LPPYF Law and Public Policy Youth Fellowship is an Online National Summer School Program, a Two-Month Online Immersive Legal Awareness & Action Research Certificate Training Course and Internship Program, from June-August 2023 by IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute. An informative and interactive panel discussion on “Legal & Social Practice – Gender ” was held on the 3rd of July, 2023 by Adv Audrey D Mello, Director, Majlis Legal Centre, Mumbai.
Adv. Audrey D’Mello has also been involved in two major contributions during the collaboration of Majlis with the government in two imperative areas, firstly, The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, and RAHAT, an initiative providing legal support to survivors of sexual violence.
No need for more laws.
Ms Mellow talked about how the 1980s was the time that brought out a revolution in terms of legal support for women and children. The issue of violence was being talked about more, cruelty to wives, the dowry system, the Domestic Violence Act, and the establishment of family courts, were a step ahead in terms of women’s empowerment. She then told, how people approach her by saying that India needs more laws for women.
But she mentioned that the laws currently present in India are more than enough for the legal protection of women and children. She then talked about Article 15 (3) of the Constitution of India, which grants the State the power to make special laws for women and children. We are 77 years into the process of independence, but still, women are struggling for violence and abuse-free life. In terms of Domestic Violence, and Rape cases, India has not moved forward but has taken a step back. 20 years ago, a report came out telling that 1 in every 3 women faced Domestic Violence.
She further told, that the ground reality is very different from what is shown in stats, and reports. She further added that despite the laws being in force, there are many women that are afraid to speak up against the Domestic Violence they bear at their in-laws’ house. Further elaborating on the definition of Domestic Violence, she enlightened us about the ambit of definition and understanding of domestic violence, which is not only limited to physical abuse, but mental abuse, economic abuse, and health deterioration.
Blaming women for the wrongs done to them discourages them to take the legal route
It is to be noted that there are many help centres, NGOs, and NPOs, established to help women. But the sad reality is that the judicial and legal process holds no accountability when it comes to acting against the cases reported. She further added that provisions of IPC guide a police officer to report an FIR, as soon as a woman reports any such incident of Domestic Violence, instead their actions are mostly based on suppressing women by telling her how it will destroy their family, and the societal pressure will not let them live freely.
She then told about how counselling sessions for the victims, and the wrongdoer is preferred over a proper legal process. Even when some women go to the courts, the provisions lay down speedy trials of such cases and end the case in 60 days. While such provisions are different from what ground reality really shows. On average, the hearing of such cases is scheduled in 2 months, the time period within which the case is supposed to end, the hearing occurs at that time. The judges after hearing, often reach the conclusion that either the maintenance provided is too low, or the remedy sorted is not at a level, where a woman can sustain her survival.
Though help centres, shelter homes, and protection officers have been deployed to address such cases of sexual abuse, only a few women approach them for help due to societal pressure.
The Indian Penal Code has also amended the definition of rape and included Penetration, Penetration by any object, to be accounted as rape. The Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO), Act, has a provision for mandatory reporting of cases of children abused sexually. It is legally mandated and failure to report such crimes is itself an offence and is counted as a heinous offence. She then told us that after the POCSO Act came into existence, on average, 700 cases yearly were reported in Mumbai alone, whereas the number of cases reported before the POCSO Act was 150. She then told about the beliefs that society has for women when she confronts them to report any such incident.
Society blames women for mismanagement, and call them liars or an opportunist in a greed for money. A woman has to prove to the core that she is being verbally or sexually abused in order to get justice. Even the remedies awarded are not supposed to meet the basic needs of her life. Shame, cowardness, and fear instil in their soul after being subjected to such treatment, and it is an act of shame not to do, or do the bare minimum to get her to overcome this feeling. So many suicide cases are now being reported because of delayed justice for women. They are sometimes forced to go back to their violent households, be more manageable, and adjust.
While concluding the session, she suggested that police officers should not only be trained to deal with such situations responsibly but their activities and effectiveness of training should be monitored. Continuity of such acts would hamper the growth of us as a society, and the faith in the judiciary would be lost.
Acknowledgement: Divyansh Dwivedi is Visiting Researcher at IMPRI.
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