Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 came into force from 26 October 2006. It is a very comprehensive and promising legislation that combines civil remedies with criminal procedures to ensure effective protection and immediate relief to victims of violence of any kind occurring within the family, The definition of ‘domestic violence’ is in consonance with the UN Model Legislation on Domestic Violence. The aggrieved can seek protection against any physical, sexual, verbal and emotional abuse or economic abuses. This law for the first time recognizes a women’s right to a violence free home.
Under the Act, the right to reside in the matrimonial home/shared household was seen as a major breakthrough in women’s rights in India. She cannot be evicted from the shared household and if evicted can seek immediate relief, seek a protection order, monetary compensation, residency order, custody order, free legal services, medical aid and counseling with the help of the Protection Officer or Service Provider. The Act envisages appointment of domestic violence Protection Officers by the State Governments in every district and encourages the participation of voluntary associations as Service Providers. The Ministry of Women and Child Development, the National Commission for Women and the non-governmental organizations have also taken initiatives to propagate the remedies available in this Act to the affected women by organizing awareness campaigns/seminars/ workshops and sensitizing the enforcement agencies.
- It covers those women who are or have been in a relationship with the abuser where both parties have lived together in a shared household and are related by consanguinity, marriage, a relationship in the nature of marriage, or adoption. In addition, relationships with family members living together as a joint family are also included. Even those women who are sisters, widows, mothers, single women, or living with the abuser are entitled to the protection under the proposed legislation. However, whereas the Act enables the wife or the female living in a relationship in the nature of marriage to file a complaint against any relative of the husband or the male partner, it does not enable any female relative of the husband or the male partner to file a complaint against the wife or the female partner;
- It defines “domestic violence” to include actual abuse or the threat of abuse that is physical, sexual, verbal, emotional or economic. Harassment by way of unlawful dowry demands to the woman or her relatives would also be covered under this definition;
- It confers on the aggrieved woman the right to reside in a shared household, whether or not she has any title or rights in the same. In fact, a respondent, not being a female, can be directed under the Act to remove himself from the shared household or to secure for the aggrieved woman the same level of alternate accommodation as enjoyed by her in the shared household or to pay rent for the same;
- The orders for relief the aggrieved woman is entitled to under the Act include protection orders, residence orders, monetary relief, custody orders and compensation orders;
- It empowers the Magistrate to pass protection order in favor of the abused to prevent the abuser from aiding or committing an act of domestic violence or any other specified act, entering a workplace or any other place frequented by the abused, attempting to communicate with the abused, isolating any assets used by both the parties and causing violence to the abused, her relatives or others who provide her assistance against the domestic violence;
- It provides for appointment of Protection Officers and recognizes and involves nongovernmental organizations as service providers for providing assistance to the abused with respect to her medical examination, obtaining legal aid, safe shelter.
Different Aspects of the Act
Recognizing that domestic violence hurts women on a range of issues, it needed an organized multi-facet strategy that can provide long-term and short-term effective solutions and remedies for victims. Therefore, an essential feature of this law is the way it envisions functionality, connectivity and activity of nodal agencies at the district, state and national level (women and children (overall implementation), home dept. (police), social welfare/defense department (accountable for hiring and training of protective officers, registration of service providers etc and health (related to counseling and the provision of healthcare facilities) and of course raising the awareness about the preparation, supervision and provision of specialized services by courts, judiciary and NGOs.
It identifies and calls for an instant and rapid multi-agency approach to a victim who has contacted one department, also advises the police to communicate with other agencies such as legal assistance, shelter, police etc., and offers temporary and ex parte measures so that the victim can get immediate safety if needed. It introduces the notion of residence measures based solely on the fact that for fear of being vulnerable, many women remained in abusive ties. It expands the implementation of domestic violence law to live-in relationships and all women living in a joint household in a domestic relationship, not just spouses, unlike previous legislation dealing with family relationships that were confined to married women.
Role of Protection Officers and Service Providers
The PWDVA permits complaints of domestic abuse to be brought by the aggrieved victims themselves, protection officers or service providers. The aim of the act was to provide adequate protection to women who suffer from domestic violence of any kind and it would be nullified if the act was not adequately and efficiently enforced due to inadequate protection officers and protection officers lacking the resources and climate needed to fulfill their role under the act. Acknowledging that an individual needs guidance with legal proceedings and other means of help, the PWDVA encourages Protection Officers to be appointed and acknowledges the role of Service Providers in providing medical, housing, legal, therapy and other support services. The Protection Officer is the person responsible for assisting women in making use of such services, as well as assisting them in securing the correct order under the Act.
Duties and Functions of Protection Officers
Protection officer shall help the Magistrate in the execution of his duties under this Act by reporting to the Magistrate a domestic violence incident in the form and manner specified, upon receipt of an allegation of domestic violence and transmit copies thereof to the police officer in charge of the police station within the limits of the local jurisdiction of which domestic violence is the responsibility. An application should be in the form and manner provided to the Magistrate, if the aggrieved party so desires, seeking relief for the issuance of an order of defense. He must ensure that legal assistance is given to the grieved individual under the 1987 Legal Services Authority Act, and make available the specified form in which a complaint is to be made available free of charge.
He must keep a list of all service providers offering legal help or therapy, shelter homes and medical services in a particular area under the Magistrate’s jurisdiction. He must make a secure shelter home accessible if the grieved person so needs and forward a copy of his report to the police station and the Magistrate having authority in the region where the shelter is located. He will immediately assess the grieved woman if she has suffered physical injury and forward a copy of the medical report to the police station and the Judge with authority in the area where the domestic violence is claimed to have occurred. In accordance with the procedure prescribed by the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, he must ensure that the order for monetary relief under section 20 is complied with and executed. The Security Officer shall be under the Magistrate’s authority and supervision and shall perform the duties levied on him by the Magistrate and the Government by, or under, this Act.
India’s entrenched and pervasive sexism against women, rooted in the patriarchal social system, makes it impossible that any strictly legal remedy would reduce rates of violence against women because violence against women is widely enforced by Indian cultural norms. Second, many fail to identify domestic violence as an unacceptable form of women’s power. Indian culture, though refusing to acknowledge the true cause of domestic abuse, expects and tolerates a certain degree of violence against women. Though Western literature regards domestic violence as a means of exercising power over the woman, in India this view does not prevail. Instead, the cause of domestic abuse is sometimes cited as “maladjustment”.
The Act will not be successful in reducing overall rates of violence until Indian society’s patriarchal mentality is broken, Indian women are encouraged to agree that violence is intolerable, and police, security officers, service providers, and magistrate enforcement training, sensitization, and cooperation is available. In addition to enforcing the conditions set out in the Act, additional measures must be taken by NGOs and the Government to ensure that the Act is successful in protecting women. Such measures include the completion of gender sensitization training for all security officers, police, lawyers, judges and all other parties interested in enforcing the Act; the provision of advertising and legal education; the increase in the number of lawyers eligible to offer legal services to victims of domestic violence; the introduction of shelters; empowerment of women; monitoring and amending the Act as necessary; and interpretation of the Act in compliance with obligations under international treaty. While the Act is a great achievement for Indian women, NGOs and government must track the implementation of the act carefully. They should work together to eradicate the patriarchal mentality that threatens to make the Act ineffective.
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