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This article is written by Bheeni Goyal from Symbiosis Law School, Pune and it discusses the laws which are available for the protection of the laws in the country and whether the implementation of such laws is effective.

Introduction 

For years, our country has developed numerous laws for the protection of women against the various atrocities faced by them in society. The main laws which have been developed are The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, amendment in the Indian Penal Code, etc. Even after the enactment of numerous laws for the protection of women, the atrocities against them still exist. When we talk about the effective implementation of such laws, we cannot hold only the government responsible. There are various middlemen which come in the way of the implementation of laws and providing proper justice to women. Society should also be blamed for the various difficulties faced by women. Therefore, there is a need to find out whether the problem lies in the enforcement of such laws for the protection of women or the thinking of the society that needs to be changed to make this society a better and safer place for women to stay.

Existing laws for the protection of women 

The problem of crime against women is not a new thing and it has been in our society for ages. Every other woman has been the victim of ill-treatment, torture, a humiliation in their lives. The government has developed various laws for the protection of women against domestic violence or sexual assault at the workplace, the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, etc. Various Legislations are as follows:

The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005

During the time of the 1970s, many nations in the west have passed laws against Domestic Violence but in our country, we only had few laws for the protection of the rights of the women like the Dowry Prohibition Act 1961 or Abolition of Sati. Around the 1990s an effort was made by the government to pass the act for the protection of women from violence. But after considering the increasing scenarios of the crime against women in the country, the government finally passed the Domestic Violence Act in the year 2005.

Under this Act, domestic violence includes a threat to abuse or actual abuse which could be physical abuse or sexual abuse. This Act also encompasses the term cruelty as defined under section 498A of IPC. If the respondent violates the protection order passed by the court then it would be punishable with the imprisonment of one year or a fine can be imposed on him for 20,000 Rupees.

Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013

This Act was enacted in the year 2013. The Supreme Court realized that we need such legislation after the case of Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan. This Act has been enacted to provide protection to women at the workplace against any kind of sexual harassment. This Act also provided for the setting up of the Internal Complaint Committee at every organization for the redressal of the problems of the women employees who tend to get harassed at their workplaces either by their employees or bosses. The Act defines sexual harassment as any physical advances, contact, any type of sexual favors, showing pornography, passing sexually colored remarks, etc.

Indian Penal Code, 1860

Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code has described the various types of acts that will constitute rape and the punishment for the same is imprisonment of seven years with a fine. Before the amendment, rape was not particularly defined under the Indian Penal Code. Before the amendment, section 375 was used to provide for a sexual offense. But the new law for sexual assault was required at the present law does not define the various kind of assault that women are generally subjected to. There were inadequacies in the law relating to rape and it was suggested that some changes should be made in the law. 

Analyzing the effectiveness of existing women protection laws 

In our society, the foremost reason for the atrocity against women is violence and sexual assault. Women are required to be protected from these atrocities and to achieve this our government has made an effort to make legislation and impose heavy punishments on the accused. This problem is not only faced by women in Indian Society but all it has been faced by women all over the world. It affects the women of every caste, nationality, creed. It could be a life-threatening problem for every woman and can seriously affect societies as well. Every individual learns from the social environment they are living in and they also become aware of the level of effectiveness of law for the protection of women.

In our countries, the major acts have been introduced for the protection of women only after the rate of crime against them had increased in the past years. While the western countries have enacted the laws in the 1970s, our country lacked in enacting the laws at the earlier stages. The initiative for formulating the laws was only taken when the court realized that there is an absence of laws in this regard.

In India, most of the women are handicapped in terms of having fair access to justice. There is a large number of illiteracy rates among women and various cultural barriers exist which stop them from taking any strict actions against the atrocities faced by them for years. Sometimes the unfriendly process of the law and courts keep them away from accessing justice. It is not only the responsibility of the government to enact laws for the protection of women but they need to make the process of approaching the courts friendly enough so that they could be encouraged to take action. While we refer to combating the violence against women, there often exist some ambiguities and gaps in the laws which criminalize violence. 

All social organizations, authorities of government, and NGOs should come forward and should extend their hands in serving the cause of the victims of rape, sexual assault, etc. Various laws enacted for the protection of women will be effective only if there are proper assistance and guidance provided at all the stages of the proceedings. If the victim makes an effort to file the complaint against the accused, the law enforcement agencies should assist the victim at all the stages of the investigation, prosecution of the opposite party, and trials. But our law- enforcement agencies sometimes fail to assist and help the victims throughout the procedure because of which the victims are ultimately forced to go for a secret settlement with the other parties. Most of the victims of rape are from vulnerable society and therefore they don’t have any option but to undergo such settlement.

In one of the surveys which have been offered by Bhartiya Stree Shakti under the guidance of the Ministry of Women and Child development, it was observed that there are various cases in which a woman goes alone to register any case of domestic violence, the police officers don’t provide with the proper treatment as it is the duty of the officers under the act. It is the responsibility of the authorities to provide necessary financial support and aid to the victims, but many officers fail to do so. Any authorities come under the garb of corruption and hence many of them don’t even register the complaints. If we want the effective implementation of laws enacted for the protection of women it is really necessary that the authorities should be supportive towards the cause of helping women and not indulging themselves in any corruptive practices. 

Although under POSH Act, the Internal Complaint Committee (ICC) has to be established in every organization for redressal of any complaints by the women at the workplace.

However, sometimes the ICC does not function properly and acts as a barrier to the effective implementation of the law. It is really important that there should be a valid formation of ICC under the POSH Act otherwise the proceedings could be challenged which would necessitate the starting of the proceedings all over again. When any complaint is brought up before ICC, it is their duty to look into the complaints expeditiously and effectively and they are required to follow the due procedure as provided under the act. Sometimes, the members of ICC do not possess the required qualifications, while other times the committee is not constituted in accordance with the act which makes it impossible to proceed further with the proceedings, and therefore it acts as a barrier for effective implementation of the laws formed to protect the women.

In the case of Ruchika Singh Chhabra v. Air France India and Another, the High Court provided that the external member of the committee did not have the required qualification to be classified as an external member and therefore it set aside the proceedings conducted by ICC as it was not in compliance with the provisions of the act. Hence ICC should take the responsibility to form their committees following the relevant provisions for the effective implementation of the Act.

Conclusion and Suggestions

The government, although after many years of independence, has taken efforts to develop various laws for the protection of women from various atrocities faced by them through the hands of society. But there are certain loopholes in the form of various middlemen that are coming in the efficient implementation of justice. For the effective enforcement of the laws developed for the protection of women, it is really necessary that the women became aware of the various rights which have been provided to them under the above-mentioned acts. Some women are literate, but they are still not aware of the rights available to them. 

Therefore, it is really necessary to make them aware of their rights. At the same time, the authorities should show some sensitivity towards the victim and help them in every way possible even if it means going out of the way or taking extra efforts for them. For making the enforcement of the laws effective it is vital that we bridged the gap between victims and the justice system and provided them with essential guidance and support. Sexual Assaults, violence are acts that have a great impact on their physical and mental health. Along with providing guidance to them, it is necessary to provide other kinds of assistance like medical treatment and psychiatric treatment. 

Also, the government in every state should encourage various social groups and NGOs in every district, to extend their support and cooperation for the protection and care of the women who have been a victim of violence, or any kind of assault, especially the illiterate women who are not aware of their rights and no one in their family could support them. The police officers should be given special training to deal with all the victims of violence and sexual assault. At the time of such cases, it should be made sure that there should be more and more women police officers in the station. If we take care of all such measures there can be effective implementation of the laws developed for their protection.

References

Acts

  1. Indian Penal Code, 1860.
  2. Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act.
  3. Sexual Harassment of the Women at the Workplace.

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