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Don’t take the abuse

28 Feb
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India was in the headlines recently for a story that reverberated around the world. Was it a story that made us proud to be Indians? Unfortunately, the answer is no. The story that hit the headlines was about domestic abuse. India’s third highest diplomat in London was accused of assaulting his wife.

The rush of publicity which followed did not help the already tense situation and the traumatic subject of abuse once again reared its ugly head. Newspaper headlines from all over the world had their own point of view that went something like this. India is a country “where domestic abuse and disrespect for women seem to be the norm.” And another said “Women (in India) are sometimes abused to the point of being killed for not ‘towing the line’ as it were.”

The parents of the diplomat branded his wife amoral and accused her of trying to destroy their son’s reputation along with that of the country. The neighbours reportedly called the police but no arrest was made as the diplomat claimed diplomatic immunity. India’s Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao has warned potential offenders that there will be zero tolerance for incidents of sexual misconduct and domestic violence. “Any act of domestic violence or sexual misconduct will necessitate the immediate recall of the officer and his dependants.” However, the officer is still in the service of the Indian Administrative service and it is yet not clear if charges will be filed against him.

The reality is abuse happens all over the world and there are always people who see the victim as the wrong-doer and try to subdue, smear and terrorise the injured party. Let us first have a look at what exactly is domestic abuse.

What is domestic abuse?

It is the establishment of control and fear in a relationship using violence. But how can one human being allow another human being such control over them? Says Anita of her abusive relationship with her husband: “It was an act of ownership. I was his toy to do whatever he wanted. If I disagreed in any way it was hell. Soon I just let him have his way without any protest. Each violent act just made me feel guiltier.”

There are different types of abuse. There is physical, sexual, monetary, social and emotional abuse. Domestic abuse or violence is not just hitting, or fighting or arguing. It is an abuse of power. Physical abuse is the most easily recognised form of abuse. It can be any form of hitting, shaking, burning, pinching, biting, choking, throwing, beating and other actions that cause physical injury, leave marks or cause pain.

Domestic violence is among the most prevalent and among the least reported forms of cruel behaviour. Women are again the target but it also extends towards children. Although women are in the majority they are not the only victims. Many men too are abused by a spouse or partner.

An abuser wants to control the situation and the person, places blame on others and has little control over impulses and suffers low self esteem. All forms of domestic abuse have one main purpose: to gain and maintain control over the victim.

Domestic abuse and violence can happen to anyone and yet the problem is overlooked, excused or denied. This happens more often when the abuse is both psychological and physical. “I just felt guilty for making him angry. My husband was so good to me most of the time that when he gave me a couple of slaps I felt it was ok,” says Anju, who is still with her partner. According to Dr. Bhambri, a physician who has seen and counselled many women in abusive relationships, “In some cases it becomes a routine. The women in such cases are emotionally and sexually attached to their spouse and take the beatings as normal. In effect she becomes used to it.”

Across the board

An abuser does not play fair. An abuser uses fear, guilt, shame and intimidation to wear you down. Domestic abuse does not differentiate. It occurs across the board. It occurs within all age groups, ethnic backgrounds and economic levels.

One thing that is often heard in an abusive relationship is the abuser say that the victim made them do it. This is, of course, quite ludicrous. It is important to remember that there is no justification whatsoever for abuse.

Remember the abuser is good at manipulating victims. The abused sometimes does not recognise that he is abused, battered, depressed, scared, drained, and confused. Do remember that as a human being you deserve to feel valued, respected and safe. The oft-repeated healthy relationships based on give and take are the foundation of any relationship.

One has to learn to compromise and work with compassion on the relationship and each other. Communication is the key and the first step towards what is a tough battle to a better relationship. According to Dr. Bhambri, most men are violent because they see their spouse as economically inferior and physically weaker. Changed perceptions and mutual respect are key to a better relationship.

What are the reasons for abuse?

One must emphasise right at the outset that there should never be reasons for abuse. It is something that should never be condoned. However, we must look at the why behind such behaviour though there can never be any justification for such an act. Very often the battered might be mentally ill, or even abused themselves or not even realise that their behaviour is contrary.

Domestic control is not about losing control but more about having absolute control. These people are vindictive and manipulative and it is all about controlling the other person. The build-up to violence and the resultant repentant stage is a vicious cycle that occurs and reoccurs in a set pattern.

The important mark is realisation. You are on the road to recovery if you can face the truth and face your feelings. Coming out of denial is a huge step forward. Managing your shame and anger and overcoming fear of ostracisation are all steps towards becoming a better member of society. Agrees Sanjay, “I had a lot of anger within me and was hitting out all the time. I went through hell before I even realised what I was doing. Hitting had become a habit.” Today he is calmer and wiser but has lost his family as his wife left him with the children. Putting them in jail is a temporary measure and can sometimes lead to greater violence.

So where are we at today?

The reality today is that there is an urgent need to address and understand the issue. But progress is slow because attitudes are deeply entrenched and to some extent because effective strategies to address domestic violence are still being defined. As a result women worldwide continue to suffer, with estimates varying from 20 to 50 per cent from country to country.

This appalling toll will not be eased until families, governments, institutions and civil society and organisations address the issue directly and openly. “We cannot function in isolation and all of us must take the responsibility to curb this menace of domestic violence against women” said Sheila Dixit on inaugurating a campaign called ‘Bell Bajao‘.

The Domestic Violence Act 2005 is the first significant act in India to recognise domestic abuse as a punishable offence. A woman who is a victim of domestic violence will have the right to the services of the police, shelter homes and medical establishments. She also has the right to simultaneously file her own case. “The law is there for women with children who are trying to escape an abusive marriage,” says Manisha who has worked with countless women wishing to find some peace in a physically violent marriage.

What is important to remember is that anyone in an abusive relationship can influence and change the dynamics of the relationship. The trauma and misery can be changed. It requires strength and overcoming tough hurdles but it can be achieved.

Signs of domestic abuse

Abuse could be verbal or violence that leads to physical injury. A fear of your partner who is in control which means you do not want to anger him. Self-loathing, desperation and helplessness are emotions that vie with each other constantly and which also has a fair amount of self-questioning. Possessive behaviour and extreme jealousy and forced sex are other signs. You are in an abusive relationship if these points echo your relationship.

Pattern of abuse

All organisations agree that there is a general pattern that takes place in domestic abuse.

There is the build up phase when the tension increases. Verbal attacks increase followed by an explosive phase with violent outbursts. Once the violence has been unleashed and spent then remorse sets in. This is a period of self doubt and also of laying the blame on the other person. After which there is a time of promises that it will never occur again. This is followed by the Honey moon phase where everything seems alright and there are no problems whatsoever.

If you suspect domestic abuse

Speak up and do ask for help for yourself or others. It is very important to listen and validate and offer your help and support. However, it is of paramount importance that you do not wait, pass judgement, ignore or blame anyone. The most important point to remember is not to wait but act now, at once, today, this very moment. Seema’s sister was brutally beaten and barely managed to escape with her life. Says Seema, “I wish I had pushed her more to confide in me. I saw the signs but closed my mind when she would not be drawn.” She adds remorsefully “I just let it be when she needed me the most.”

When women become ‘witches’

7 Feb

Saira Kurup, TNN, 7 February 2010, 02:21am IST  , TIMES OF INDIA

RANCHI: On January 2, 2010, three masked men barged into Pinki’s home in Tapodana village, Ranchi district and killed her parents on the charges of practicing witchcraft Pinki , 14 and her younger brother are now in hiding because she too has been named as a dayan or witch. Sushila Devi, 45, tries to hide the injury on her head with her sari pallu as she describes how she and four other village women, mostly widows, were beaten, paraded naked and forced to eat excreta in Patharghatia village in Deoghar district, Jharkhand on October 17, 2009.  They were accused of being dayans. “There were at least 10,000 villagers watching when these women were beaten up. Word had spread that the dayans would be dancing,” says Deepak Kumar Deo, legal trainer with an NGO, Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra (RLEK) in Ranchi.

A witch doctor (ojha) ‘treating’ a woman accused of being a witch; Sagrina Bibi (left) and Gulinoor Bibi, who were assaulted for being ‘dayans’ in October last year

A witch doctor (ojha) ‘treating’ a woman accused of being a witch; Sagrina Bibi (left) and Gulinoor Bibi, who were assaulted for being ‘dayans’ in October last year

Pinky and Sushila are lucky to be alive because scores of women are killed on charges of witchcraft in states like Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal annually. Between 2001 and 2008, 452 women were killed in Jharkhand, according to a report by an NGO, Association for Social and Human Activities. Jharkhand’s economic backwardness and a low literacy rate of 53.6% (38.9% among women) make for a fertile environment that breeds superstition, illiteracy and violence against women. Even the death of an animal becomes a trigger for condemning some poor woman as a dayan. Often, it’s an excuse to grab property or settle scores with someone.

Although Jharkhand has a witchcraft prevention Act — under which the maximum punishment is a one-year imprisonment, its implementation is still awaited. RLEK chairman Avdhash Kaushal says, “Lack of access to justice is the main problem. But there are many other barriers too, such as of distance, of attitude towards rural people.”  Keeping that in mind, RLEK organized a legal literacy programme in a village near Ranchi last month, during which hundreds of women were able to voice their grievances to Supreme Court and High Court judges, state bureaucrats, and officials of the National Legal Services Authority (Nalsa). Reacting to Pinky’s and Sushila’s cases, HC Justice M Y Eqbal said while witch-hunting should invoke stricter penalties, it is more important to spread awareness.

But economic insecurity is also a tough enemy. Many women at the village meet complained about not receiving their widow pensions and not getting work under NREGA. Those who do get work said they are paid less than men. Despite their trauma, Safina Bibi, Sagrina Bibi, Gulinoor Bibi and Majidan Bibi — the other four women who were assaulted along with Sushila Devi – are more concerned about getting a “lal card” or the ration card. However, there’s now a glimmer of hope, with Union woman and child development minister Krishna Tirath saying recently that there would soon be a law against witch-hunting. But would that ensure justice for the likes of Pinki and Sushila? That, unfortunately, still seems a long way off.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/sunday-toi/view-from-venus/When-women-become-witches/articleshow/5543904.cms

RECOMMENDATIONS Third Monitoring & Evaluation Report 2009 on the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005

15 Nov

The M&E of the implementation of the PWDVA has reached another milestone in its third year. With the experience of having undertaken a nationwide evaluation of data with a primary emphasis on adequacy of infrastructure in the previous two years, the focus this year has shifted to a comprehensive assembling and analysis of the KAP of key stakeholders. Hence, in addition to finding continuing evidence of the need for effective and adequate infrastructure, the data analysed this year also points to the need to review certain aspects of the substantive and procedural law. Specific suggestions with regard to effective capacity-building of implementing agencies, towards ensuring adequate infrastructure, and creating a system of accountability for all the stakeholders have also been put forth.

Although a definitive conclusion as to the nature of amendments required in the PWDVA cannot be made at this nascent stage, recommendations highlighting the areas that require in-depth evaluation in the coming years have been provided in this chapter. In the next two years, LCWRI and ICRW seek to track these issues through data collection and analysis in order to suggest specific amendments to the PWDVA. The recommendations in this chapter have been provided with the understanding that the Law in order to be effective, ought to be responsive to the needs of its users and practices of the stakeholders.

Definitions and Coverage

Definitions

(1) There is a clear gap in the understanding of domestic violence as defined by the Law. While most stakeholders recognise emotional and verbal abuse as forms of violence under the Law, physical violence, which is visible in nature, appears to takes precedence over other forms. Sexual violence within marriage is clearly not recognized as a form of violence. This selective interpretation of domestic violence will and does influence the subsequent implementation of the Law by various stakeholders.

Trainings with stakeholders should be undertaken to clarify that domestic violence can take various forms and is not restricted to physical violence alone. The trainings must focus on sexual, emotional and verbal abuse as key components of the definition of domestic violence and undertake an in depth examination of these aspects so that women facing sexual, emotional or verbal violence receive as much attention from stakeholders as women facing physical domestic violence.

(2) Analysis of orders indicates that a combination of various forms of abuse are experienced and reported by the AP. This is consistent with our experience with Third Monitoring & Evaluation Report 2009 women who say that they face multiple forms of domestic violence, and is reiterated by the POs who say that domestic violence co-occurs1. The most common forms of abuse seem to be economic and physical (either singly or in combination with others). The predominant form of economic abuse reported is dispossession or the threat of dispossession of the AP from the shared household and refusal to provide maintenance.

This trend strengthens the case for equitable distribution of matrimonial property and underscores the continuing relevance of the issue of dowry and the need to strengthen the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961.

(3) The right to reside remains an area of major concern for women. There is much confusion amongst the implementing agencies as to the scope of the definition of right to reside. Many POs and Police officials were unable to distinguish between the right to reside and the right to share in the property. Many felt that the Act gives the AP a right of ownership over property, which it does not. The right to reside is most affected by the Supreme Court judgment in Batra v Batra. The analysis of orders show that this judgment has been used to deny Residence Orders to married women and widows by providing the reasoning that since the premises belong to the mother-in-law and fatherin- law, and not the husband the home is not a shared household. However, what is encouraging is that in both Delhi and Maharashtra, the courts have distinguished the facts of the cases before them from that of Batra. They have upheld the AP’s right to reside, on the ground that in Batra v Batra, the husband’s claim to have left the house of his parents was false and done with the intention of denying the right of the wife.

There appears to be a clear need to further explain the scope of “shared household”under the Act and the right to reside as providing a right of residence, irrespective of ownership, title, or interest in the premises

Coverage: Aggrieved Person and Respondent

(4) As recorded in the previous M&E Reports, married women continue to remain the primary users of the PWDVA followed by widows. While the information gathered from order analysis shows that applications by daughters were limited, mothers have used the Law in a number of instances. However, by and large there appears to be a perception that the Act is predominantly a matrimonial law. A fair level of misunderstanding exists with regard to key concepts such as the definition of AP2 and of Respondent3. In the case of the AP, it arises mainly in the case of a mother-in-law wanting to fi le a complaint against her daughter-in-law. With regard to the Respondent, there seems to be general clarity that it is ‘any adult male person;’ the husband is shown to be the sole Respondent in a majority of orders examined. However, the confusion arises with regard to female relatives of the ‘adult male’ and is prevalent amongst the Judiciary as well.

Whilst trainings and awareness creation can help reduce the confusion with regard to these definitions, there still remains a need to revisit these definitions in the PWDVA. Perhaps a clarification is needed, that, female relatives of the husband/male partner come within the purview of the Act

Practices and Procedures

Pre-Litigation

(5) Counselling at the pre-litigation and litigation stage of proceedings have completely different objectives and requirements, which are rarely understood by all the relevant stakeholders. At the pre-litigation stage, counselling should be provided to the AP to restore her self-esteem, provide emotional support and assist her in making an informed decision as to whether she wants to initiate legal proceedings. As far as the Respondent is concerned, the focus should be on helping them acknowledge their past acts of violence and counsel them to stop further violence. The objective of court directed counselling at the litigation stage is mainly to prevent violence, and where the woman so desires, attempt settlement. It is difficult to gauge who is providing counselling services at the pre-litigation stage. However, findings have made it clear that women need pre-litigation counselling in  addition to pre-litigation advice as provided under Section 5 of the Act. The courts appear to continue to rely heavily on counselling and mediation. However, the concern here remains whether the courts are able to distinguish between counselling, mediation and settlement.

Therefore, there is a need to understand counselling as mandated by the Law and its intent, in order to counter practices that might work against that intent. Findings clearly indicate that the meaning and objective of counselling under the Law, by whom and at what stage, need further elaboration. Hence, counselling needs to be defi ned and its objective at both the pre-litigation and litigation stages needs to be clarifi ed through appropriate amendments to the provisions on counselling under the Act and Rules.

(6) The objective and purpose of the DIR, of serving as a documentary record/evidence of violence and simplifying the procedural requirements in accessing courts, has not translated into practice. Findings have indicated that POs neither fi ll out a DIR each time a woman approach them, nor do they maintain any other record of the woman’s complaint or visit. This could have negative implications in case the woman decides to fi le a case in court at a later stage as no record of the history of violence would be available. Better understanding with regard to the purpose of the DIR is required. Perhaps practice directions from relevant High Courts clarifying this issue would help achieve uniform interpretation and usage.

Litigation

(7) Findings from order analysis in Delhi lend credence to the fact that in the absence of a DIR to accompany the application fi led before the court, it is the woman whose interest gets compromised. In practice, the courts appear to interpret the proviso to Section 12(1) of the Act to mean that a DIR needs to be recorded by the PO or that they must necessarily consider the information contained in the DIR before passing any order under the Act. This problematic interpretation by the courts may therefore make a difference between availability of speedy reliefs and delays in proceedings. One of the most disturbing observations has been the lack of information/limited reference made to the role played by POs in the process of litigation.This finding needs to be tracked and verified in the coming years to develop a better understanding about the role of POs within the litigation process.

(8) In most states, the practice of POs seeking assistance from Police in the discharge of specific functions under the PWDVA is gradually emerging. However, usually, it is  only upon court direction that such assistance is provided. This can be attributed to the common misconception amongst the Police that as the PWDVA is a civil law; they have a limited or no role to play in its implementation. Therefore, clarity on the role of the Police in the implementation of the PWDVA, perhaps by way of trainings or directives is essential to ensure consistency in the nature of assistance provided by them. Both the Police Department and the Judiciary are ideally placed to provide such directions.

(9) As in the previous M&E Reports, reliefs that are most commonly sought and granted are Maintenance Orders, Protection Orders and Residence Orders, with Maintenance Orders being the most commonly granted, followed by Protections Orders and then Residence Orders. The relief of maintenance sought is primarily on refusal to maintain the wife and children as well as desertion or dispossession from the shared household. The number of ex-parte/ad-interim orders being granted is extremely low. This is a negative trend as it defeats the purpose of granting immediate relief to the woman facing domestic violence and extricating her from a violent environment. Hence, it is strongly recommended that the courts do not hesitate to grant ex-parte or ad-interim orders where there is a prima facie case and where the denial can, and often does, lead to imminent harm or danger. Interim orders are being granted in Delhi and Maharashtra and Maintenance Orders are the most frequently provided interim relief. However, more emphasis needs to be placed on the significance of immediately granting interim orders. They should be granted as a matter of routine whenever the AP can prove a prima facie case in her favour, without going into technicalities of procedure.

(10) The PWDVA vests the Judiciary with discretionary powers with regard to procedure to be followed when dealing with domestic violence cases. This was done

with the intention of allowing the Judiciary space for creative interpretation and initiative. However, in certain instances, it appears that this discretionary power is resulting in a lack of uniformity in procedures being followed. Therefore, it may be recommended that there is a need for guidance with regard to procedures. In the absence of amendments to the Act, this could be provided by High Courts in order to address the confusion or delays but at the same time, care must be taken to ensure that the directions provided do not defeat the intention and object of the Law.

(11) By and large, the procedure being adopted by the court is that at the interim stage, decisions are based on affidavits in Form III while at the final stage, Section 125 CrPC procedure is followed. A unique but disturbing trend of a large number of compromises or settlements has emerged9 in Gujarat. Although it was not possible to determine the reasons for this trend, perhaps in many of these cases compromises are imposed on women in the name of maintaining family, which in the process expose her to continued and/or even greater violence. In view of the fact that a similar finding emerged in case of Himachal Pradesh in the Second M&E Report, it is essential to undertake a detailed analysis of this development in states where such high rates of settlement and compromise have been observed over a period of time, to understand the factors that encourage such high rates of settlements.

(12) Order analysis has revealed a trend where a majority of appeals are being preferred at the interim stage of the proceedings as opposed to being made against final orders. This is of concern as the execution of the interim order passed gets stalled during the appeal proceedings. Thus this practice should not be allowed and encouraged as it defeats the purpose of providing immediate reliefs to the woman in order to extricate her from the violent environment. It is recommended that the Act should be amended to the effect that appeals are disallowed at the interim stage in domestic violence cases and are disposed of within a stipulated time frame so as to prevent prolonged proceedings that defeat the very purpose of immediate reliefs mandated under the Act.

Post-Litigation

(13) Filing complaints for breach under Section 31 the PWDVA remains the predominant method of enforcement of orders. However, one of the problematic aspects that require the immediate attention of the higher Judiciary as well as policy makers is that, in a majority of cases, no direction for enforcement/compliance of orders is included in the orders themselves. This acts as a barrier for the woman who must approach the court separately for such a direction. It is recommended that a direction for enforcement be contained in the order and in addition the courts direct the Police to assist the POs in the enforcement of the order should the need arise. Further, a mechanism, to track orders passed by courts and their subsequent execution, needs to be set up.

(14) Findings10 indicated that the court is failing to provide updates to the Pos regarding the proceedings of the case and copies of orders from the court are also not being forwarded to them. This acts as a barrier in the implementation of the PWDVA, as POs are expected to enforce orders.

Infrastructure

(15) There has been a gradual increase in the appointment of independent POs on a full-time basis over the past 3 years. Whilst it is desirable that a cadre of independent, full-time POs with the requisite qualifications and gendered perspective be appointed, they would not be effective without adequate infrastructure and budget such as allowance for transport, mobile phone, private office space, and official letterheads and so on. Thus, what is needed is not merely infrastructural aid but institutional status as well. There is a need to review and perhaps ensure some uniformity in the qualifications of POs, particularly in view of the need to appoint a full-time cadre of POs to effectively implement the Law. However, a defi nitive conclusion as to what the qualification and role of the PO ought to be can only be arrived at following a separate study which includes comprehensive data collection and analysis of practices in this regard across the states. Regular and systematic assessments and reviews should be undertaken by states with regard to the type of support being given to POs. This will facilitate an assessment of whether or not suffi cient support is being given to the POs to enable them to perform the role that is envisioned under the Law. If it is the case that support is lacking, then this can be looked into and rectifi ed. If it is the case that despite the support being given, the PO is still unable to perform his/her duty,then the state can consider what other types of support should and could be made available to the PO .

(16) Ambiguity surrounds the issue of who is to serve notice, the limitations faced by POs when they are required to do so, and the resultant difficulties faced by women litigants. Hence, there is a clear need to address this issue and provide the requisite personnel/assistance to POs or in the alternative, designate the Police/court process servers to undertake this responsibility. The High Courts of Delhi and Andhra Pradesh have set a good example by bringing clarity and consistency through their practice directions.

(17) The collation of national infrastructure data highlighted the fact that three years after the coming into force of the Act, nodal departments of most states were still unable to provide detailed information about the role of SPs, Shelter Homes and Medical Facilities as it is still not clearly visible. Hence, there is a need for coordination between stakeholders and the adoption of a uniform practice of reporting to nodal departments regarding their structure and functioning, as discussed further in the Monitoring and Accountability section below.

Budgetary Allocations

(18) To date, it has been reported that 17 states have made budgetary allocations for the implementation of the PWDVA. However, there is no systematic basis for making these allocations, and much is left to the discretion of the individual states. There is a definite need to increase budget for support and for allocation of funds to implement the Act. It is suggested that a scheme should be formulated to ensure a regular annual flow of a specified amount every year with ongoing financial monitoring.

Awareness Creation and Capacity Building

(19) The findings of this Report highlight the fact that knowledge of the Law and attitudes of the stakeholders hold equal importance as an imbalance of either can hinder or frustrate the objective of the Law. Further, it is clear that there are gaps in the understanding of the PWDVA and its coverage amongst Police, POs and Judiciary which need to be addressed. Trainings undertaken by LCWRI have demonstrated that there is a significant level of positive change that can be achieved even through limited (in terms of length and exposure) interventions, if there is comprehensive coverage of the Law and a gendered approach is adopted. This leads to the assumption that for all stakeholders to be covered and for the impact to be sustained, there is a critical need for systematic and more intensive trainings. In order to achieve this, trainings must be institutionalised and the primary responsibility must vest with nodal departments and training academies. As a first step, states should undertake systematic orientation training on the PWDVA, thereby having a trained and sensitised body of implementers of the Law from the outset. This should particularly be ensured every time a cadre of POs, new batches of Police Officers and Judges are inducted into their respective services. This ought to be followed up with special refresher programmes for in-service officers. Professionals and persons with expertise in the area of gender and domestic violence should be invited to conduct these training programmes. In fact, the training interventions conducted with the Judiciary, made it clear that Judges respond well to professional experts such as medical professionals, Lawyers etc. At the same time, a specific component of gender sensitisation with a specialist exploring the attitudes of the Judges is crucial.

(20) The LCWRI model of capacity building or Training Interventions to bridge gaps and ensure effective implementation of the Law works effectively, as indicated by our findings. It is recommended and hoped that the participants trained will take on the responsibility of further training and sharing information and knowledge gained with their colleagues and juniors. However, this is an aspect that would require some time and tracking in the years to come.

(21) There are gaps in awareness and knowledge amongst the POs on specific  procedures to be followed in general and with regard to the fi lling of DIRs, serving of notice and reporting of breach in particular. With regard to the Police, findings are clearly indicative of gendered perceptions. As the Police are often the first to be approached by women facing domestic violence, these gendered perceptions, if not addressed through appropriate training and sensitisation workshops can be impending barriers to women accessing the law. Hence, training programmes with the POs, Police and other relevant stakeholders need to be conducted to address this issue in a comprehensive manner.

Monitoring and Accountability

(22) The existence of varied practices and lack of adequate infrastructure, budget and trainings across the states reiterates the need to institutionalise the M&E of the implementation of the PWDVA. The State needs to adopt a comprehensive system for the monitoring and evaluation of the implementation of the Law on an annual basis as recommended in the First and Second M&E Reports.

(23) To date, there is no system of mandatory reporting to the nodal department by all stakeholders. In fact, the information provided by the nodal departments show that it is only the POs who report to them. Therefore, over a period of time, a misconceived assumption has developed; that it is mainly the PO who is responsible for the implementation of the PWDVA and that other stakeholders do not have much of a role to play. Hence, there is an urgent need to ensure accountability through developing a robust system of mandatory reporting on specific indicators15 for all stakeholders, including the Judiciary. As the Judiciary follows a distinct reporting structure, it is recommended that there is regular sharing of information regarding the PWDVA between the higher Judiciary and the nodal departments.

(24) Currently, performance in cases fi led under the PWDVA does not form a part of the criteria against which the Judiciary is evaluated. Provision of information as to the exact nature of the cases is left to the discretion of the individual Judge. The issue of domestic violence should be given the priority and focus it deserves. Therefore, it is recommended that cases fi led under the PWDVA should be included as part of the duty performance system of the Judiciary. A similar approach can also be followed in case of POs, with the development of an incentive-based performance and appraisal system to facilitate accountability and better implementation of the Law.

(25) A major obstacle in the identification of the total number of cases fi led before the courts under the PWDVA, arises due to the existing system of registering and labeling cases. In some courts it is a miscellaneous application, while in some, it is registered as a criminal case or a domestic violence case. Uniformity in the description and registration of the cases under the PWDVA in the Court Registry is a much needed requirement.The First M&E Report identified three models of implementation of the PWDVA. This year’s M&E Report has not been able to track the existence of these models, across all states due to the specifi c focus on a few states. However, these models continue to exist in the 3 states studied this year, Andhra Pradesh (Public Model), Rajasthan (Private Model) and Delhi (Mixed Model). Tracking these models continue to remain relevant in the years to come.

PWDVA – PROTECTION OF WOMEN FROM DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ACT

LCWRI- LAWYERS COLLECTIVE WOMENS RIGHTS INITIATIVE

PO – PROTECTION OFFICERS

FOR THE REPORT PLS DOWNLOAD

Staying Alive Third M&E Report 2009.pdf

HOME MINISTRY DIRECTIVE TO STATE POLICE DEPARTMENTS ON VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND HUMAN TRAFFICKING

20 Sep

The Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Shri Ajay Maken today said that the Government of India in close co-ordination with the various State and UT Governments had intensified measures against Human Trafficking and Crime against women. Shri Maken also informed that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) along with United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), will be organizing a workshop for training of trainers of all stake holders against Human Trafficking by the end of this year. The Conference will be inaugurated by the Home Minister, Shri P Chidambaram, he said. After this workshop, the MHA also intends to organize similar workshops for stake holders from SAARC countries in line with Government of India’s offer of conducting training programmes for Capacity building for implementation of the SAARC Convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children, he elaborated.

In this regard the Ministry had convened a meeting of the Nodal Officers for Human Trafficking of various States and UTs on August 28, 2009 and had pushed forward the agenda of co-ordinated and intensive efforts against trafficking, Shri Maken informed.

While the meeting resolved to strengthen the respective Nodal Officers and Offices at the Centre and in the States, it also deliberated upon certain common operating procedures and practices, following which MHA has issued the following two advisories to the State Governments and UT administrations to issue suitable directions to all concerned to check crime against women and Human Trafficking;

Advisory regarding Measures needed to curb Crime against Women issued on September 4, 2009.

Advisory on Preventing and Combating Human Trafficking in India issued on September 9, 2009.

Main Points of advisory on checking crime against women

The advisory  has detailed measures that are needed to curb crime against this vulnerable section of the society.  The States and UTs have also been asked to convey the status on the measures to the Centre within a month. The Government of India have been advising the State Governments from time to time regarding the steps that need to be taken to afford a greater measure of protection to the women and in particular to prevent incidence of crimes against them.  Through the advisories, the State Governments were also requested to undertake a comprehensive review of the effectiveness of the machinery in tackling the problem of women and to take appropriate measures aimed at increasing the responsiveness of the law and order machinery.

Some State Governments, no doubt, have taken some measures in this regard. However, the inputs regarding crime against women available with this Ministry indicate that these measures need to be strengthened further. Despite several steps being taken by the State Governments, picture still is very grim and disappointing. Complaints are still being received regarding non-registration of FIRs and unsympathetic attitude of police personnel towards rape victims and victims of violence.

The National Commission for Women has been undertaking visits to various States to review the status of women and has been making available findings of their inquiry to the concerned State Governments as well as to the MHA.  The reports of the inquiries conducted by the Commission in specific incidents indicate that the level of sensitiveness and care with which crime against women should be handled is not up to the desired level.

The Government of India is deeply concerned with these trends and ground situation and has re-emphasized that urgent action should be taken on the following:-

  • Vigorously enforce the existing legislation relating to Crime against Women and Children, i.e.,  Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929, Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956, Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986, Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987 and Violence against Women (Prevention) Act, 2005, Section 67 of the IT Act, 2000, the display of lascivious photographs/films on computer through internet, etc.
  • Government must ensure proper enforcement of law and convictions in women related crimes.  Enforcement agencies should be instructed in unambiguous terms that enforcement of the rights of the weaker and vulnerable sections including women and children should not be downplayed for fear of further disturbances or retribution and adequate preparation should be made to face any such eventuality.
  • The administration and police should play a more proactive role in detection and investigation of crime against women and ensuring that there is no under reporting.
  • Increasing the overall representation of women in police forces.  The representation of women in police at all levels should be increased through affirmative action so that they constitute about 33% of the police.
  • Sensitizing the law enforcement machinery towards crime against women by way of well structured training programmes, meetings and seminars etc., for police personnel at all levels as well as other functionaries of the criminal justice system.
  • Government must take concrete steps to increase awareness in the administration and among the police in particular, regarding crime against women, and take steps not only to tackle such crimes but also deal sensitively with the ensuing trauma.

For improving general awareness on legislations, mechanisms in place for safety and protection of women, the concerned department of the State Government must, inter-alia, take following steps:

  1. Create awareness through print and electronic media;
  2. Develop a community monitoring system to check cases of violence, abuse and exploitation and take necessary steps to curb the same;
  3. Involving the Community at large in creating and spreading such awareness; and
  4. Organize legal literacy and legal awareness camps.
  5. Explore the possibility of associating NGOs working in the area of combating crime against women. Citizens groups and NGOs should be encouraged to increase awareness about gender issues in society and help bring to light violence against women and also assist the police in the investigation of crime against women.  Close coordination between the police and the NGOs dealing with the interests of women may be ensured.
  6. There should be no delay whatsoever in registration of FIR in all cases of crime against women.
  7. All out efforts should be made to apprehend all the accused named in the FIR   immediately so as to generate confidence in the victims and their family members;
  8. Cases should be thoroughly investigated and charge sheets against the accused persons should be filed within three months from the date of occurrence, without compromising on the quality of investigation.   Speedy investigation should be conducted in heinous crimes like rape. The medical examination of rape victims should be conducted without delay.
  9. Ensure proper supervisions at appropriate level of cases of crime against women from the recording of FIR to the disposal of the case by the competent court.
  10. Help-line numbers of the crime against women cells – should be exhibited prominently in hospitals/schools/colleges premises, and in other suitable places.
  11. Set up exclusive ‘Crime Against Women and Children’ desk in each police station and the Special Women police cells in the police stations and all women police thana as needed.
  12. Concerned departments of the State Governments could handle rape victims at all stages from filing a complaint in a police station to undergoing forensic examination and in providing all possible assistance including counseling, legal assistance and rehabilitation.  Preferably these victims may be handled by women so as to provide a certain comfort level to the rape victims.
  13. The specialized Sexual Assault Treatment Units could be developed in government hospitals having a large maternity section.
  14. The Health department of the State Govts., should set up ‘Rape Crisis Centres’  (RCCs) and specialized ‘Sexual Assault Treatment Units’ (SATUs), at appropriate places. RCCs could act as an interface between the victims and other agencies involved.
  15. The administration should also focus on rehabilitation of the victims and provide all required support.  The police should consider empanelling professional counselors and the counseling should not be done by the police.
  16. For improving the safety conditions on road, the concerned departments of the State Government must take suitable steps to:
  17. Increase the number of  beat constables, especially on the sensitive roads;
  18. Increase the number of police help booth/kiosks, especially in remote and lonely stretches;
  19. Increase police patrolling, especially during the night;
  20. Increase the number of women police officers in the mobile police vans;
  21. Set-up telephone booths for easy access to police;
  22. Install people friendly street lights on all roads, lonely stretches and alleys; and
  23. Ensure street lights are properly and efficiently working on all roads, lonely stretches and alleys.
  24. The local police should arrange for patrolling in the affected areas and more especially in the locality of the weaker sections of the society.  Periodic visits by DM & SP will create a sense of safety and security among these sections of the people.
  25. Special steps to be taken for security of women working in night shifts of call centers.
  26. Crime prone areas should be identified and a mechanism be put in place to monitor infractions in schools/colleges for ensuring safety and security of female students. Women police officers in adequate number fully equipped with policing infrastructure may be posted in such areas.
  27. Action should be taken at the State level to set up of Fast Track Courts and Family Courts.
  28. Dowry related cases must be adjudicated expeditiously to avoid further harassment of the women.
  29. Appointment Dowry Prohibition Officers and notify the Rules under the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961.
  30. All police stations may be advised to display the name and other details of Protection Officers of the area appointed under the Domestic Violence Act, 2005.
  31. Police personnel should be trained adequately in special laws dealing with atrocities against women. Enforcement aspect should be emphasized adequately so as to streamline it.
  32. Special steps may also be taken by the police in collaboration with the Health and Family Welfare Department of the State to prevent female foeticide.
  33. Special steps should also be taken to curb the ‘Violation of Women’s Rights by so called Honour Killings, to prevent forced marriage in some northern States, and other forms of Violence’.
  34. Ensure follow up of reports of cases of atrocities against women received from various sources, including NCW & SCW, with concerned authorities in the State Governments.

The advisories issued by MHA, inter-alia, include gender sensitization of the police personnel, adopting appropriate measures for swift and salutary punishment to public servants found guilty of custodial violence against women, minimizing delays in investigations of murder, rape and torture of women and improving its quality, setting up a ‘crime against women cell’ in districts where they do not exist, providing adequate counseling centers and shelter homes for women who have been victimized etc.

Main points of advisory on preventing and combating human trafficking in India

The key points include implementation of legal provisions in the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act 1956; Juvenile Justice Act 2000; Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006; capacity building of the State machinery; prevention of trafficking; investigation and prosecution and rescue and rehabilitation measures. The states and UTs have also been asked to convey to the Centre the present status within one month. The key points have been worked out in collaboration with the related Ministries of Women & Child Development, Labour & Employment and Health & Family Welfare.

To facilitate matters in this regard, MHA has already established an Anti Trafficking Cell (ATC) which deals with the following major subject matters:

  • All matters pertaining to the criminal aspect of trafficking in human beings especially of women and children, which is the fastest growing organized crime and an area of concern.
  • To act as the Nodal cell for dealing with the criminal aspect of Human Trafficking in India, hold regular meetings of all States and UTs, communicating various decisions and follow up on action taken by the State Governments.
  • To interface with other Ministries like Women & Child Development, Social Justice &Empowerment, External Affairs, Overseas Indian Affairs, Labour & Employment, Law, and NCRB regarding the criminal aspect of human trafficking.

The Anti Trafficking Nodal Cell of MHA has developed an MIS proforma for the monitoring of the action taken by various State Governments regarding the criminal aspect of human trafficking as well as crime against women.  The State Governments are required to send quarterly information.

http://pib.nic.in/release/release.asp?relid=52750&kwd=

Why are political parties silent on khaps?

16 Aug

These so-called panchayats must be banned

THE TRIBUNE CHANDIGARH

IN its lead editorial in The Tribune (July 25), a question is posed in all anguish: “Who rules Haryana?: The law or the khaps?” The answer is resounding: “the khaps”. From meddling into marital affairs to ostracising a family and lynching a young man for violating khap norms of marriage, the institution of khap panchayat in Haryana has traversed its hideous journey from the grotesque to the macabre.

The two marriages in question were not the same gotra marriages as erroneously reported in a section of the media. Grooms and brides in both cases belong to different gotras. Objections to these marriages rest on frivolous grounds — in one case some families of the bride’s gotra residing in her in-laws’ village while in another case the bride and the groom belonging to two neighbouring villages.

Khap panchayat is largely a Jat institution around Delhi. It is a gotra-centric body covering a cluster of villages dominated by a particular gotra of Jats. All the members of a khap are supposed to be related to one another with ties of blood. This bhaichara (brotherhood) is the basis of solidarity. Marriage within the same khap is a taboo. Even marriage in the gawand (neighbourhood) is frowned upon.

The khap is a medieval institution when Jats were tribals divided into clans. It acted as an instrument of security in an age marked by lawlessness. In modern times, it has outlived its utility when various institutions to maintain law and order are in operation.

The functioning of khap panchayats in Haryana and elsewhere around Delhi poses some fundamental issues which must be given due consideration if the society has to retain its civilised character. First of all, the concept of bhaichara in the khap area which was the raison d’etre of the institution is a myth now. Improved means of communications, transport, mass media and the spread of modern education have exposed the rural youth to the outside world and have led many of them to reject the mores of tribal society. All the members of a khap are no longer regarded as brothers and sisters and the intimacy between the two sexes is getting quite common. When it takes the shape of a matrimonial alliance, this is taken as a threat to the haloed institution of khap and invites barbarous punishment.

Secondly, the khap panchayat has no elective principle. Its so-called mukhias are self-appointed guardians of social mores. It has emasculated the electorally-constituted panchayats which give due representation to women and weaker sections.

Thirdly, It has no idea of symbiotic relationship between tradition and modernity. Tradition untouched by modernity starts stinking while modernity cut off from tradition is shallow. It is the harmonious blend between the two which takes society forward. The lack of this understanding explains its rigidity. In this respect, the Gatwala khap of Malik Jats in Gohana sub-division of Sonepat district of Haryana has proved quite sensible.

In cases of such marriages which recently rocked two villages in the state, the couple is advised to settle at any place other than the village of the groom and the issue is quietly buried. If this flexibility had been shown in the above two cases, the mammoth human tragedy — one young man brutally murdered while another narrowly escaped death after attempted suicide and his family currently living under serious threat — would have been avoided. Ravinder of Jhajjar district has been living with his aunt near Delhi for many years and had agreed to sever all relations with his parents while the deceased Ved Pal of Kaithal district had settled in Punjab.

Fourthly, the observance of khap norms has become impractical with the changing complexion of rural society. For instance, Samchana village has more than 15 Jat gotras. If the khap norm of avoiding matrimonial alliance among these gotras is observed, marriage in this village is well nigh impossible. As such the norms have been relaxed.

There are several villages in the khap belt which have about a dozen of Jat gotras, making matrimonial alliances a nightmare. Then there is a vast tract of land ranging from Fatehbad district in Haryana to Abohar-Fazilka in Punjab and adjoining areas of Rajasthan from Sri Ganganagar district to Bikaner, Jaisalmer and Badmer in Rajasthan where there is no khap system and every Jat-dominated village has almost all the Jat gotras prevalent in that area. Marriage in the same village is quite common in this belt.

Chautala, a village in Haryana, that has produced several leading politicians in the state, has several dozen marriages among its different Jat gotras. Moreover, Punjabi and Bania communities in Haryana are quite flexible in matter of gotras in matrimonial alliances. It is only Jats wedded to khaps who still live in medieval times.

The khap panchayat has become a law unto itself. It has evolved a parallel judicial system. Kangaroo courts are held and fatwas issued. Two ghastly incidents referred to above is not a rare occurrence. Several such episodes have occurred in the state and the culprits went scot- free. It is the kid-glove treatment meted out to khap custodians that has emboldened them to run amuck. A studied silence maintained by the leaders of all the political parties in Haryana except one left party is amazing. Consequently, Haryana has become a killing field for the youths eager for matrimonial alliances of their choice.

The khap panchayat in Haryana sticks out like a sore thumb in the body politic — a diseased part incapable of being cured and hence needs to be amputated. It is time its unconstitutional activities were banned with a heavy hand.

The Rajasthan High Court and the State Human Rights Commission took a suo motu notice of the functioning of the caste panchayats in the state and issued instructions to the state administration to apply a curb on them. The Home Ministry of Rajasthan vide its letter No. P-10(26) Home 13/98 dated February 14, 2001 issued instructions to the law enforcing agencies in the state to curb the unlawful functioning of the caste panchayats in the state. This has gone a long way to keep the monster under leash.

Rapid advance made by Haryana in the material field is regressive in the face of growing moral decay and spiritual atrophy in the state, with a sizeable section of its population fast lapsing into the dark zone of barbarity and depravity. It is like getting all the riches on the earth after selling one’s soul to the Lucifer.

The writer is Member, Administrative Reforms Commission, Haryana, Chandigarh

http://www.tribuneindia.com/2009/20090816/edit.htm#1

HOME MINISTER’S STATEMENT IN THE RAJYA SABHA ON HONOUR CRIMES

28 Jul

Following is the text of the statement made by the Union Home Minister, Shri P.Chidambaram in the Rajya Sabha today in response to a Calling Attention Notice regarding increasing incidents of so-called honour killings and honour-related crimes in the country and the role of self-proclaimed panchayats therein.

“Honour crimes are acts of violence, usually murder, mostly committed by family members predominantly against female relatives, who are perceived to have brought dishonour upon the family. Honour killings are rooted in antiquated traditions and social values. Since “honour killing” is not a crime classified separately under the Indian laws, no data is collected separately regarding this crime by the National Crime Records Bureau, and the same is covered under ‘murder’. Moreover, it is difficult to identify or classify an honour killing as such in any given community, since the reasons for such killings often remain a closely guarded private family matter. There is no separate law to deal with the crime of ‘honour killing’, and such crimes are dealt with under the provisions of the Indian Penal Code and are investigated and prosecuted as offences under the IPC/Cr. P.C.

2. ‘Police’ and ‘Public Order’ are State subjects under the Constitution. The responsibility for dealing with enforcement of the laws pertaining to these two subjects, including prevention, registration, detection, investigation, prosecution and punishment of crimes against women, lies with State Governments.

3. Some caste Panchayats are known to approve of these killings as reported in the media and thus are accomplices in the violation of the laws. However, caste Panchayats are informal bodies and have no legal status as such. Often, villagers give precedence to the judgement of a caste Panchayat rather than that delivered by the courts of law.

4. I recoil with shame when I read in the newspapers that two teenagers – a Dalit boy and a Muslim girl – were brutally killed in a village near Meerut, Uttar Pradesh in the name of honour. Or when I read that a young man, accompanied by a warrant officer was killed when he was on his way to fetch his wife from a village in Jind district, Haryana. Or when I read that a newly married couple in Delhi fear for their lives following a fatwa issued by a Panchayat in Jhajjar district, Haryana. Hon’ble Members will note with regret that these incidents happened last week. The vilest crimes are committed in the name of defending the honour of the family or women and we should hang our heads in shame when such incidents take place in India in the 21st century.

5. The United Nations’ “Report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its Causes and Consequences, 2002” as well as the latest report i.e. “15 Years of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women (1994-2009) – A Critical Review” do not mention India in the context of honour killings.

6. However, the Government of India is deeply concerned about violence against women and recognizes that real progress can only be made by addressing the causes that are rooted in anachronistic attitudes and false values. More efforts need to be made through educational and awareness campaigns in the communities and through sensitization of law enforcement agencies. Towards this objective, Government of India has initiated a number of legislative and ameliorative measures to check such crimes which include:

(i) Enactment of Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 which provides for more effective protection of the Constitutional rights of women, who are victims of violence of any kind occurring within the family;

(ii) Setting up of helplines for women in distress under the Swadhar Scheme of Ministry of Women and Child Development;

(iii) Support services to victims of violence through schemes such as Short Stay Homes and Swadhar under which shelter, maintenance, counseling, capacity building, occupational training, medical aid and other services are provided;

(iv) Redressal of grievances through interventions of National and State Commissions for Women; and

(v) Economic empowerment of women through the programmes of Rashtriya Mahila Kosh, Swashakti project and Swayamsidha Project by Ministry of Women & Child Development.

7. Instructions/guidelines have also been issued to the State Governments/Union Territory Administrations to effectively enforce legislation relating to crimes against women and improve the administration of the criminal justice system and take such measures as are necessary for the prevention of crimes against women. The measures suggested include:

(i) sensitize police officials charged with the responsibility of protecting women;

(ii) vigorously enforce the existing legislations;

(iii) set up women police cells in police stations and exclusive women police stations;

(iv) provide institutional support to the victims of violence;

(v) provide counseling to victims of rape;

(vi) ensure wider recruitment of women police officers;

(vii) train police personnel in special laws dealing with atrocities against women;

(viii) appoint Dowry Prohibition Officers and notify Rules under the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961;

(ix) sensitize the judiciary and police and civil administration on gender issues; and

(x) follow up reports of cases of atrocities against women received from various sources, including NCW, with authorities concerned in the Central and the State Governments.

8. Government deplores crimes committed allegedly to uphold the honour of the family or the victim or women in general and would welcome a wide discussion on how to prevent such crimes.”

NO WOMAN, NO CRY

7 Jun

More and more women are turning to the Domestic Violence Act, even though it continues to be hamstrung by a lack of adequate resources. Hemchhaya De reports ,The Telegraph Kolkatta

Saira, 25, saw her dreams coming true when she moved to Mumbai from Calcutta after her marriage. But after a few months, trouble started brewing in her marital life. When she became pregnant, her husband asked her to abort the foetus. Or else, he said, he would divorce her. Saira obliged.

But this was not the end of her plight. When she became pregnant again, she was made to undergo an abortion one more time. Then, after she became pregnant for the third time, her husband asked her to move to her parents’ home in Calcutta and get an abortion done once again. Her parents’ pleas to their son-in-law to let Saira return to her marital home fell on deaf ears.

Saira has decided to file a case against her husband under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act. Despite the trauma she has been subjected to, the 25-year-old doesn’t want her marriage to break up and wants to move back to her Mumbai home.

Rita, 26, doesn’t want a divorce either. She just wants her husband and in-laws to recognise her right to stay in her marital home. Both she and her husband are doctors. She has to live through mental torture from her in-laws who never fail to point out that it’s their home and she has to either abide by their rules or move out. Yet her husband doesn’t want to live away from his parents. Rita has sought legal counselling and filed a case under the Domestic Violence Act.

Seema, who’s in her late 50s, is also planning to file a case under the Act against her husband who has just retired from work. Her husband bought a flat after retirement, but he locked it up and told his wife that they didn’t need such a big flat. He rented a room in a building and asked her to shift there. Seema has been staying there on her own. Her husband never visits her; nor does he allow her access to the new flat, which she co-owns.

Saira, Rita and Seema are potential beneficiaries of a landmark section of the Domestic Violence Act, which came into effect in 2006. Section 17 (1) of the Act says, “Notwithstanding anything contained in any other law for the time being in force, every woman in a domestic relationship shall have the right to reside in the shared household, whether or not she has any right, title or beneficial interest in the same.”

Thanks to efforts made by non governmental organisations, women activists and lawyers, awareness of the Act is spreading slowly but steadily across some parts of the country.

“The Domestic Violence Act is a path-breaking law in many respects. It recognises several forms of domestic violence — physical torture, mental torture and, more importantly, economic violence,” says Manabendra Mandal, executive director, Socio-legal Aid Research and Training Centre (SLARTC), Calcutta, one of the 11 ‘service providers’ in the state. Under the law, service providers are tasked with helping victims of domestic violence with legal aid, temporary shelter and medical and financial assistance.

Mandal reveals that over the past few months they have been increasingly receiving cases filed under the Act, either from protection officers or from district magistrates.

The law stipulates that a state government is to appoint a required number of protection officers for each district in the state. They can be either government employees or members of NGOs with a minimum experience of three years in the social sector. For instance, there are two protection officers for Calcutta while there is one officer for each of the other districts. Among other things, protection officers are required to help the magistrate in discharging his duties as specified under the Act, receive complaints of domestic violence, take preventive or emergency action and facilitate the aggrieved person’s access to legal processes and other services. A woman can approach a protection officer in her district directly with her complaint.

Though activists argue that the law is still hamstrung by the lack of an adequate number of protection officers and service providers, others say that even then there has been a marked increase in the number of cases registered under the Act. Says Moushumi Kundu, protection officer, Hooghly district, “There is definitely a lot more awareness now about the law even in the rural pockets of my district, thanks mainly to awareness campaigns carried out by some NGOs.” Kundu reveals that about six months ago, there was only one registered case in the Serampore subdivision of Hooghly. But now the number is 20. “On an average, we have around 250 registered cases under this Act in Hooghly alone. The number can vary from one district to another. But in most places the number is more or less the same.”

Data collected through various sources show that there are now 15,320 cases registered under the Domestic Violence Act in India. That figure may look encouraging, showing as it does that more and more women are coming forward to avail of this law. But activists feel that this does not really amount to progress. “This is nothing if we consider that women account for as much as 50 per cent of the our billion-strong population,” says Ranjana Kumari, director, Centre for Social Research (CSR), New Delhi. She adds that the funds allocated for implementing the Act are still very meagre in many states. “In states like Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, it’s as little as Rs 3-4 lakh per annum. Andhra Pradesh has the highest allocation — Rs 10 crore,” she says.

“In an interesting development, while the number of cases registered under the Domestic Violence Act is on the rise, there may be a decline in the number of cases being registered under Section 498A of the IPC in some states. (Section 498A is a criminal law to punish dowry offenders.) Of course, this can also imply that the police are not discharging their duties properly in 498A cases,” says Soumya Bhaumick, consultant, CSR.

But though the Domestic Violence Act seems to be helping women, some point out that it is early days yet. Flavia Agnes, lawyer and women’s activist associated with a Mumbai-based women’s organisation called Majlis, cautions against media hype over the Act. “It’s true that many NGOs are raising awareness among victims. But this awareness is not really getting translated into more judicial orders,” she says. The appointment of protection officers is also erratic, she says. “In states like Maharashtra, the appointment of protection officers is quite irregular.”

Majlis activists will organise a workshop for women lawyers and service providers in Mumbai this week to do a reality check on the implementation of the Domestic Violence Act. The Centre for Social Research will also take part in a training programme for service providers in Calcutta.

Clearly, this is one law that needs to be constantly monitored at the implementation level to make sure that women can root out violence from their homes.

http://www.telegraphindia.com/1090603/jsp/opinion/story_11056045.jsp

UNSAFE AT HOME

24 May

http://www.tribuneindia.com/2009/20090524/spectrum/main1.htm

PUBLISHED IN THE TRIBUNE ON SUNDAY 24 MAY 2009

Shoma A. Chatterji on the ugly face of domestic violence in India and how far the law has been able to serve as a deterrent

spectrum1

  • Roopa, the ‘single’ sister in the family, did not have any problems with her brothers. But when they got married, their wives were determined to throw the woman out of the house. The unsuspecting woman became a victim of verbal, physical and economic abuse and could do nothing about it.

  • No one told Seema that she would have to give up her job during marriage negotiations. After her marriage, she was told that the family did not approve of a working wife. The choice, at that point of time, was impossible. She would have had to walk out of the marriage if she wished to continue with her work. She stuck on.

  • Rima and Shekhar do not believe in the institution of marriage. So, they decided to live together. The next two years passed like one long honeymoon. Then, Shekhar fell in love with another woman and began to put tremendous pressure on Rima to walk out of the relationship and also out of the house.

  • Riddhima had a well-paying job with the Railways. Soon after marriage, she had to hand over her passbook, chequebook and all financial documents to her spinster sister-in-law for ‘safe-keeping.’ The family kept total control over her earnings and she had to ask for permission and money even to replace her tattered pair of sandals. She suffered a nervous breakdown and was sent back to her parental home. Counselling saved the marriage in time by advising the couple to set up a separate establishment.

These instances are just the tip of the iceberg that defines domestic violence against women in India. It also points out that domestic violence does not necessarily imply violence inflicted by the male partner on his female counterpart. The single woman is as much a victim as are daughters abused and exploited by their parents. These women could earlier do almost nothing to protect themselves from domestic violence. Will they get protection now vis-a-vis the new law? While the single woman will fall under the purview of the new law, the daughters will not.

Legal reprieve

With the passage of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, for the first time in the history of legal ramifications directly linked to women, the state has recognised that violence is not only physical and/or sexual. Equally, violence can be psychological, verbal, and economic and act as warning signs of future physical violence. With this in mind, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, has laid down stringent rules to prosecute men who harass, beat or insult women at home.

The rules, notified on October 25, 2006, classify domestic violence under four categories — physical, sexual, verbal/emotional and economic. Anything remotely resembling abuse by a man of his wife, live-in partner or child, can land him in jail for one year or cost him up to Rs 20,000 in fines, or risk being booked under sundry sections of the Indian Penal Code.

Physical violence includes beating, pushing, shoving, and inflicting pain. Sexual violence covers offences such as forced sex, forced exposure to pornographic material, any sexual act with minors. Emotional violence spans insults, jibes for not having a male child, preventing a woman from taking a job, forcing marriage against a woman’s will, threat of suicide, preventing a woman from meeting someone etc. Economic violence includes denial of money, food, clothes and medicines, forcing a woman to quit her job, not allowing her to use her partner’s salary, not paying rent, and forcing her out.

The Act empowers the court to pass protection orders preventing an abuser from entering places a woman frequents, communicating with her or isolating any assets they both share. The state governments have to appoint a women protection officer at each police station. They also have to appoint service providers and counselors for victims of domestic violence.

The new law empowers the victim to approach the local magistrate directly with an appeal for protection. The magistrate may then appoint a trained protection officer to help investigate the complaint. If the complaint is found to be genuine, the magistrate will issue a ‘protection order’ to the offender and he will have to abide by this order. If the offender fails to abide by the order, the victim can complain again either to the magistrate or to the local police station and if this is proved to be true, the offender will be punished under the law. All offences under the new Act are not bailable. Marital rape, too, falls within the purview of the present Act.

Myopic law

The word ‘protection’ is a two-edged knife that cuts both ways. The fact that ‘protection’ is the moot point for women within marriage or out-of-marriage relationships underscores that women, by and large, are actually vulnerable to all kinds of violence in their relationships with men. It points out that women need protection even within an intimate relationship like marriage. It recognizes and accepts that women are the weaker sex – physically, emotionally and sexually.

Women who are professionally more successful than their husbands or male partners are often forced to tone down their achievements for fear that the relationship might either weaken or break because patriarchy has designed men to have egos that could get hurt if women partners are more successful. Besides, if the woman ever needs ‘protection’ from the man she is living with, would it not be simpler for her just to terminate the relationship? Will her male partner take kindly to her later if she files a complaint against him on whatever grounds?

How can a woman prove emotional and economic violence in a marriage that has already seen twenty summers?

No wife can be expected to move about with a tape recorder around the house. Taped recordings are not always accepted as evidence in a court of law. No neighbour, friend or relative from the in-law’s family will back up the victim as witness. “This is precisely why nearly 95 per cent of complaints filed under Section 498A allow offenders to go scot-free” says Kolkata-based lawyer Shibsankar Chakrabarty.

Feminists welcoming the law are ignoring the fact that this will place all man-woman relationships within and without marriage at risk. “How can I go to the magistrate and file a complaint against my husband who does not provide me with medical help at all and does not give me the money to buy medicines for myself when he has been a good husband in other ways? He has never abused me verbally, physically or even sexually. After 35 years of marriage and three grown-up children, I am certain that if I approach any magistrate with this complaint, knowing full well that this is economic violence, my husband may collapse from a heart attack. So, how can this new Act help me?” asks Janaki Roy, 58, wife of a retired government servant.

Women within live-in relationships will hardly get any help under the law because though live-in relationships are now legal, the man concerned can simply walk out of the house and out of the relationship, sticking a thumb out at the Act.

The infrastructural requirements, too, are no cakewalk. “The framework of the new law calls for the appointment of protection officers, service providers and counselors,” says Chakrabarty.

The new law is myopic because it targets only the male partner as the perpetrator of violence. Kolkata-based lawyer Joymalya Bagchi states: “No woman can file a complaint against another woman or women under this Act.” He adds that while Section 498A is applicable only to married women who are victims of violence, the new Act widens the scope that includes helpless mothers, unmarried sisters, widowed sisters and sisters-in-law, live-in female partners and little girls within families. “While 498A is punishment-oriented, the new Act is protection-centric and compensation-centric. The new law empowers the victim to approach the local magistrate directly with an appeal for protection,” he adds.

Conspiracy of silence

Indian society greets the problem of domestic violence with a deafening silence. It is a silence that manufactures myths like — it does not happen among “educated people”;only drunken men beat up their wives; men beat wives because they truly love them. This collective conspiracy of silence encourages attitudes of self-blame, shame and resignation in women victims of violence. Behind this silence lurks acceptance — that men have the right to use violence, while women should adjust and endure. It is an acceptance that is somewhere tacit, somewhere overt.

‘Violence is inflicting injury or damage to a person or property,’ states The Shorter Oxford Dictionary. Across the world in general and in South Asian countries in particular, patriarchal societies and institutions regard women as property, violence to women equates violence to a part of property owned and managed by men. The fact that woman is a social, emotional, political and sexual entity in her own right and any infliction of violence on her body extends to include her mind too, which is a violation of human rights, is not a part of the scenario at all. The Vedas clearly state that the woman’s body is not her own, so she should surrender herself to her husband without a murmur.

Erstwhile Japanese Prime Minister Sato often boasted to journalists that he soundly beat his wife. He received the Nobel Prize for Peace. This shows how little objection there is to socially sanctioned private violence against women. In a representative inquiry conducted by a West German research institute in the 1970s, a majority of those questioned believed that the maltreatment of animals should be condemned more strongly than the beating of wives. Not much seems to have changed since then. The roots of violence against women are deeply embedded within the patriarchal social structure itself. The structure compels the woman to subordination, subservience, and dependence on men; traps her within the wife-mother-daughter-sister role without offering her access to socially acceptable alternatives as an independent individual; and treats her primarily as an instrument of sexual enjoyment for men commanding her to remain beautiful, feminine, graceful, glamorous and young, which also accepts her as a receptacle for bearing and delivering children, commanding her to be both fertile and strong, so that she is sturdy and stern enough to bear the violence with patience.

BELL BAJAO

Every person in this world is entitled to a fundamental set of human rights that allow her or him to live with dignity and self-respect. Unfortunately, for too long, women have been regarded as less than human, and, therefore, not entitled to these human rights. Breakthrough, an NGO, works to transform attitudes towards women so that they can realise their full potential and see that “women’s rights are human rights.” One out of every three women faces violence behind closed doors. So whether it is ringing a door bell to stop a crime, or speaking out, make sure you’re doing your part to ensure women in your communities are living free of violence. It has embarked on a brilliant audiovisual campaign called Bell Bajao (Ring the Bell) that urges men to take a stand against domestic violence. Ring the bell and intervene in a situation of abuse. A simple act is all it takes to bring domestic violence to a halt.

Staying Alive

5 Nov

EDITORIAL TIMES OF INDIA NOV 2,2007

Nearly 8,000 aggrieved — mostly married — women have filed complaints since a law to protect them from domestic violence came into force in October, 2006. A national report on domestic violence titled ‘Staying Alive’ by Lawyers’ Collective and supported by UNIFEM is the first monitoring and evaluation report of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (PWDVA).

The PWDVA was conceived as a civil law whereas Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code falls under criminal law. The new law is more inclusive; it creates space for settlement of disputes and looks to providing relief to the aggrieved rather than just focusing on convicting the guilty.

The report states that the primary users of the new law are married women. There are also a number of cases where relief has been granted to widows and daughters. The law upholds the rights of women to reside in a shared household and to counselling and protection.

As a single-window clearance tool, it looks at physical, economic, mental and sexual aspects of violence. And it includes not just married women but those in live-in relationships as well as daughters and widows who are victims of domestic violence.

The PWDVA protects the right to reside in a shared household, yet finds it difficult to assure protection for want of institutional support. For instance, the law envisages the appointment of protection officers to record incidents and support distressed women, even giving them shelter in homes if necessary.

But state governments are making do with existing staff and homes instead of training and employing fresh candidates for that job and creating new infrastructure. States ought to assign funds in budgets for this provision so that women can take recourse to facilities afforded under the law.

Besides budgetary support and recruitment of special officers, state governments ought to give priority to education and poverty reduction programmes. The National Family Health Survey III revealed that violence against women is a serious problem in India.

Thirty-five per cent of women surveyed had experienced violence at home. But more women get abused in poorer and less educated households, which confirms the need to put education and poverty reduction on top of development agendas. Clearly, the law alone is not enough to protect a woman from abuse.

She needs economic independence that can free her from social prejudices and vulnerability. That kind of empowerment can come only with education, awareness and financial independence.

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