25 Nov, 2006 TIMES NEWS NETWORK
A big happy Indian family might be Bollywood's favourite theme for a dream . But reality is not always so rosy. The National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) registers a case of cruelty by husbands and relatives every nine minutes. The National Commission for Women has in 2003-04 recorded 902 cases of dowry harassment and 310 cases of matrimonial disputes. Even as Rahul and Shweta Mahajan deny reports of alleged domestic violence, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, (DVA) 2005 gains prominence. How far will the Act succeed in empowering women?
A ray of hope:
DVA attempts to look at bitter home truths like marital rape and child abuse. "I would call DVA a dynamic act and its scope is wide. Every woman in a household is protected within this act," says Sheba George of Sahr Waru. Agrees Aditi Desai, a theatre personality, "DVA will give a fresh lease of life to women. It's a fact that homes are not always a safe place for women. The Act is not confined to physical violence but also includes verbal, emotional and economic violence." And for the first time in India, rights have been given to women who share a live-in-relationship.
Beyond the Act:
But will women come forward to use this Act? Says, Leela Visaria, an independent researcher on population and gender issues, "We have excellent laws but the same can't be said about their implementation. Laws don't bring social change. Mindsets do."
Agrees Sapna Swami, a victim of domestic violence, "The laws might be good but they don't help needy women. I went through mental torture from my husband's family. When I wanted to lodge a complaint, I was subjected to emotional blackmailing. In the end I had to withdraw the case."
Radhika Mathur (name changed), who is in a live-in relationship however, is positive: "Being educated I would prefer to solve a problem between ourselves. But if it gets serious, then I would like to use this law."
Predictably the law has not gone down well with some men who feel that a few women will misuse this act to settle scores. Says Dashrath Devda, President of the All India Crime Against Men By Women Sangh: "If there is 498A for women then there should be a 498B for men as they also face domestic violence. We have 22,716 men in our association which proves men can also be victims of domestic violence." But then it's also a fact that according to the National Crime Records Bureau, there were 1,55,552 crimes committed against women last year, 68,810 of which were related to domestic violence.
Implementing the act:
The draft Act provides for the appointment of Protection Officers and NGOs to provide assistance to a woman, like medical examination, legal aid and safe shelter. Senior lawyers and activists express apprehension over the ambiguity of budgetary allocation to appoint protection officers. Says Sophia Khan, lawyer and human rights activist: "The state governments have to formulate this civil act. We need agencies and qualified protection officers to deal with such sensitive cases. While some states are considering implementing the act at Taluka level, some are considering it at the district level." Adds Sheba George: "In addition to the nodal agency, the role of protection officers is important. The state government has to take adequate steps.
Activists agree that it's necessary to create awareness among all strata of women regarding this act. That's a task which will require some effort.