Although the Domestic Violence Act mandates certain mechanisms to be put in place in order to protect the rights of women facing violence, in most states, neither have the functionaries under the Act been appointed nor have the required services been provided. Senior advocate Gayatri Singh emphasises that it is necessary to take concrete steps to ensure that the DVA is properly implemented.The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 is a product of the women’s movement, and is, as the title suggests, meant to protect women from domestic violence. Prior to the enactment of the Act the issue of domestic violence was either linked to dowry-related violence or in criminal law, to Section 498-A. The then existing civil and criminal laws had their own limitations as they recognised violence only in a marital relationship. Furthermore, there were no provisions for damages and other immediate relief like protection and residence orders, injunctions etc. The DVA was, therefore, a milestone in recognising domestic violence within any relationship, thereby challenging the traditional treatment of the abuse on women.
A National Consultation, jointly organised by Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) and Majlis recently, sought to place the DVA in the larger context of women’s human rights by discussing the ways in which the Act could be effectively used by women, to learn from and share each other’s experiences and to discuss and suggest ways by which the tardy implementation of the Domestic Violence Act could be overcome. For example, the Act is mandated to appoint service providers, counselors, and protection officers including providing various forms of services like shelter homes, medical facilities, legal aid etc. Yet, sadly, in most states neither have the functionaries under the Act been appointed nor have the required services been provided. Whereas in some states protective officers have not been appointed, in others those appointed, are paid low salaries and are overburdened with work since they are required to cover the jurisdiction of several police stations. There are various other procedural difficulties facing the implementation of the DVA. As a result, aggrieved women are unable to get any reprieve and due to procedural delays cases linger on in courts beyond the statutory limit of 60 days. It was, therefore, felt that these concerns need to be urgently addressed and proactive steps be taken to ensure meaningful, efficacious and expeditious implementation of the DVA. Besides launching campaigns it was felt that PILs/writ petitions be filed in the respective states. The Rules to the DVA have proven ineffective. Hence the need to amend and clarify the Rules, particularly those relating to the roles and responsibilities of the protection officers. There is no time bound period within which appeals need to be disposed off. There is also much confusion regarding filing of Domestic Incident Reports (DIR). These challenges need immediate attention.
Deficiencies in the Act
The major deficiency in the DVA is that only temporary protection and residence order can be obtained by a woman without establishing a permanent right over her matrimonial property. The notion of matrimonial property is not recognised in India and consequently women’s labour and contribution to maintain the household is not recognised. There is no value given to her work, there is no concept of common property and the property brought into the marriage is not subject to equitable distribution upon dissolution of marriage. So we have a case like SR Batra vs. Taruna Batra where the Supreme Court has held that since the property was registered in the name of the mother-in-law, the wife had no claim over it. The deficiency in the DVA with regard to this clause has been felt by various women’s organisations and hence campaigns in various states to explain and provide for matrimonial property rights have been initiated. It was also realised that it was imperative that the campaign on matrimonial property rights be broadened and taken up at a national level.
Training and education
Since society at large is seeped in patriarchal values it is not surprising that a large part of the judiciary is equally influenced by such norms. Magistrates who are required to implement the DVA are amongst the most ill informed about the provisions of the Act and are often times reluctant to provide even temporary and immediate protection orders to women. Various technicalities are raised resulting in cases languishing for years. Therefore, gender perspective trainings should be held on a regular basis, including the training of magistrates and police personnel at the district level. There is an urgent need for incorporating the DVA and other gender laws in academic syllabi at different levels of education.
Widen the scope of DVA
Many of the provisions in the Act have been narrowly construed and therefore it was necessary for women’s rights lawyers to help broaden the meaning of those provisions, to use the provisions innovatively and to understand DVA within the larger framework of women’s human rights. To do this it was necessary for lawyers to attempt to inter-connect criminal, civil and family and international laws with the provisions of the Domestic Violence Act. It is also necessary to look beyond the narrow confines of domestic violence, instead looking at individual solutions. Collective action is essential if it is to have any meaning for the vast millions of women who come to courts trying to access justice. The human rights of women should be paramount and not the preservation of the family at the cost of the health and safety of a woman.
The law attempts to confine women within the legal framework by looking at domestic violence as an individual problem to be dealt with individually. This problem is further compounded by the fact that a woman is seen as a victim, undervalued and subordinate requiring “protection”. It is, therefore, necessary to bring domestic violence outside the narrow confines of the home and into the public domain. It is necessary to challenge the public-private dichotomy by placing much greater responsibility and liability on the State and its functionaries in matters of domestic violence. If the State and its functionaries are unable to provide a safe environment to women in domestic relationships they should be held liable for failing to take reasonable measures to protect the personal safety of women. The complaint from majority of women is that the police rarely discharge their duties in an effective manner. A fair idea would be to form a network of lawyers through an e-mail group working towards improvements in the DVA, its effective implementation, and sharing of both international and domestic judgements and orders. Another positive step can be that guidelines for writing Domestic Incident Reports be drawn up and that wherever necessary the group would work toward suggesting amendments to the DVA to make the Act more meaningful, efficacious and easily accessible.
I want to reiterate that advocates must understand that the PWDVA actually sets policy on combating domestic violence. Therefore, the PWDVA exists within the larger framework of gender-policy and women’s rights in this country. The system of protection officers, service providers, magistrates, etc. that the law painstakingly sets up, provides for the responsibility to be fixed on the State to provide a violence free life for women, so that victims of domestic violence are able to access their rights.
Though the concept of claiming damages for the injuries suffered by a woman, inflicted by a husband or partner in an intimate relationship, is borrowed from Western laws, such laws to “protect women” from violence are mainly envisaged for women as productive members of a society. Hence, this ideology pressumes that if women cannot function due to being affected by violence, there will be a loss in production and profit – be it in workplace or the home; thus, as economic losses due to medical bills, abstention, or loss of employment, etc.
Although the PWDVA does enumerate certain rights, these rights are not being adequately translated into practice and while the legislation exists, it still is not being used to its full capacity. Victims are in need of protection, yet the State continues to be derelict in fulfilling its obligations. In fact, no matter how many laws the legislature promulgates, the social inequities that have fostered domestic violence, and have denied women equality in property rights will continue to perpetuate the inequity between the sexes. Even the PWDVA itself takes a protectionist and paternalistic view towards women, by implying that women need ‘protection’ from a patriarchal state, characterising them as “victims” instead of agents of self-empowerment and change. Therefore, efforts to implement the PWDVA must go together with other gender-sensitisation programmes so that the broader social mindset towards women’s rights can be altered.
FACTS ABOUT DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
- Domestic violence is the most common but least reported crime in India.
- Domestic Violence is the number one cause of women’s injuries.
- More or less 95 percent of the victims of domestic violence are women
- Each year millions of women seek medical assistance for injuries caused by wife-beating but seldom complain about it as such.
- Domestic violence occurs among all racial, ethnic, religious, and socio-economic groups.
- Domestic violence is considered a family matter , so seldom comes out of the four walls of the home.
- At least 18 women are killed every day for dowry in this country.
- At least 87 women are subjected to sexual harassment every day.
- At least 132 women face various kinds of harassment in the country every day.
- At least 44 women fall victim to atrocities every day.