Domestic violence is an age old problem prevalent not only in India but globally. It includes an act of physical, emotional, financial abuse or cruelty meted on a woman by a person related to her. In India, women are subjected to prejudice in almost every aspect of their lives. The patriarchal society of India created a misconception- men are superior to women. This gave rise to numerous problems along the lines of men exercising dominance over women in hurtful ways.
The Domestic Violence Act, 2005 has empowered victims of domestic abuse to speak up and seek justice against cruelty faced by them from their husbands or in-laws The outlook of the courts to uphold the interests of the women and child has also greatly helped. This has lead to better awareness among women about their rights and remedies too. Through this Act, social infrastructure for supporting victims of domestic violence has also been created through means of police officers, service providers, shelter homes, and courts. A number of NGO's have come forward to support the cause of women welfare. They have even found encouragement from the Central and State Governments to provide special care and protection for victimized women.
Object and Scope of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005
The women need to be protected from the abuse they face not only at the hands of strangers but also at the hands of people they know and are related to. Domestic abuse has a stronger psychological effect, as a known person tends to be able to suppress the woman much more because of the close proximity and emotional involvement. Keeping in mind the statistics which came up showing the pitiful condition of women not only in rural areas but also surprisingly in urban cities, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 was passed.
The legislator has tried to include a wide array of acts which will be deemed as domestic violence in the Act. For the very first time, the term 'Domestic Violence' was defined by law specifically in such a way so as to avoid any wrongful act from being excluded from the scope of the law.
Domestic Violence includes an act, commission or conduct of a person against the aggrieved person which:
Harms the physical health and well-being of a woman.
Exercises economic abuse by restricting resources which, by law, would be provided to her.
Forces the woman (directly or indirectly) to pay or fulfill dowry needs or any such unlawful demands.
Mentally or verbally humiliates or threatens her with harm.
Subjects the woman to derogatory conduct of sexual nature that abuses, humiliates, degrades or otherwise violates the dignity of woman.
Section 498a and Domestic Violence
Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code and the Domestic Violence Act go hand in hand and helps a woman to take action against domestic abuse in her marital relationship. Section 498A is an additional protection provided to women and it specifies the extent of the criminal liability that the accused must face if found guilty for subjecting a person to domestic violence. Section 498A specifies that if a person is found guilty of domestic violence, then he will be punished with imprisonment of a term extending up to 3 years and can also be fined for the same. It also makes provision for granting of compensation in accordance to provisions mentioned in the Domestic Violence Act.
Rights of a Victim of Domestic Violence
A woman suffering from Domestic Violence or any person who knows that a woman is suffering from domestic violence has the right to inform a police officer or a district magistrate about the same.
An aggrieved woman has been given the following rights under the Act:
She has a right to be informed about all the women protection agencies, and NGOs offering to help the victims of domestic violence.
Government has allocated certain shelter homes for the welfare of the victims of domestic violence and their children. The victim has the right to seek shelter and get adequate care protection and medical attention in the same.
Every district must have specially appointed female protection officers for the timely care and protection of the victims of domestic violence
Every victim of domestic violence has the right to seek free legal aid and legal service. She can visit the lawyer herself or seek help from the Protection Officer.
If the victim of domestic violence has suffered from physical injuries a report of the same has to be prepared in the presence of the Protection officer and submitted to the district magistrate.
She has a right to make an application asking for monetary relief from her in-laws, for custody of her children, or for compensation
Protection of Victim of Domestic Violence
The following protection orders can be issued for the safety and benefit of the Victim of Domestic Violence:
Restraining the accused from committing further acts of domestic violence.
Restraining the accused from meeting or attempting to meet the victim or her children at her workplace, home, or at the children’s school or at any other place which the victim usually visits
Restraining the accused from making any contact with the victim either direct or indirect through telephone, email, letter, sms, etc.
Restraining the accused from causing harm or hurt to the relatives or friends of the victim or any person who is helping the victim of domestic violence;
Order the accused to reimburse the monetary loss suffered by the victim.
Order the accused to provide monthly maintenance to the victim and her children.
The court may grant custody of the children to the victim and also restrain the accused from visiting the children.
If both the victim and the accused share the same household, the Magistrate can order that the victim should be given a right to access and stay in the shared household. Further, if the Magistrate feels that the presence of the accused is harmful for the victim, he can order the accused to leave the house. The court can also order the accused not to sell the shared household. Further, the accused can be ordered to provide an alternate accommodation to the victim or to provide rent for the same.
How to get relief under Domestic Violence Act?
The Domestic Violence Act has emphasised on speedy relief.
Given below is the process which is followed once a case under Domestic Violence is filed by the victim of domestic violence:
When a complaint of domestic violence is filed, a copy of the same is forwarded immediately to the District Magistrate’s court.
The first date of hearing is generally kept within the next three days from date of submission of application.
Where the complaint seeks some immediate relief or compensation, it should be forthwith granted. If it is not granted the Magistrate should give a reason for not doing so.
It is the duty of the Magistrate to make every attempt to decide the case of domestic violence within 60 days from the date of the the first hearing.
A counselor may be appointed by the magistrate to counsel both the victim and the accused.
The magistrate can seek assistance of a welfare expert for the victim. This welfare expert must preferably be a woman and a relative of the victim can also be appointed as her welfare expert.
If the nature of the case is sensitive, the magistrate can hear and decide the case privately (i.e. in camera proceedings).
False Accusations of Domestic Violence
With the nature of the Act being extremely strict towards the husband and in-laws, there is a strong possibility that the protection accorded to women by this Act may be misused
" ...an equal gender law would be ideal. But there is simply too much evidence to prove that it is mainly the woman
who suffers at the hands of man... "
- Mrs. Renuka Chowdhury, Minister for Women and Child Development
"...The notable flaw in this law is that it lends itself to such easy misuse that women will find it hard to resist the temptation to teach a lesson to their male relatives and will file frivolous and false cases... " - Justice S. Vaidyanathan of the Madras High Court Bench
While Domestic Violence is a reality, it is also a fact that false allegations of domestic violence can severely affect a person’s life. Given the wide scope of The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, there is a possibility of misuse of the law to threaten, coerce or blackmail people. In other countries, domestic violence laws are gender-neutral as well as effective. There has been an on-going debate in our country to make the laws of domestic violence gender-neutral rather than solely women based. Today, instead of granting summary relief to women, courts in India have to verify the authenticity of a case before granting relief under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.
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