest.
Section 498-A was introduced to combat the rampant harassment of women by husbands and their families. ''The fact that it is a cognisable and non-bailable offence has lent it a dubious place of pride amongst the provisions that are used as weapons rather than a shield by disgruntled wives,'' the bench said.
Quoting crime statistics, the court said nearly a quarter of those arrested under the section in 2012 were women - most of them mothers and sisters of the husband.
Added to the Indian Penal Code in 1983, 498-A provides for maximum imprisonment of three years and a fine; it increases the maximum sentence under the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 which was two years.
''As the arrest curtails freedom, brings humiliation and casts scars forever ... we believe that no arrest should be made only because the offence is non-bailable and cognisable,'' the court said.
Magistrates too would have to put on record that the reasons given by the police justified detention, the court said. Failure to do so would invite departmental action and amount to contempt of court.
The order came on a petition filed by a man from Bihar seeking anticipatory bail in a dowry harassment case filed by his wife.
Concerned over its abuse, the Law Commission and Parliament's standing committee on home affairs had recommended that offences under Section 498A IPC be made compoundable, so that they can be settled between the parties concerned without police intervention.