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Domestic violence is still a prominent concern in India. It is so deeply entrenched in our society that it is normalised and women are often advised to ‘adjust’ and not resist. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) in its 2019 report states the majority of cases filed under crimes against women pertain to violence perpetrated by husband and/or his relatives. It is not uncommon for men to be victims, but the prevalence is greater among women.
The normalisation of domestic violence stems from gendered upbringing where the woman is expected to be mature and understanding. Therefore it is her onus to compromise and tolerate maltreatment, for divorce is still a taboo in many Indian households and remains out of question. From an early age individuals are taught that the equation between a man and a woman is that of dominance and submissiveness. Such attitudes take deep root in young minds and when they become adults, they enact their roles in the equation. Men strive to exert power over women and violence is the most immediate tool.
The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 is a civil law that provides protection to women from domestic violence. It extends to all women of a familial unit as well as to women in live-in relationships. The law also provides financial compensation as well as maintenance if separated from the abuser. Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code is a criminal law that protects women from physical and mental injury inflicted by her husband or his relatives.
The National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) finds that the incidence of spousal violence is greater in Karnataka, Bihar, Manipur, Telangana and Assam. Even with stringent laws in place, domestic violence largely goes unreported. The gap between legal code and implementation, along with unfriendly and cumbersome process of law has discouraged a lot of victims from filing complaints.
The Covid-19 pandemic has augmented the number of domestic violence cases in India. Within a fortnight of implementing the first nationwide lockdown, the National Commission for Women reported a 100% rise in domestic violence complaints. The sudden economic insecurity, isolation, loss of jobs and psychological stress in families has contributed to the surge in violence against women. The several lockdowns encumbered reporting which in turn affected timely aid to women in distress. The functioning of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act was not recognized as an essential service during lockdown and hence a number of NGOs remained curbed. Governments have been widely criticised for not anticipating the rise in harassment and building relief systems for women.
There is no effective system in place to address misuse of these laws. On June 1, 2021 the Madras high court remarked that there were no provisions for a spouse to proceed against false complaints. Such loopholes allow individuals to take advantage of the provision. This should be immediately addressed for it desecrates the very purpose of such laws which is to prevent crimes grounded on gender inequality.
Our country, with the cohesion of judicial systems and NGOs, has the framework to successfully challenge and eradicate domestic violence in India. However, the network beginning with the victim and concluding at the judiciary must be revamped so as to facilitate smoother and immediate recourse of justice.