Context: Forty years after the introduction of the Domestic Violence provision in the Indian Penal Code, women are still at risk of having their complaints dismissed or disbelieved by police and judiciary.
About domestic violence
Protection of Women from domestic violence Act 2005 (PWDVA): The act provides the definition of domestic violence as: 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 and includes causing physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal and emotional abuse and economic abuse.
Crime against women
- Crimes against women have increased year on year. As per the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report 2015, every day 21 women die because of dowry in India.
- According to the NCRB report 2019, 4 lakh cases were registered under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
- As per the National Family Health Survey 5 (2019- 20), 30 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 49 experienced physical violence from the age of 15 (that’s over 20 crore women), while six per cent experienced sexual violence in their lifetime.
- In 2021, 136,000 complaints were registered under Indian Penal Code Section 498A (cruelty by husband or his relatives).
- According to NFHS data, 87 per cent of married women who are victims of marital violence do not seek help.
Cause for domestic violence against women
- Patriarchy: It is a cultural value that places men in power and authority over women. This leads to an unequal power dynamic between the sexes. This imbalance of power can lead to the use of physical force to exert control over women.
- Collectivism: This cultural value places a greater emphasis on the requirements of the community and family over those of the individual, and honour and reputation within the family are highly valued in collectivist societies. As a direct consequence of this, instances of domestic violence go unreported, thus ensuring that the cycle of abuse continues.
- Religious beliefs: In traditionalist societies, religion is used to justify domestic violence, with men citing religious texts to support that male is superior than female.
- Lack of education: A lack of education might result in a lack of knowledge regarding women’s rights and gender equality. As a result, women may experience domestic violence and be treated as less valuable.
- Poverty: Due to the tension that financial strain can cause inside families, poverty can make domestic violence worse. Due to their possible financial dependence on their abusers, women in low-income households may be especially susceptible to domestic violence.
- Alcohol and substance misuse: In India, alcohol and drug misuse might be risk factors for domestic violence. Alcoholism can cause people to lose their inhibitions and act violently.
- Dowry: It is often linked to social status and can be seen as a measure of a family’s wealth and prestige. In situations where the dowry is not considered sufficient, the bride may face mistreatment as a way for the groom’s family to assert dominance and control, reinforcing power imbalances.
Initiative taken by government:
- Dowry Prohibition Act 1961: The court is empowered to act in its own knowledge or on a complaint by any recognized welfare organization on dowry murder. Indian Evidence Act is also amended to shift the burden of proof to the husband & his family when the bride dies within 7 yrs. of marriage.
- Amendment to Criminal Act 1983: This Act talks about domestic violence as an offence, rape is also made a punishable offence.
- Protection of Women from domestic violence Act 2005(PWDVA, 2005): Any person who has reason to believe that an act of domestic violence has been, or is being, or is likely to be committed, may give information about it to the concerned Protection Officer/police.
- The act also defines physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal and emotional abuse and economic abuse.
- Indian Penal Code (IPC):
- Section 498A IPC: It was introduced in 1983 with the objective to tackle the problem of the large number of women dying in their homes. The section addresses the subjection of any woman to cruelty (whether mental or physical of such a nature that is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health and also with unlawful demand for any property or valuable security.
- Sections 319 to 338 of the IPC: Deal with assaults and grievous hurt in various forms.
- National Commission for Women (NCW): The NCW is an organisation that works to support and assist women who have experienced domestic abuse. Their helpline number is 1091.
- Domestic Violence Helpline: It is a toll-free hotline that offers victims of domestic violence support and assistance around-the-clock. Their phone number for their helpline is 181.
Challenges in Addressing the issues of domestic violence
- Misuse of law: In Rakesh and Reena Rajput v The State of Jharkhand case, the Jharkhand High Court said , “There is a phenomenal increase in matrimonial disputes in recent years and it appears that in many cases, the object of Section 498A IPC is being misused and the section is used as weapon rather than shield by dis gruntled wives, this is one of the reason where innocent individuals have been wrongly implicated.
- Under the PWDVA law, state governments are required to appoint protection officers (POs). Several States are yet to implement POs. And where they are in post, they are under-resourced, under-skilled and overworked.
- Inadequate support services: Insufficient availability of shelters, counselling services, and legal support can hinder women from leaving abusive relationships. Adequate funding and resources for support services are critical. In Delhi only, there are 13 women shelters and short-stay homes for women and most are overcrowded and used mainly by the underprivileged, according to Ending Domestic Violence Through Non-Violence: A Manual for PWDVA Officers, published by Lawyers Collective.
- Social shame: Societal stigma and the fear of judgment can prevent women from disclosing their experiences of domestic violence. The stigma attached to being a victim may lead to feelings of shame and isolation.
- Threats and intimidation tactics: Many women face the fear of retaliation from their abusers, making it difficult for them to speak out or seek help. Threats and intimidation tactics can be powerful barriers to reporting abuse.
- Lack of reliable and periodical data: On violence against women (VAW) and girls, which leads to a situation of speculations and sensationalism; it also creates an atmosphere of fear and anxiety.
- Attitudinal problem: Across many States, it is observed that the police were more likely to send women back to violent households to reconcile with the perpetrator or go for counselling.
- Prevention of violence requires numerous immediate, medium and long term interventions including large scale campaigns to sensitise and educate men and women on VAW.
- The intervention should begin by focusing on gender equality in education since the quality of education received by women has not equipped them to question the patriarchy.
- Trauma-informed institutional response, revamping of the support systems based on impact assessments and increasing the number of one-stop centres with adequate professionals are some of the other measures needed.
- Draft National Policy for Women, 2016:
- Strict monitoring of response of enforcement agencies to violence against women will be put in place. Efforts will be made to ensure speedy /time bound trial of crimes against women.
- Alternate dispute redressal systems such as family courts, Nari Adalats etc., will be strengthened.
- Efforts will be made to increase the representation of women in judicial positions across the board as female judges often bring a heightened sensitivity to gender-related cases and their presence can lead to fairer and more informed decisions in such cases.
- Efforts will be made to streamline data systems through review of various data sources (Census, NFHS, NSS, NCRB) to develop a compatible and comprehensive data base on Violence Against Women.
- Gender specific training incorporating gender sensitivity and a thorough briefing on the specific laws for women will be undertaken continuously for all ranks and categories of police personnel.
Case study of VAW: Mararikulam Panchayat
The Mararikulam Panchayat implemented the mapping programme through the Kudumbashree community network as part of their effort to make Mararikkulam a women-friendly Panchayat.
A crime-mapping exercise and awareness campaign on the issue of VAW taken up.