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An insight into the protection of women from domestic violence act, 2005

Author: 
Ms. Manjari Chandra
Subject Area: 
Social Sciences and Humanities
Abstract: 

The issue of violence against women in India was publicly highlighted and discussed for the first time in the mid–1970s through the campaign against dowry and related violence. The campaign led to the passing of the Criminal Law (Second Amendment) Act in 1983, which introduced Section 498-A in the Indian Penal Code, 1860, as amended (hereinafter, the “IPC”). Under this provision, ‘cruelty’ to a wife by her husband or his relatives was made a cognizable, non-bailable offence, punishable with imprisonment up to three years and fine. ‘Cruelty’ was defined to include both physical and mental cruelty, and any harassment associated with the demand for dowry i.e., an inclusive definition was accorded to the term so as to keep its ambit broad; keeping in terms with the mischief the provision intended to cure. However, criminal law, by its very nature, requires the State and its agencies to trigger it, which means it necessitates the police to act, to make an arrest, to investigate and to prosecute. Hence, more often than not, the law was defeated by sheer inaction which soon came to be institutionalised all over the country along with the policy of ‘counselling, conciliation and mediation’. Similarly, Section 304-B was introduced in the IPC in 1986, creating a new offence of ‘dowry death’, making it possible to prosecute the husband and in-laws of a woman, in the event such woman died as a result of burns or other injury within seven years of marriage under suspicious circumstances, and if it could be established that she was subjected to cruelty or harassment by the husband/in-laws in relation to the demand for dowry. The offence of ‘cruelty’ also posed difficulties when one tried to include within its purview, issues of sexual violence, economic violence or even threats of violence. Additionally, when the issue of support systems for affected women came into play, the criminal law itself had little to offer with respect to taking care of the woman’s immediate needs of protection, shelter and monetary relief. Looking at the domestic front, starting from Vedic age to twenty first century, women in India perhaps have never experienced equal rights and freedom compared to their male counterparts. The concept of ‘Ardhangini’ [half of the body] seems to be restricted only in literatures and has never been implemented in practical life. In addition to this, extracts from Ramcharitamanas such as “Dhol, Gawaar, Shudra, Pashu aur Nari; Sakal Tadan ke Adhikari” [drums, uncivilized illiterates, lower castes, animals and women are all fit to be beaten]; the Pardah system [veiling], and Sati system [self-immolation of a lady with her husband’s pyre] that only women are subjected to, is a reflection of the history of women’s subordinate status. In short, it is always women who have to be in the tight rope, subject to inequality and looked down upon as the inferior sex. Since the age of Manu, women were denied rights and Manu Smriti states that “Pita rakshite komary, pati rakshite tarunya, putro rakshite vurdotav, na stri swatantra maharti” [during childhood, a female must remain subjected to her father, in youth to her husband, then to her sons; a woman must never be independent]. Indian scriptures also emphasize the concept that there is no God on earth for a woman than her husband, and she must on the death of her husband allow herself to be burnt alive on the same funeral pyre. The subordinate status of women combined with socio-cultural norms that are inclined towards patriarchy and chauvinism can be considered as an important factor determining the existence, prevalence and acceptability of domestic violence in Indian society. Domestic violence, as any act of physical, sexual, or psychological abuse, or the threat of such abuse, inflicted against a woman by a person intimately connected to her through marriage, family relation, or acquaintanceship is universal and has its root in the socio-cultural setup of the society. The perpetrators of domestic violence have often been found to be the males. According to a recent study, one in three women (around the world) have been beaten, coerced into sex or abused in their lifetime by a member of her own family. In view of the prevalence as well as the pervasiveness of domestic violence, many researchers in the past have attempted to assess the situation besides exploring its possible cause and subsequent consequences for society in general, and women in particular. Domestic violence cuts across age, education, social class and religion in India. While many researchers came out with findings that lifestyle of men such as smoking, alcoholism and drugs promoted domestic violence, some were of the view that masculinity and domestic violence are closely interlinked. Studies have also revealed that sons of violent parents, men raised in patriarchal family structure that encourages traditional gender roles are more likely to abuse their partners. However, it is universally considered that gendered socialization process is mainly responsible for the occurrence, existence and continuation of domestic violence in the Indian setup. As Freedman points out, violence by husbands against wife should not be seen as a break down in the social order, rather it should be seen as an affirmation to the patriarchal social order. Similarly, Jejeebhoy (1998) is of the view that not only wife beating is deeply entrenched, but also people justify it. Thus, domestic violence is simply not a personal abnormality but rather it has its roots in the cultural norms of the Indian society. Again, looking from another angle, it is found that many of the victims of domestic violence have either refused to name the perpetrator of the assault or attributed the injuries to other reasons. In order to develop effective intervention programme and policy, it is vital to know the attitude and perception of women towards the issue.

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