The Delhi High Court on Wednesday asked the Central and State governments to respond to a plea demanding that first information reports (FIR) must be mandatorily registered on complaints by women alleging physical violence by their husbands, instead of requiring that they first go through a mediation process [Sangeeta & Ors v Union of India & Ors].
A division bench of Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Sanjeev Narula heard submissions on the case earlier today before issuing notice. The Court said it will hear the matter next on November 22.
The petition was filed as a public interest litigation (PIL) by a group of four women who told the Court that they had suffered violence at the hands of their husbands.
They raised concern that when women go to the police station with complaints against their husbands or in-laws, they are referred to mediation. This is despite the fact that they show clear signs of physical abuse.
The petitioners sought directions to be issued to the authorities to ensure that express consent is taken from women before they are sent for mediation or reconciliation before Crime Against Women (CAW) cells.
The petition also sought the modification of the two standing orders issued by the Delhi Police in 2008 and 2019.
It was contended that these orders give disproportionate emphasis on reconciliation between the husband and wife, even in instances of severe physical violence or when serious, non-compoundable offences of attempt to murder and grievous hurt are made out.
"Failure of the authorities to take cognizance of these serious offences, despite the unwillingness of the women to reconcile, results in the perpetuation of violence against them and the continuing violation of their basic fundamental rights under Articles 14, 15, 19, and 21 of the Constitution of India," the plea stated.
Senior Advocate Rebecca John appeared for the petitioners and argued that they come from very poor backgrounds and that they have faced physical abuse from their husbands.
John contended that the government's standing orders say that all possible efforts should be made for reconciliation in cases like these. Therefore, there are instances when the police refused to register FIRs even when there were clear signs of physical violence and women stated that they were in fear for their lives, the Court was told.
Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Chetan Sharma appeared for the Central government and argued that the concerns raised in the petition were genuine, but that the government's measures were triggered because Section 498A was being abused “left, right, and centre”.
This larger issue has to be borne in mind as well, the ASG stressed.
John responded that no one files more false complaints than the State. Yet, it is unfair that the burden of false complaints always falls on women, she said.
“As a woman, I must say that the burden of false complaints always falls on women. No one files more false complaints than the State but the burden of false complaints falls on women and that is unfair,” John argued.
The Court remarked that it will not comment anything on the matter and proceeded to issue notice to the government.
In their plea, the petitioners noted that the CAW cells run as parallel mechanisms of law enforcement in the criminal justice system.
The petitioners contended that domestic violence survivors are being compelled to submit themselves to the CAW process when police officers refuse to register an FIR against their husbands or in-laws, regardless of how serious the allegations are.
The plea added that it is only when the CAW proceedings fail in multiple rounds of mediation (the process can take over 6-12 months) that the CAW Cell refers the case to court for a direction to file an FIR.
While such a mediation process is going on, the perpetrators of the crime almost always continue abusing the women who may even face aggravated abuse and pressure to withdraw their complaint, the plea further submitted.
Senior Advocate Rebecca John argued the case for the petitioners. The petition was filed through advocates Roshni Shanker, Nilotpal Datta, Aparimita Pratap, Anushka Baruah, Priyanka Prasanth, Pooja Malhotra, Jamyang Lhamo and Nilanjan Dey.