Domestic Violence is a prevalent issue with consequences not only restricted to the physical health of women but ranges to much deeper problems. Worldwide lockdowns due to the Covid-19 pandemic led to increased incidences of violence against women and girls. The situation of domestic violence is alarming and needs to be addressed.
Highlighting the issue of domestic violence and addressing challenges in the implementation of Domestic Violence Law in India, #IMPRI Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC), IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi organized a special lecture “Implementing Domestic Violence Law in India: Are we asking the right questions?” with Dr. Shalu Nigam under the series The State of Gender Equality – #GenderGaps on 16th December 2021.
Domestic Violence in India
Prof Vibhuti Patel, Visiting Professor, IMPRI; Former Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, Prof. Vibhuti started the discussion by referring to some statistics by a recent NCRB data, which states that nearly 22,300 women have attempted suicide and every day 61 cases are reported for women suicide. She went on to talk about how domestic violence differs from one class to another.
Initially, at the Basti-level, violence against women isn’t a private act, while for the Upper- and Middle-class domestic violence act and privatization of emotions is highly private. She also refers to the disbelief in society associated with violence from husband if he is well educated, well employed, and has no relation with drugs, etc. While sympathies are in order if the husband is a drug addict or womanizer.
Prof. Vibhuti also went on to highlight how women accept violence if the husband is ready to change his habits and support their pain with the traditional factor of India. After the Domestic Violence Act, 2005 she opines, several questions have now arisen in this context, opening the floor for Dr. Shalu Nigam to take the discussion forward.
Dr. Shalu Nigam, Advocate, Author, and Researcher, Gender and Human Rights, began the discussion by defining domestic violence and its various dimensions. She stated that domestic violence is a global issue but still the least understood. She pointed out that according to WHO (2013), 1 in 3 women gets beaten, coerced into sex, or abused in other ways.
When compared to rape or extortion, she highlighted domestic violence cases worse as there isn’t a way to find escape or a ray of hope. Recent lockdown issues due to Covid have increased violence in severe numbers and again sifted the concern that though home is significant for comfort, it also reiterates inequality and patriarchy. Dr. Shalu thus raised a question – Are homes safe for Women and Girls?
Later, Dr. Shalu raised three important flags: the first being a very important contradiction of mismatch between Data, Law and Policies. She asks us to focus on whether we are asking the right questions as selective picking of data or not analyzing while enforcing law or policies is creating confusion. Furthermore, she went on to discuss various impacts of violence on women and children, the mental health of women and women’s employment. She then gave insights on the direct and indirect cost of violence and who pays for the cost.
The second issue that she flagged is how India’s policymakers and law enforcers have addressed the situation? Here, she mentioned three main theories, that is, Battered Women Syndrome, Stockholm Syndrome and SLAPP Strategies that guide legal discourse. And the last issue is how India lacks in addressing finer legal principles and theories. Dr. Shalu gives us a detailed idea of provisions mentioned under Protection of Women Against Domestic Violence Act, 2005 or PWDVA and the impediments in accessing justice.
Patriarchy, in her opinion, is one major issue that prevents women from justice. An astonishing fact mentioned by her is that according to Tihar Jail statistics there are only 0.22% undertrials and 0.00 convicts are booked under 498A in 2019. A very interesting picture Dr. Shalu brings in is the contradiction prevailing in ground reality and analysis of judicial decisions and states that law is a site for contestation and resistance.
She believes that law alone isn’t sufficient for remedy; we need more qualitative medical care, shelter home, economic and social security provisions to victims and marriage must be seen as partnership or companionship. Lastly, Dr. Shalu mentions women’s right to matrimonial property needs to be legitimized, strengthening of law and advocating for related rights and policies for victims.
A Sociologist View on Violence Against Women
Prof Vishav Raksha Head, Department of Sociology; Director, Centre for Women’s Studies, University of Jammu, Prof Vishav Raksha began with Dr. Shalu’s statement that domestic violence can be seen as “living and coping with your enemy”. Prof Raksha supports this statement by stating that women have no place to open and share and a socialization pattern is evident because we reinforce what we see. She also mentioned that the presence of intersectionality of gender, class, and caste plays a very important role in violence against women.
Referring to Rinki Bhattachrya, Prof Raksha spoke that violence isn’t restricted to a particular society or strata and gives an example of how upper-class violence acts in a high-class manner where makeup hides everything. She emphasizes Unequal Powered Relation and mentions the efforts being put but the process is slow and gradual.
Talking about the role of educational institutions, Prof Raksha stressed upon creating the right mindset is really important and refers NEP 2020 as starting gender sensitization from an early age. In her opinion, domestic violence discourse is all about power and powerless being in the equation. Prof Raksha referred to a scenario of Sexual Harassment guidelines where justice’s demand for victims to be neutral everybody declined thus not in favor of justice viewing this as an egalitarian society. Awareness of Laws, re-defining values, and efforts need to be made to include information for all kinds of violence while addressing violence against women.
Status of Implementation of Law in Rajasthan
Prof Kanchan Mathur, Professor (Honorary), Institute of Development Studies (IDS), Jaipur, addressed the status of implementation of Protection of Women from Domestic Violence in Rajasthan told that 17 protection officers have been added in 2021 since 2019. With 33 districts and cartel of people implementing the act orientation programs are being held for proper training of these officers as they had no experience and they kind of had internalized domestic violence.
She highlighted how there is a minimal number of protection officers for such a big state and no structure has been formed at the block level. She stresses upon some issues that prevail in Rajasthan – 1. Huge gaps in implementation. 2. According to Mahila Salah Suraksha Kendra 20% of women experienced sexual violence and not even 2% of males had sensitivity towards it. 3. Initially state compensated but today’s scenario is cross skinned for almost all states. Prof Kanchan added that there are a plethora of problems ranging from the absence of short-stay homes, department not active, no capacity building and training, lack of appointing officers, and many more.
Prof Kanchan stated that there has been no SOP and no guidelines for budget allocation for 30 protection officers. Lastly, she highlighted a few remedial steps necessary for the betterment of the situation – 1. Wider dissemination of Law. 2. Appointing independent protection officers at the Block level and bringing structure in place. 3. Building safe stay for women. 4. Capacity Building and training. 5. Data should be in a coalition to analyze situations better. 6. The budget should increase and should be relocated and lastly, NGO’s or centres should be run by sensitive people.
Situation of Women and PWDVA in Kolkata and Delhi
Anchita Ghatak, Co-founder, Parichiti: Making Women Visible, Kolkata, stressed the fact that domestic violence isn’t just from a spouse but both natal and marital family is linked to violence against women. Important issues highlighted by her are – 1. No infrastructure for shelter homes for women facing violence. 2. Need for more protection officers. 3. Lack of Economic Support. With the decrease in women from labour force, it’s essential for women to have economic support. According to her emphases lies on increased budget, dissemination of PWDVA, conceptual aspect should be brought in and all kinds of violence should be linked.
With the pandemic hitting worldwide, Gayatri Sharma shared how it has impacted survivors of domestic violence in Delhi. She told how, with lockdown, the role of the police was essential while PWDVA focuses on minimal interaction with police, calls from victims decreased. However, she emphasized the need to rethink ways to interact with law enforcement officials. She stated shelter home is the biggest problem in Delhi with one-stop centres present in hospitals and courts with mediation and counseling available but online mediation wasn’t successful. In order to cater to this issue for a positive future, one shouldn’t be over-dependent on law and the proposed importance of maintenance orders.
Prof Vibhuti summed up the entire discussion by stating the need for affirmative action to protect women from violence and establish human rights. The focus should be shifted towards increased women economic capacity, one-stop crises model which converges all services for women in need, awareness through media, strengthen and expanding training and sensitizing similar to the early 90s for judiciary, police, citizens and social worker, educating students at an early stage and most importantly program for the batterer to promote holistic to prevent and intervene violence against women.
Acknowledgment: Sunishtha Yadav is a Research Intern at IMPRI.