Driving out Domestic Violence

Domestic violence or wife battering is far more systematic and pervasive than previously acknowledged.
– The Centre for Development and Population Activities, U.S.A, 2003

Domestic violence is normally understood to be violence targetted against wives within the four walls of the house. Even the penal provision inserted in 1983 in the shape of Section 498A of Indian Penal Code covered only ‘wife within the purview of cruelty committed by husband or his relatives’. With the ever increasing number of cases reported on the matter, the need was felt to clarify and expand the meaning of domestic violence. So in the year 2001, The Protection against Domestic Violence Bill was introduced in the Parliament.

Srilata Swaminathan points the underlying reasons for the violence against a woman as her enslavement under the present system; the double-standards; her ‘privatization’ for centuries, no economic independence and relegation to domestic drudgery. As far as its effects are concerned, besides acting as hurdles to equal development of both genders, it poses health concern in developing countries. Rashmi, in his book Woman of Elements, has come up with acceptability and decency as reasons for silence against violence. Negative health outcomes such as mental ailments, increased risk of sexually transmitted infection, gynecological and gastrointestinal disorders are consequences of ill treatment of women, as pointed out by a study conducted by W.H.O.

36 % cases regarding cruelty at home were registered in 1999 as per National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) and Annual Report of Centre of Women’s Development Studies (CWDS). The National Family Health Survey -III carried out in 2005-06 revealed that a substantial portion of married women have been physically or sexually abused by their husbands at some points in their lives. Bihar recorded abuse rate of 59% topping the list of 29 states surveyed.

The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 was passed as a path braking law. It defines domestic violence as physical violence, emotional abuse, sexually degrading conduct or economic deprivation. Domestic relationship means a relationship between two persons who live or have, at any point of time, lived together in a shared household, when they are related by consanguinity, marriage, or through a relationship in the nature of marriage, adoption or are family members living together as a joint family. So, it is clear that even women in live-in relationships are also covered by the Act. The Act also ensures speedy justice as the court has to start proceedings and the first hearing within 3 days of the complaint being filed in court and every case must be disposed of within a period of sixty days of the first hearing. Provision for counselling of both aggrieved woman as well as the accused has been made with any member of a service provider who possesses such qualifications and experience in counselling as may be prescribed. Women can seek relief from shelter homes, police, judiciary, hospitals and few other authorities. It vests in every woman in a domestic relationship the right to reside in the shared household which means a household where the person aggrieved lives or at any stage has lived in a domestic relationship. Such right is given to her even if she has no right, title or beneficial interest in such household. The aggrieved person is also entitled to fair, reasonable monetary relief consistent with her standard of living meet the expenses incurred and losses suffered by the aggrieved person and any child of the aggrieved person as a result of the domestic violence.

Flavia Agnes has opined in Combat Law (November – December 2005) about the Act that “It acknowledges that domestic violence is a widely prevalent and universal problem of power relationships, more than the culture specific phenomenon called ‘dowry death’. More importantly, it marks a departure from the penal provisions, which hinged on stringent punishments, to positive civil rights of protection and injunction.” WHO experts, therefore, recommend promotion of gender equality, enhancing of capacity and establishing of systems to monitor violence against women.
Joseph case was the first case registered at Tirunelveli under The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 on October 28, 2006. The reporting of incidents of domestic violence and punishment thereof which can extend to Rs 20,000 and fine would lead to lesser crime rate in this category. Hope that all Acts aiming at preventing women from violence receive best treatment at the hands of society with their minimum violation.

Bhumika Sharma
[Image source:http://www.yardflex.com/archives/_domestic_violence.gif]