- By Disha Saini ~ Law College Dehradun, Faculty of Uttaranchal University
- Mohit Nautiyal (PH, CSCLI) ~ Law College Dehradun, Faculty of Uttaranchal University
India, with its marvellous tag of one of the largest democracies in the world and its reputation of worshipping and treating women as Goddess, also comes with splatters. History unveils the bitter secret concealed under the godly personification of women being utilized as a disguise for acquiring the absolute position of the male members of the society. Gender-based barbarity has never been a stranger to us. Everybody in their family, friends or acquaintances has heard of someone enduring verbal, physical, sexual or economic abuse. In India, domestic violence constitutes an interesting paradox in addition to being the most ubiquitous of basic human rights violations. Its roots can be traced back to the patriarchal set up of society, right from the later Vedic period to the 21st century; Indian women have never experienced the freedom that men have. They have always been subjected to inequity. The inferior status of women combined with patriarchal beliefs is a major cause of domestic violence.
What is Domestic Violence and Its Kinds?
Domestic Violence is defined under Section 3 of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005. It is a socio-legal concept that, in the broadest sense, refers to any abuse—including physical, verbal, emotional, sexual, or financial—between intimate partners, usually living in the same house. The expression ‘Domestic Violence’ is often used mainly to signify physical assaults upon women by their intimate partners or male partners. However, there have been rare cases of the male being abused by his female partner. Domestic violence is like no other offence. It does not happen in a vacuum. Home and family are supposed to be sacred territory, the “heaven in a heartless world”. This is the place where violence gets untenable. Ordinarily, it is violence from someone we know, from someone who claims to love us and often, it is hidden from one’s most intimate confidantes. On several occasions, physical abuse is far less damaging than the emotional and verbal abuse.
There are also a plethora of statistics substantiating these unfortunate truths.
- According to the World Health Organization, 1 out of 3 of women across the world have experienced physical or sexual abuse by their intimate partners or sexual brutality by any perpetrator in their lifetime.
- As per the survey conducted by the National Family Health Survey IV in the year 2015–2016, 31.1% of married women aged 15-49 years encountered spousal abuse at least once in their lifetime. Besides, 27.3% of women were married before the age of majority.
- According to the reports by the National Crime Records Bureau, “Majority of cases under the section of ‘crimes against women’ as acknowledged by the Indian Penal Code were registered under ‘Cruelty by Husband or His Relatives’ (31.9%).”
The following reports and statistics manifest how broadly prevalent domestic violence is and how grave and critical the issue is, requiring our collective attention as a society.
Laws on Domestic Violence
In India, several laws are protecting a married woman from abuse or violence from her husband or her husband’s relatives. Under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, harassment for dowry by the husband or his family is considered an offence. The harassment can be either mental or physical. Though marital rape is not recognized as an offence in India but forced sex with one’s wife can be considered cruelty under this section. Section 498A has a broad scope, and it also covers any willful conduct against a woman which drives a woman to perpetrate suicide or grave injury or risk to her life, limb or health. Furthermore, under the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, the practice of dowry itself is outlawed and condemned. Despite aforementioned, if the dowry has either been taken or given by anyone other than the woman, then such money/property under this Act would be entitled to the woman.
Moreover, under the Protection of Women against Domestic Violence Act, 2005 prevents a broad range of violence against women — physical, emotional, mental, sexual, economical. The scope of the Act comprises women who are not married and who are in a live-in relationship. A woman has the option to be free from any abuse and has several choices under the said Act. She also has the right to get an order of protection against her partner and his family, to continue inhabiting in the same house, to have custody of her children and to claim compensation and maintenance. Further, under section 125, Criminal Procedure Code, a woman does not have to compulsorily file for a divorce to have a right to receive maintenance from her husband. The very nature of a married relationship is such that it makes it incumbent for man to provide maintenance to his wife (in some cases if she is incapable of providing for herself and in some cases even otherwise). A petition for maintenance is maintainable even in the absence of one for divorce.
There are several empowering laws as well, apart from those granting redress of abuses against women, which strive to bolster her social, economic and legal status to make her fearless and less prone to any abuse. For instance, there is a specific law against sexual harassment at workplaces, so women can feel safe at their workplaces and can report to any violation or abuse. This provision also encourages the economic independence of women by assuring them safety at workplace.
Domestic Violence during Lockdown
Home is observed to be the safest place in this Pandemic situation, but it is not safe for all. In fact, with the Covid-19 lockdown, there has been a drastic increase in cases of domestic violence it is like “bees in a hive, gathering around honey”, where abusers see this lockdown as a honey pot for them. Victims of domestic violence are more vulnerable to a new degree of aggression not only in India but even across the globe. According to the report of the National Commission for Women, the complaints have increased 2.5 times more since the nationwide lockdown began. Women are being tortured physically, sexually, as well as emotionally almost every day. With curtailed flexibility and police force being caught up in ensuring that lockdown is followed correctly, women are losing even the avenues that could save them from abuse and in extreme cases, death. Furthermore, due to the prevalence of traditional social norms and the disgrace that is placed on the survivors of domestic violence, such cases are being grossly under-reported. Also, the NGOs and the volunteer organizations which are supposed to reach out to the complaints concerning the abuse, amid the lockdown are not able to work that efficiently, which leaves the victims belonging to poor and vulnerable classes completely helpless.
However, it is not only women who are being targeted, children too have been more vulnerable to domestic violence during this time. Increased anxiety, stress level, job insecurity, financial worry, and many other such emotions of parents can be a predictor of abuse. Parents often tend to take out their frustration onto their children. In typical situations, the warning signs of maltreatment would be noticed by teachers, friends, counsellors at school, or other relatives as well but, during this lockdown, it is nearly impossible for anyone to see therefore it eventually increases the chances of abuse on the child. Children who have been exposed to violence at home are at serious risk for a long-term physical and mental health problem, and it is extremely possible that they too will become violent in their future relationships. Therefore, it is essential to take some stringent actions against domestic violence during the lockdown as it can also lead to some severe damage to the mental health of not only women but children as well.
Domestic violence is the most common form of violence which affects women across her life span from the sex-selective abortion of female fetus to forced suicide and abuse which is now apparent to some degree in every community in the world. Women are always considered weak and docile due to which they have being exploited for a very long time. However, ultimately, in this contemporary world, there are various legal provisions to protect them, and if anyone, who tries to commit abuse against her is eventually inviting a rage towards himself. Furthermore, during this pandemic Domestic violence has taken shape into the term, which is popularly flourishing as ‘intimate terrorism’ and it is an evident fact that Gender-based violence is an issue that requires to be understood holistically to obtain a precise solution. For that, the Government of India has issued more than 50 helpline numbers across India which are run by the police, women welfare departments and NGOs to protect the rights of women and safeguard them from such abuse. Although the government and voluntary organizations are making necessary efforts at their end, unless women themselves stand up against such insidious acts, will these necessary steps ever going to ensure women’s safety?
 World Health Organization, Violence against women, (Jun. 17, 2020), https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/violence-against-women.