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Need To Keep Her Safe:LAW NOT ENOUGH TO PROTECT WOMEN,T.D. Jagadesan,9 November 2006 Print E-mail


New Delhi, 9 November 2006

Need To Keep Her Safe


By T.D. Jagadesan

Even as the recent law to safeguard women against abuse at home under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 is welcome, we cannot afford to ignore the issue of effective enforcement of laws like the Equal Remuneration Act, the Prevention of Immoral Traffic Act, the Sati Prevention Act and the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961. 

As pointed out by a legal luminary 1983 provision of Indian Penal Code 498A states that “whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine”.

Yet, legal provisions created specifically to protect women have neither put an end to dowry demand nor domestic violence against him.  Poor enforcement apart, it is the absence of financial and social empowerment of women that reduce protective laws to political tokens or “gifts”.  Indeed this is not to take away from such legislation their significance as democratic instruments to ensure protection of human rights, for only when the legal framework is in place can it be enforced.  However, the issue needs deeper redressal.

The Act, it may be pointed out, provides for enforcement officers to facilitate filing of complaints by woman victims and even allows third party complaints.  Yet, few women in India--- who are subject to cruelty at home---would want a formal complaint lodged. Does she have the financial security and backing of other family members---including even her own parents and siblings to be able to take such a step?

Often, when women subject to cruelty in the matrimonial home take their problems to their parents, they are sent right back for fear of social ostracism. Financial empowerment provides security and generates confidence.  Only a change in the social mindset--- that objectifies the female gender can help overturn the prevailing perspective of women as mere domestic service providers and child-bearers.

Only when women have the freedom to get educated, to pursue a vocation or profession of their choice, to have control over their income, to choose not to marry, and if married, choose not to necessarily bear a child, can they be expected to be treated with respect and dignity.  For, with economic empowerment comes social recognition that will enable women to break free.

Women are victimized because of social taboos and lack of resources, education for all and gender-specific financial incentives like a 2 per cent tax waiver on investments made by women, for instance, would make it easier for them to not only overcome victimization but also ensure enforcement of gender-safety laws.

Predictably, the Act has received mixed response. There are some who feel that the Act will finally recognize a problem which is faced, in some form or the other, by 70 per cent of Indian women, while others feel that bringing in a legislation is only half the job done.

Women’s groups which pushed for the law have hailed it as a comprehensive legislation.  “This is a historic law. This is a Diwali and Eid gift for women.  There can be no bigger happiness for us than seeing the law, which is our baby, come into being”, National Commission for Women (NCW) chairperson Girija Vyas was quick to claim, as reported in the newspapers.

The Centre for Social Research Director, Ranjana Kumari agreed that the law was radical and tackled an ugly side of society that was often brushed under the carpet. “This law recognizes assault and torture, sexual violence within marriage and the legitimacy of live-in relationships”, she said.  Ranjana pointed out that under the law, the victim could go directly to a court for protection.

In India, National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) as reported registers a case of cruelty by husbands and relatives every 9 minutes.  National Commission for Women has in 2003-04 recorded 902 cases of dowry harassment and 310 cases of matrimonial disputes.

Though welcoming the law, activists say these statistics do not account for growing crimes against women. They make the point that success of this legislation will depend on combating problems of illiteracy and ignorance amongst women as well as deep-rooted stigmas in reporting domestic violence.

Terming implementation of the new legislation as a “challenging issue”, Supreme Court lawyer, Indira Jaisingh said, “There are some unanswered questions. The Government has not made any budgetary allocation to appoint protection officers. I expect them to come up with excuse like there are not enough judges and resources to effectively implement the law”.  She argued that people with the right training needed to be appointed as protection officers.

Besides bureaucratic hurdles, criticism that the law has attracted is that it could be used to settle scores and booking false cases. Seeking to dismiss this, Jaisingh, a lawyer, said.  “This is a civil law. It gives a woman the right of residence, maintenance and protection.  It must not be confused as a criminal law and the phobia of misuse should be put aside”.

Yet, as there is a jail term for those found guilty, critics of the law argue that the possibility of a bitter falling out between couples leading to complaints being filed cannot be ruled out. The law, for all the debate it has attracted, may well be over due as domestic violence is part of crimes against women which are increasing.

 According to the World Development Report of the World Bank, “Women aged between 15 and 44 years lose more “discounted health years of life” to rape and domestic violence than to breast cancer, cervical cancer, obstructed labour, heart diseases.  AIDS, respiratory infections, motor vehicle accidents or war”.---INFA

 (Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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