DOMESTIC VIOLENCE VIS-A VIS COVID-19: FACTS & FIGURES
We all know that this lockdown has been hard on all of us, but it has been the hardest for women who are the primary victims of domestic violence. Aggrieved women are currently trapped with their abusers and their violent partners, with no escape. Violence against women has seen an exponential surge across the world during the lockdown.
Let us get it straight that it’s not just an Indian problem. It’s a global problem – a male invented problem. Since Covid-19 hit us, countries have imposed lockdowns and curfews with varying degrees of strictness. This means that families are forced to stay home. This means that women are trapped with the men who might pose physical, mental and emotional threats to them.
When Hon’ble Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi Ji announced the lockdown in the face of rising Covid-19 cases on March 24, it left abused and victimized women without a chance to save, secure or protect them. We must not be questioning the Government in this harsh time, instead take the steering in our own hands in order to drive ongoing domestic violence out of our home. Remember, everything is not bound to be controlled or supervised by the government; ground level problems can also be solved by us, the citizens without blaming government.
Going further, there has been a steep rise in crime against women across the country amid restrictions imposed due to the coronavirus outbreak, with the National Commission for Women receiving 587 complaints from March 23 to April 16, out of which 239 (& counting) are related to domestic violence – NCW Chairperson Rekha Sharma earlier said that the high number can be attributed to the lockdown imposed due to the coronavirus outbreak which has locked the abuser and the victim together.
The NCW had launched a Whatsapp number – 72177135372 – on April 10 to report domestic violence on an emergency basis during the lockdown.
The commission constituted a special team to handle these complaints on a fast track basis. The NCW, in a statement, said these messages are first scrutinised and those related to domestic violence amid the lockdown are taken up on priority and to provide immediate security to aggrieved women with the help of state police and administration. –Source ET
According to experts, husbands and male partners are undergoing ‘increased stress levels’, due to which they threaten, attack and assault their partner. The underlying cause behind the increase is primarily unemployment; lack of funds, isolation, allegedly a lack of alcohol and a disruption in the daily lives of people.
Meaning of Domestic Violence:
An effort has been made in order to extract the legislature’s intent in order to explain the meaning of domestic violence in consonance with the provision of Section 3 of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005. According to said section, Domestic Violence (also named domestic abuse or family violence) is violence or other abuse in a domestic setting, such as in marriage or cohabitation. Domestic violence is often used as a synonym for intimate partner violence, which is committed by a spouse or partner in an intimate relationship against the other spouse or partner, and can take place in heterosexual or same-sex relationships, or between former spouses or partners. In its broadest sense, domestic violence also involves violence against children, parents, or the elderly. It takes a number of forms, including physical, verbal, emotional, economic, religious, reproductive, and sexual abuse, which can range from subtle, coercive forms to marital rape and to violent physical abuse such as choking, beating, female genital mutilation, and acid throwing that results in disfigurement or death. Domestic murders include stoning, bride burning, honor killings, and dowry deaths (which sometimes involve non-cohabitating family members).
Purpose & Scope of the Act: Expounded by Judgements
The High Courts and the Supreme Court of India have expounded the purpose and scope of this piece of legislation more than the legislation itself. Different judgements have been explaining the clarity over issues/sections, which act failed to provide or explain. This legislature is an old piece or paper. This act was introduced in the year 2005 and since then even change in trend in these 15 years and increase in number of cases has not been able to explain to the government that a suitable amendment is the need of the hour.
Till the year 2005, the remedies available to a victim of domestic violence were limited. The women either had to go to the civil court for a decree of divorce or initiate prosecution in the criminal court for the offence punishable under Section 498A of IPC. In both the proceedings, no emergency relief was available to the victim. Also, the relationships outside the marriage were not recognized. This set of circumstances ensured that a majority of women preferred to suffer in silence, not out of choice but of compulsion. Having regard to all these facts, the Parliament thought fit to enact Domestic Violence Act. The main object of the Act is protection of women from violence inflicted by a man or/and a woman. It is a progressive Act, whose sole intention is to protect the women irrespective of the relationship she shares with the accused. The definition of an aggrieved person under the Act is so wide that it taken within its purview even women who are living with their partners in a live in relationship.
Who can file a complaint under the Domestic Violence Act?
Section 2(a) of the Domestic Violence Act defines “aggrieved person” as any woman who is, or has been, in a domestic relationship with the respondent and who alleges to have been subjected to any act of domestic violence by the respondent.
Meaning thereby, even those women who are sisters, widows, mothers, single women, or living in any other relationship with the abuser are entitled to legal protection under the Domestic Violence Act.
What is shared household?
‘As per Section 2(s) of the Act, shared household means a household where the person aggrieved lives or at any stage has lived in a domestic relationship either singly or along with the respondent and includes such a household whether owned or tenanted either jointly by the aggrieved person and the respondent, or owned or tenanted by either of them in respect of which either the aggrieved person or the respondent or both jointly or singly have any right, title, interest or equity and includes such a household which may belong to the joint family of which the respondent is a member, irrespective of whether the respondent or the aggrieved person has any right, title or interest in the shared household.’
For providing clarity over the concept of shared household, the Supreme Court in the case of S.R. Batra & Another Vs. Smt. Taruna Batra, stated that the definition of ‘shared household’ in Section 2(s) of the Act is not very happily worded, and appears to be the result of clumsy drafting requires to be interpreted in a sensible manner.
The Court held that under Section 17(1) i.e. Right to reside in a shared household: Aggrieved person is entitled to claim a right to residence in a shared household, and a ‘shared household’ would only mean the house belonging to or taken on rent by the husband, or the house which belongs to the joint family of which the husband is a member.
Women in ‘Live in relationships’ covered under the Act?
The Supreme Court in the case of D. Veluswamy v. D. Patchaiammal, enumerated five ingredients of a live in relationship as below and which conferred a wider meaning to an “aggrieved person” under Section 2(a) of the Domestic Violence Act:
A. Both the parties must behave as husband and wife and are recognized as husband and wife in front of society;
B. They must be of a valid legal age of marriage;
C. They should qualify to enter into marriage eg. None of the partner should have a souse living at the time of entering into relationship;
D. They must have voluntarily cohabited for a significant period of time;
E.They must have lived together in a shared household.
The Supreme Court also observed that not all live in relationships will amount to a relationship in the nature of marriage to get the benefit of Domestic Violence Act. To get such benefit the conditions mentioned above shall be fulfilled and this has to be proved by evidence.
The Court in the case further stated that if a man is keeping women, whom he maintains financially and uses mainly for sexual purpose and/or a servant it would not be a relationship in the nature of marriage.
In this case, the Court also referred to the term “palimony” which means grant of maintenance to a woman who has lived for a substantial period of time with a man without marrying and is then deserted by him.
Against whom can the complaint be filed under the Domestic Violence Act?
Section 2(q) of the Domestic Violence Act defines “respondent” as any adult male person who is, or has been, in a domestic relationship with the aggrieved person and against whom the aggrieved person has sought any relief under this Act:
Provided that an aggrieved wife or female living in a relationship in the nature of a marriage may also file a complaint against a relative of the husband or the male partner.
In view of the above definition, clarity was yet to be achieved with respect to an aggrieved person. Can an aggrieved women file complaint against female relative(s) of the husband or not?
The Supreme Court in the case of Sandhya Wankhede vs. Manoj Bhimrao Wnakhede put to rest the issue by holding that the proviso to Section 2(q) does not exclude female relatives of the husband or male partner from the ambit of a complaint that can be made under the provisions of the Domestic Violence Act. Therefore, complaints are not just maintainable against the adult male person but also the female relative of such adult male.
Retrospective application of the Domestic Violence Act
In the case of V.D. Bhanot Vs. Savita Bhanot, which upheld the Delhi High Court’s view that “even a wife who had shared a household before the Domestic Violence Act came into force would be entitled to the protection of the Domestic Violence Act.
Hence, the Domestic Violence Act entitles the aggrieved person to file an Application under the Act even for the acts, which have been committed prior to the commencement of the Domestic Violence Act.
How to file complaint against Domestic violence & Remedy thereof
The constitution of India guarantees substantive justice to its women. Being a woman, if you are feeling you are a victim of domestic violence, you can exercise the power of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.
Section 4 of the Act: Information to Protection Officer and exclusion of liability of informant.
As per Section 4 of the Act, any person who has reason to believe that an act of domestic violence has been, or is being, or is likely to be committed, may give information about it to the concerned Protection Officer. Any person for giving in good faith of information for the impugned purpose shall incur no liability, whether civil or criminal.
Protection Officer: PO are those officers, which are appointed by every State Government, who shall, as far as possible be women and possess such qualifications as may be prescribed.
Complete list of State wise appointed Protection Officers along with names and contact details have been mentioned under the following link.
Alternate Way: Approaching National Commission for Women
National Commission for Women: The apex national level organization of India with the mandate of protecting and promoting the interests of women.
National Commission for Women:
Plot No: 21, FC33, Jasola Industrial Area,
Working hours- 9: am to 5:30 pm
Working days: Monday to Friday
Whatsapp: The national commission for women has launched a Whatsapp number (72177353372) for help & assistance to women experiencing Domestic Violence in the wake of the Covid-19 lockdown.
What you need to do?
Under the PWDV Act, 2005, you can get the following reliefs/orders:
Penalty for breach of protection order by respondent.—
A breach of protection order, or of an interim protection order, by the respondent shall be an offence under this Act and shall be punishable with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine which may extend to twenty thousand rupees, or with both.
The offence under sub-section (1) shall as far as practicable be tried by the Magistrate who had passed the order, the breach of which has been alleged to have been caused by the accused.
While framing charges under sub-section (1), the Magistrates may also frame charges under section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860) or any other provision of that Code or the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 (28 of 1961), as the case may be, if the facts disclose the commission of an offence under those provisions.
Disclaimer: The contents of this publication are for general information only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional legal advice, which should always be sought concerning any specific matter before acting or reliance upon any such information. The opinions, estimates, and information given herein are made for best judgment, utmost good faith, and as far as possible based on data or sources, which are, believed to be reliable. Notwithstanding we disclaim any liability in respect of any claim, which may arise from any error or omissions or from providing such advice, opinion, judgment, or information.
Author: CS Nikhil Arora, LAWgically Yours