2016 marks 10 years of Domestic Violence Act – Let’s look at this landmark judgement again

The odds of you having watched this movie are likely to be very similar to those of you knowing the finer details of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (PWDVA). 

The Domestic Violence Act, a first of its kind law in India, came into force on 26 October 2006, over a year after it was passed by Parliament. The function of the law was to be simple—address violence against women within the home.

This October, the law completes 10 years. This means that it assumes gigantic proportions @UPSC Mains for 2016 and 2017.

PWDVA was a landmark Act. Why?

For the first time, an act stepped inside the home and dealt with private spaces of individuals—something the law had avoided doing until then. Triple Talaak is still getting dragged (another case of entering private spaces of individuals).

PWDVA defined domestic violence for the first time.

The definition includes not just physical abuse, which is more identifiable and is easier to prove (for example, using medical records), but also aspects like emotional and sexual abuse. It even includes threat of violence as part of the definition.

One of the main objectives of PWDVA was to secure residence for a woman; it was immaterial that she didn’t have title or ownership of such a shared household.

What are the finer points of Domestic Violence Act?

It’s a civil law aimed at providing a fourfold support system to women who have suffered violence at home:

  • – Residence orders,
  • – custody orders,
  • – protection orders and
  • – monetary relief from a respondent

Before PWDVA, women could only seek recourse under the Indian Penal Code (IPC)—sections 304B (dowry death) and 498A (cruelty by husband or his relative).

The new law had broad definition – “domestic relationship” includes married women, mothers, daughters and sisters.

Ratifying to International conventions

PWDVA enshrines principles of the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which India ratified in 1993.

This is important stuff. Can come as a part of Prelims + is a good fodder point to write in mains and will differentiate your answer and level of understanding. 

PWDVA recognizes sexual violence within the confines of marriage

Marital rape, or sexual intercourse by a husband without the wife’s express consent, is an exception to rape under IPC. But PWDVA can come to the rescue of these women through protection orders or orders to stop violence.

Statistical data regarding Violence within the home

– A 2014 study by the United Nations Population Fund and the International Center for Research on Women found that 60% of men reported using some form of violence—physical, economic, emotional or sexual—against their wife or partner

–  Emotional violence had the highest prevalence, with 41% of men admitting that they had used it at some point on their wives or partners.

SC widens ambit of Domestic Violence Act in 2016

In a landmark verdict, the Supreme Court has widened the scope of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005. It ordered the deletion of the words ‘adult male’ from Section 2(q) of the law.

The section deals with respondents who can be sued and prosecuted under the Act for harassing a married woman in her matrimonial home. It paves the way for prosecution of women and even non-adults for subjecting a woman relative to violence and harassment.

The law has now been made gender neutral, as the court found that the words “adult male” violated the right to equality. There is better balance in the law now with the recognition that women can also be perpetrators of violence within families. The change should help many women who are victims of violence.

A critical survey of Act after 10 years

The judicial narrative on women’s rights within marriage in India has been woefully restricted to ‘lawful’ wives with little or no attention paid to other women in non-marital conjugal relationships.

The law in spirit has not been implemented. The law is very useful but states have failed in enforcement. If you look at districts courts, cases don’t come as socially they are not still acceptable.

Callousness of the authorities, judicial delays and lack of awareness defeat its purpose

The law was expected to provide security of immediate residence, but husbands are able to extend proceedings even for interim orders for several years

Despite the stipulation that the cases should be adjudicated within 60 days after first hearing.

Questions from Target Mains

#1. Despite the improvement in the condition of women empowerment, Indian women are still facing spousal violence by the hands of insecure family members and are forced to disown their properties. Discuss. What needs to be done ?

#2. In India, domestic violence against women, in various forms, is either on the rise or it is often reported in the news now a days. Apart from strictly implementing the law, what else would you do to stop this violence against women if you are posted as Superintendent of Police of a district? Explain.

#3. Critically evaluate the success of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 in protecting women from domestic violence and abuse in India.


Further Readings:

There is a nicely sketched op-ed by a senior SC lawyer, Indira Jaising and you must read it – click to read

State govts must step up to prioritise Domestic Violence Act – click to read

Women can also be prosecuted under domestic violence law: SC – follow the Newstrail at Civilsdaily

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