In these trying times, the world is fighting the Coronavirus pandemic in all its resilience. Meanwhile, domestic violence, a ‘shadow pandemic’ also seems to have engulfed the world in full throttle.
There has been a steep rise in domestic violence cases against women in every nook and corner of the world. The primary reason for the sudden surge is country wide lock downs. Cases have surged so drastically that the United Nation Secretary General has appealed to the governments to pay attention, and to prevent a “horrifying global surge in domestic violence against women” amid lockdown measures.”
The pandemic has brought with itself a combination of economic and social stress. Coupled with the home confinement and restrictions due to the lockdown, domestic violence in India has also dramatically increased. Although the degree and form of domestic violence may vary from household to household, but it is present in all strata of society.
Domestic Violence in India
Besides the current surge in cases, the situation was hideous already. Every third woman, since the age of 15, has faced domestic violence of various forms in India. Most of the times, the perpetrator is the husband. Further, almost 31% of married women in some or the other way have experienced violence, be it physical, sexual, emotional or economical. Among all these type of violence, the most common type of violence is physical violence totalling to 27%. It if followed by emotional violence which stands at 13%.
What is Domestic Violence?
The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 protects women against domestic violence. It protects women against any form of violence perpetrated by their spouse and their relatives. It entails following important definitions:
- The definition of “domestic violence” is wide in scope. It covers, mental as well as physical abuse, and also threats to do the same. It also covers any form of harassment, intimidation, harm to health, safety, limb or well-being. Additionally, there are specific definitions for the following:
- Physical abuse: Defined as an act or conduct that is of such a nature as to cause bodily pain, harm, or danger to life, limb or health or impair the health or development of the aggrieved person’. Physical abuse also includes assault, criminal intimidation and criminal force.
- Sexual abuse: The legislation defines this as a conduct of “sexual nature” that ‘abuses, humiliates, degrades or otherwise violates the dignity of a woman.’
- Verbal and emotional abuse: Insults/ ridicule of any form, including those with regard to inability to have a male child, as well as repeated threats of the same.
- Economic abuse: Categorized as including deprivation of financial resources required for survival of the victim and her children, the disposing of any assets which the victim has an interest/stake in and prohibition/restriction of financial resources which the victim is used to while in the domestic relationship.
Who can be a victim of domestic violence?
The definition of “aggrieved person” includes any woman who is or has been in a domestic relationship with the respondent and who alleges to have been subjected to domestic violence by them.
Against whom a complaint can be filed?
The definition of “respondent” includes any adult male who has been or is in a domestic relationship with the aggrieved woman, and against whom the woman has sought a relief or any male or female relative of the husband or male partner of a married woman or a woman in a relationship in the nature of marriage.
But what is a domestic relationship?
The definition of “domestic relationship” : any relationship in which 2 persons have lived together in a shared household and these people can be:
- related by consanguinity (blood relations)
- related by marriage.
- Though a relationship in the nature of marriage (which would include live-in relationships)
- Through adoption
- Are family members living in a joint family?
What relief can a woman get against any form of Domestic Violence?
Under the Act, victims should be provided with adequate medical facilities, counselling and shelter homes, as well as legal aid when required.
- Protection Officers: Under the Section 9 of the Act, Protection Officers should be appointed by the government in every district, who preferably should be women, and should be qualified. The duties of the Protection Officer include filing a domestic incidence report, providing shelter homes, medical facilities and legal aid for the victims, and ensuring that protection orders issued against the respondents are carried out.
- Application to Magistrate: Under Section 12, an aggrieved person or protection officer on behalf of aggrieved person may present an application seeking one or more relief.
- Assistance of Welfare Expert: Under Section 15, during the pendency of the proceedings, a magistrate may seek assistance of a person who is working in the field of family welfare in discharging his duties for adjudication of any application.
- Counselling: Under Section 14, counselling, as directed by the magistrate. I can be provided to both the parties involved, or whichever party requires it.
- Right to reside in shared household: Under Section 17, a woman in a domestic relationship has the right to reside in a shared household.
- Protection orders: Under Section 18, protection orders for the victim’s safety can be issues against the respondent. Such an order may be passed when the respondent:
- commits violence,
- aid or abets violence,
- enters any place which the victim frequents or attempts to communicate with her,
- restricts any form of assets of the victim or causes violence to people of interest to the victim.
- Residence: Under Section 19, the magistrate can restrict the respondent from visiting the place of residence of the victim. This step can be taken to ensure the safety of the victim. Additionally, the respondent cannot evict the victim from the place of residence.
- Monetary relief: Under Section 20, the respondent has to provide monetary relief to the victim for:
- compensation for any loss of earnings,
- medical expenses,
- any expenses incurred due to loss of property by destruction,
- damage or removal, maintenance of the victim and her children.
- Custody of children: Under Section 21, the victim can get the custody of children. Visiting rights can be given to the respondent, if necessary.
Where to complaint against domestic violence and get relief?
Any woman who is aggrieved of domestic violence may contact: –
- National Commission for Women (NCW) has released a WhatsApp No. exclusively for period of COVID-19 lockdown: 7217735372
- Aggrieved women can also e-mail their complaints to [email protected], [email protected], [email protected] to reach the NCW.
- National helpline number: 181.
- Women police helpline numbers: 1091 and 1291.
- Help to women through psychologists: 90000 70839 and 040- 2760531.
Devesh Srivastava is a practicing advocate at Lucknow High Court. He has experience in a wide spectrum of litigation. Commercial litigation is his forte. He has a knack to highlight and tackle a diverse range of social issues through legal knowledge.