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This article is written by Muskan Sharma.

Introduction

This article is a short step to bring shadow pandemic in broad daylight. From treating women as equals in the pre vedic period to treating them as objects in the modern era, we sure have come a long way. We live in a time where we have bills, legislations, statutory bodies, NGOs trying to protect the sanctity of a woman and yet failing to do so.

Let the so-called affairs of home come out in the open, which is also known as “War at home”. A man comes back home and beats his wife and no headlines are touched as if imbibed in our culture. This violence within the four walls is known as domestic violence and it needs to be addressed as, C. Wright mills, pointed out, a problem does not become a social problem until it is no longer seen as ‘personal trouble’ and is viewed as a public issue. 

Provisions for providing remedies

We should acknowledge and appreciate that in comparison to previous decades it is given more consideration. The Protection of women from domestic violence Act (herein referred as PWDVA Act) penalizes any of the following acts: 

a) harms or injures or endangers the health, safety, life, limb or well-being, whether mental or physical, of the aggrieved person or tends to do so and includes causing physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal and emotional abuse and economic abuse; or

(b) harasses, harms, injures or endangers the aggrieved person with a view to coerce her or any other person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any dowry or other property or valuable security; or

(c) has the effect of threatening the aggrieved person or any person related to her by any conduct mentioned in clause (a) or clause (b); or

(d) otherwise injures or causes harm, whether physical or mental, to the aggrieved person.

Also Section 498A of Indian Penal Code(here in referred as IPC) ensures and safeguards the women against any objectionable behavior towards her in her matrimonial home:

  1. any willful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) of the woman; or

b. harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand. 

The dealing of this section is wide but there are few instances narrowed down which may be counted as acts of violence like persistent denial of food, insisting on perverse sexual conduct, constantly locking a woman out of house, denying her access to children, confining her at home, repeatedly beating the children in the presence of the mother with the intention of of causing mental anguish to her, constantly threatening her with divorce are all held to be ‘harassment’ of a married woman.

Section 406 of IPC for criminal breach of trust also along with other provisions helps the aggrieved woman to acquire her streedhan. When all the criminal laws are said to be gender neutral, we also believe that crimes that happen within the confinement of the home where the woman is dependent on her partner emotionally, financially, socially should be given a sensitive yet strict outlook.

Dowry, a facet of abuse

One of the biggest reasons that women face violence after marriage is demand for dowry which is made clear by the provisions made for it in the above mentioned sections. A case of Jharkhand brings in light the tragedy of Indian customs & practices where 22 year old Annu Devi and her baby was doused in kerosene and burned alive by her husband and in-laws and this is one of the many examples of Indian atrocities. Another such case is of Laxmi, a resident of Bangalore who was burnt alive by her husband on the directions of her mother-in-law. She succumbed to her injuries in 3 days. One woman is burnt every hour in India, more than 8000 a year. The tricky part of these cases is that both the families and the police authorities shows interest in filing them as suicide rather than as cold blooded-murder. 

The role of the system in addressing abuse

Even if an act on its own covers a larger area it cannot do without judiciary’s broad interpretation and executive’s careful and stringent application which the three organs of government fail to do. Sadly Judiciary has let us down on various occasions and government has talked heavily on cross border terrorism yet ‘cross-bedroom terrorism’ goes on. Unequivocally, not even Judiciary is free from patriarchy, as on various occasions while facilitating mediations women are told to bite the bullet. On a larger level, it has restricted the statute ‘s area and made the very object of giving relief to women fail. One example of this is the case of Batra Vs Batra (See here).

When a narrow interpretation was given to the word ‘shared household’ as defined by Section 2(s) of PWDVA Act, 2005 and the woman was deprived of her right to residence on the ground that the property is owned by her in-laws and her husband has no ‘right, title or interest’ in the property.Though on the other hand few cases help alleviating the miseries of women and set good precedents. As in the case of Roma Rajesh Tiwari v. Rajesh Dinanath Tiwari (See here) the Bombay HC elaborated on the right of woman to reside in her matrimonial home irrespective of her ‘right, title or interest in the said household or not. In the case of Binita Dass v. Uttam Kumar (See here) Delhi HC held that Magistrate cannot deny interim maintenance to wife only because she has earning capacity or is a qualified person. Another very important case is that of D. Velusamy vD. Patchaiammal (See here) where a wider meaning was given to “aggrieved person” in Section 2(a) of PWDVA Act,2005 and women in live-in-relationships can also seek remedy under this act. The case of V.D Bhanot v. Savita Bhanot (See here) gave retrospective application to this act. 

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The shadow pandemic

As the National Commission for Women (NCW) has indicated towards an upsurge in the cases of domestic violence, an appraisal on how equipped and systematic we can be in these testing times is needed. Being vocal on the abuse has never been easy for women due to various reasons including no alternative shelter, economic dependence, fear of losing custody of children, stigmatization, family pressure etc. The patience and ignorance shown by women when small acts of such nature takes place and the indifferent approach of government has fueled this violence. The title of my very article talks about unacceptance of divorced daughters and their corpses is preferred over them as in Indian society divorced women are looked down upon.

During these times of economic upheaval, women largely have become victims of all kinds of abuse. There is no doubt that these are testing times, the global pandemic has pushed us into an economic crisis and shaken the very balance of society profilgerating crimes. Over 243 million globally has faced violence and abuse by their intimate partners. The covid-19 lockdown has made the police system and medical health workers to be overloaded with work therefore, the victims of the abuse cannot protract any readily. Anita Bhatia, the Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Women says  “In the best of circumstances, women already have a hard time being heard” . The pandemic has pushed the economy into recession which has shut the doors of economic independence for women and put greater distress on aggressors who further take it out on the victims. Further on in these times where the case has already been decided and the custody is shared by both the parents, they have been using the lockdown as a weapon to take it on their partners as denying access to them to their children giving reasons of lockdown. 

Marital rape 

If sexual intimacy is a part and parcel of matrimonial bond then why not respect and understand which has been known as a part of this sacramental bond? When a complete absence of these can dissolve the marriage under irretrievable breakdown, why that absence doesn’t affect the forceful sexual intercourse? Section 375 of IPC includes all forms of sexual assault and any type of nonconsensual intercourse but somehow a woman is presumed to give away that consent when she gets in a marital relation. While lots of new categories of sexual assault have been added after Criminal Law(Amendment)Bill but we are still not ready to consider marital rape as an offence. This clearly is in violation of Article 14 of the Constitution as it discriminates against married women and subjects them to further subjugation. Along with this this rigidity regarding marital rape is also in violation of Article 21. The case of State of Karnataka v. Krishnappa (See here) brought forward the view that “sexual violence apart from being a dehumanizing act is an unlawful intrusion of the right to privacy and sanctity of a female”.This ruling was passed in favor of all women irrespective of their marital status. 

How shocking norms and what we accept as normal can be is proved by the surveys conducted and its findings as when asked on the very question that whether men have the right to beat their wives, the facts that women themselves feel that the men are justified in beating their wives is a proof of the fact that we have configured our mindset to accept even a serious crime as normal. There is an agreement between husband and wife from 22% to 62% that the wife should be beaten for the reason if she does not cook properly and disrespects her in-laws. Even a good percentage agree with wife beating if she refuses to have sex. More often than not, domestic abuse is related to mental illness that the perpetrator is not in a correct mental state to deciding on the nature of his acts while this may be true where the abuse behaves uniformly to everybody he comes across like his friends and family but he chooses to abuse only his partner so the theory of connecting it to mental illness falls on its face. It has more to do with a person’s value system than anything.

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Conclusion

While the apex court shows its deliverance of justice by taking suo moto actions in these times, it still has not taken due cognizance of this matter. All shelter homes available to women like anganwadi were shut, so the system should provide for shelters for victims of this shadow pandemic too. What is needed of the system is to take stealthy steps and if cannot reach directly to the victims then fund the NGOs and make them cyber equipped in such a way that they can be contacted easily. The medical health workers who in these times have more access to homes than anyone, should develop a humble mechanism to raise awareness of this abuse.

The physical reach has been dismembered but a strong technical reach should be created, various mediums of online help should be made available and a good awareness campaign of the same should be made. The rural woman’s plight should not be ignored, any help sought out by them should be treated with promptness. Along with more strict legislation condemning all types of legal wrongs along with executive’s strict application. When the judiciary deals with cases of violence they should accept the new changes in the course of violence, as for example, often men punish women in their lives by vague sexual conduct. We should believe that we can only fight it with the efforts of every unit and society constantly creating change.


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