Putting rights issues through the looking glass. Not seeking answers, just some food for thought to see whether things could be any different!

Monday, August 22, 2005

Off the battered track: Finally, the Domestic Violence Bill is introduced.

It ain’t what ya don’t know that hurts ya. What really puts a hurtin’on ya is what ya knows for sure, that just ain't so. -- Uncle Remus
Finally, after several years of constant nagging by women's organisations in India, the Protection of Women Against Domestic Violence Bill 2005 was introduced in Parliament.
The Bill was introduced by the Minister for HRD, Kanti Singh on the 22nd of August 2005. The expression "domestic violence" includes actual abuse or threat of abuse - physical, sexual, verbal, emotional or economic violence. Unlawful dowry demands from the woman or her relatives is also covered under the defintion of domestic violence. The Bill empowers the Magistrate to pass protection orders in favour of the aggrieved parties to prevent the perpretrator/respondent from committing acts of domestic violence. Any breach of the protection order shall be an offence, punishable with imprisonment upto one year or with fine upto Rs. 20, 000 or with both. The Magistrate can also issue preventive orders against the respondent to enter places frequented by the aggrieved party or her relatives to communicate with her or committ acts of domestic violence.
The most interesting aspect of the Bill is that it includes women who have been living with the respondent in a shared household, related to him by blood, marriage or adoption. It also includes those women who are living in a relatiinship in the nature of marriage.
The earlier law on domestic violence worked more to the disadvantage of women than to their advantage. Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code recognises domestic violence as a criminal offence but the definition of domestic violence was limited to cruelty by husband and his family towards a married woman. The new Bill is a civil legislation which aims at the protection of women who has been subjected to domestic violence. Most women faced with such a situation do not want to register a case against their husbands or their families as they are deterred by the fact that they will have to continue residing with these same persons who she had sent to jail. In such a case, the threat of violence does not stop but it becomes even more imminent. The criminal law on domestic violence, did not offer much respite to the victim in real terms.
While the Bill is well intentioned, it remains to be seen whether it is adopted in its present form or watered down to the extent that it loses all its relevance for the so called "battered woman".
Just to add to the already existing list of concerns and not in any way undermining the importance of this Bill...have we ever thought that even men could be subjected to domestic violence by women??
I think that there is a possibility that it occurs and men are even less likely to report such incidents as it would lessen their machismo in public...What will people think? Tu apni biwi/maa/ behen se pit ta hai..hoooooooo? Not only this, there is also the legitimate fear of washing dirty linen in public. After all, no one wants to discuss their family or personal problems in public.
While equality is still rhetoric in India, we must spare a thought for those men who face or are likely to face domestic violence, not underestimating the fact that women are far more likely to face domestic violence than men in India. It would therefore be useful to discuss domestic violence as an issue of physical assault , keeping in mind but not magnifying the gender aspects of the problem.
Till that happens, men facing domestic violence will have to share their problems at their local "Battered Mens' Club'!
Found an interesting link on this issue....http://www.menweb.org/straus99.htm