A safe and secure household makes a safe and secure community, which eventually builds a secure nation
Domestic violence is violence or other abuse that occurs in a domestic setting, such as in a marriage or cohabitation. It also includes violence against children, elders and parents. However, it is mostly women who are its victims. The Indian legal system recognizes domestic violence as a violation of human rights and is equipped with appropriate laws and remedies for the aggrieved person to take recourse of.
Historically, domestic violence was understood as a threat to women’s lives in India, caused by the dowry system. Therefore, the earliest legislations in the country were meant to stop violence leading to so-called “dowry deaths”, and were implemented through an amendment to the Dowry Prohibition Act (1961). Gradually with time, other provisions for protection of women against domestic violence were made: Section 498-A of Indian Penal Code, popularly referred to as the dowry law, was introduced in 1983 to safeguard married women from harassment by the spouse or his relatives; Section 304B (Dowry Death) criminalises any form of violence with respect to dowry demands by the husband or in-laws; and a dedicated legislation that provides for more effective protection of the rights of women guaranteed under the Constitution, against violence of any kind occurring within the family, called Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.
According to this Act, the term domestic violence is a wide-ranging one. It covers mental as well as physical abuse, and also threats to do the same. Any form of harassment, coercion, harm to health, safety, limb or well-being is covered under this Act. The offence of domestic violence according to this Act constitutes any act or conduct of the offender that harms or injures or endangers the health, safety, life, limb or well-being, whether mental or physical, of the aggrieved person or tends to do so. It includes physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal and emotional abuse and economic abuse; or coercion to meet any unlawful demand for dowry.
This Act goes on to specifically define “physical abuse” as any act or conduct which is of such a nature as to cause bodily pain, harm, or danger to life, limb, or health. It includes assault, criminal intimidation and criminal force. The Act defines “sexual abuse” as any conduct of a sexual nature that abuses, humiliates, degrades or otherwise violates the dignity of a woman; “verbal abuse” as any form of insult, ridicule, humiliation, name calling and insult, especially with regard to not having a child or a male child; “emotional abuse” as repeated threats to cause physical pain; “economic abuse” as deprivation of all or any economic or financial resources to which the aggrieved person is entitled under any law or custom.
The offence of domestic violence is cognizable and non-bailable, as per law.
Domestic violence can be traced back to the inherent evil of patriarchy. Cultural factors include the desire for a male child. Sociological and behavioural factors include anger issues/ aggression, poverty/ economic hardship, difference in status, controlling/dominating nature, drug addiction, upbringing and psychological instability (bipolar, depression, stress, etc.). Neglect of conjugal responsibilities due to extra-marital affairs or lack of trust also contributes to domestic violence. Dowry is a form of socio-cultural factor and rampant domestic violence cases result from the illegal demand of dowry. However, this is not an exhaustive list of factors. The motivations or triggers behind domestic violence may vary.
There are varied consequences of domestic violence depending on the victim, the age group, the intensity of the violence and frequency of the torment. Among victims who are still living with their perpetrators, high amounts of stress, fear and anxiety are commonly reported. Children who are exposed to domestic violence while growing up can suffer from a range of emotional disturbances and behavioural problems, which can lead them to further perpetrate or be victims of violence later in life. Domestic violence tears the very fabric of a community by dismantling family units. Domestic violence affects women’s productivity in all forms of life. An assaulted women is agonised and emotionally disturbed.
India in recent decades is making a move towards education and awareness, but despite of this, offences like domestic violence are rampant, and only one-fourth of such cases are registered. This is evident from the NCRB records: among the 2,44,270 registered cases of violence against women, 1,06,527 were related to cruelty against women by their husband or his relatives in the last year. The Indian National Family and Health Survey-3 in 2005-06 for the first time addressed domestic violence and its concerns. It officially recorded data pertaining to domestic violence, which showed that the violence was more among those who were in the first 2 years of their marriage.
Between January and May 2021, 2,383 complaints of domestic violence were filed with the National Commission for Women, the highest for any year since 2000. Most complaints were received from U.P., while the highest complaint rate was recorded in Delhi. However, according to NFHS-5 data, 70% of women in the major states who faced physical violence did not inform anyone about it. Even among those who sought help, very few reached out to the relevant authorities.
The problem in India is that the victims do not feel victimised. Women have become accustomed to domestic abuse and that is because of the social upbringing that Indian women have grown up with. Raising strong women is a far more difficult task than raising subdued and compromising women. Women have historically been conditioned to compromise with toxic partners, or in-laws or both, because of reasons such as the welfare of the children, lack of support by the victims’ parents, lack of or no financial independence at all, societal pressure of making a marriage work, taboos and shame attached with divorces and domestic violence, apprehensions of absence of a safe haven after reporting domestic violence, etc.
It is pertinent to mention that, apart from protecting the victim from violence, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 also protects her interests by empowering the magistrate to pass necessary orders imposing a duty on the offender to pay monetary compensation to the victim and not cut off her financial resources, securing her residence, directing the offender to remove himself from the shared household, etc. This Act also facilitates an aggrieved person to avail the services of shelter homes, medical facilities, counselling facilities and assistance of a welfare expert, hence making it convenient and safe for women to take legal recourse against domestic violence. Nobody can impede a victim from taking the necessary legal action except the victim herself.
Elimination of all kinds of violence against women requires channelising simultaneously the attention and efforts of all the people concerned and working together. This sensitive issue needs intervention and action at multiple levels – state, society and individuals, in public and private capacities. Reforming the structure and systems of government institutions engaged in law-making and enforcement are highly desirable, but it may take a longer time. We can start from the family level as it is the first and foremost institution where children learn the first lesson of humanity and social relationships. Training for gender sensitisation should be imparted within the family. Right from the beginning, all children should be treated with equality, without any gender bias.
The victimised women, instead of silently enduring all the atrocities, should raise their voice against injustice, create awareness amongst other victims about their rights, and channelise their efforts by writing columns, organizing programmes, workshops etc. Amongst other immediate steps, the most important task of government is to address the continuously deteriorating law and order situation. There should be vigilant policing round the clock, both in cities and suburban areas, and more women police officers in all police stations. Speedy and time-bound justice is essentially required. Delayed justice emboldens the spirits of criminal-minded elements of society, who take advantage of loopholes in the law, which enable them to escape. A proper societal-legal environment has to be built to make homes and public places safe and secure for women. A nation or a society cannot prosper by keeping half of its population under distress. After all, a safe and secure household makes a safe and secure community, which eventually builds a secure nation.
The writer is a lawyer at J&K High Court and can be reached at [email protected], Twitter: @NafiaZahoor