Widespread and rampant violence against women is one of the most pressing problems India struggles with as a society. It is estimated that around 37 percent of Indian women have experienced either physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.
In 2013 alone, there were nearly a hundred and twenty thousand reports of domestic violence against women, according to India’s National Crime Records Bureau.
Furthermore, a 2015 study conducted by the Planning Commission of India surmised that a whopping 84 percent of women have been abused in their homes at least once.
However, a majority of these women are far too afraid of social stigma to reveal that they are victims of abuse. This is due to women’s poor social standing in Indian society, where beating a woman for even the smallest things is seen as a justified act.
In turn, this leads to a lack of support, even from close friends, when domestic violence victims seek help in escaping their situation.
Thankfully, the Indian government has already put into place a number of rules and regulations that are designed to protect Indian women from domestic violence.
If the following laws are properly enforced, women in India may be able to hope for safer, more peaceful homes within the near future.
The Indian Penal Code Amendment in 1983
A special section, numbered 498-A, that officially made domestic violence a criminal offense was added to the Indian Penal Code in 1983. This section of the law specifically covers cruelty towards married women by their husbands or their husbands’ families.
A helpful clause in this section allows women’s relatives to make the complaint for them. This is extremely beneficial in cases where the woman is too afraid to speak up for herself, for reasons such as she could get caught by her husband or simply cannot leave the house.
One kind of cruelty that can be punished is behavior that causes a woman’s death or serious injury, or pushes her to commit suicide. Another kind is the type of harassment relating to intimidating the woman or her relatives to give up her property.
Under the policy, acts of cruelty include, but are not limited to, the following:
- physical abuse;
- mental torture through threats to her or her loved ones (such as children);
- denying the woman food;
- locking her in or out of the house as punishment; and
- demanding perverse sexual acts against the woman’s will.
Convicted offenders will be charged with up to three years of prison, as well as a hefty fine.
The 2005 Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act
Created in 2005 and enacted over a year later, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act is exactly what the title proclaims.
This is the first law in India to specifically acknowledge every woman’s right to be in a home without violence. In fact, it was seen as a major step forward in securing women’s rights and more effective protection.
It is a long and comprehensive law that details several important policies and procedures meant to help women.
First, it gives a specific definition of domestic violence: actual or threats of physical, mental, emotional, sexual, or verbal abuse, as well as harassment regarding dowry or property.
Women are given the right to seek protection against such acts, and their relatives can file a complaint for them against husbands who break the law.
Second, a woman’s right to reside in their “matrimonial household” is clearly recognized. She cannot be evicted from it as she rightfully shares it with her husband.
If she is evicted, she has the right to seek monetary compensation and safe shelter, as well as free legal and medical aid.
Lastly, both NGOs and divisions of the Indian Government – such as the National Commission for Women – took the initiative to organize awareness seminars that could be easily attended by women who are affected by this act, e.g., women in high risk areas.
Violators of this law will either be mandated to compensate the woman financially, or will be served a restraining order to keep them away from the complainant.
The 2013 Criminal Law Amendment
As a response to the requests made by the Justice Verma Committee, a small commission named after and headed by one of India’s most highly regarded jurists, a lengthy list of amendments to the Indian Penal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure, and the Indian Evidence Act were introduced in this 2013 act.
The aim of the amendment was to provide harsher and swifter punishment for those criminals who committed abuse against women.
Details regarding sexual assault and rape were clarified and added onto. For instance, “rape” was given a better and more exhaustive legal definition, to include non-consensual penetration using non-sexual objects, as well as non-penetrative sexual acts.
Penalties for offenses such as rape, assault, and sexual harassment were increased.
In particular, heavier sentences were declared for rapists, even including the death sentence for particularly disturbing cases, such as gang rape where the victim was left in a vegetative state after the crime.
New offenses that are punishable by law were introduced by the amendment as well. These include, but are not limited to:
- acid attacks (the act of throwing acid upon a woman with the intention of disfiguring, maiming, or outright killing her);
- voyeurism (spying with prurient or indecent interest); and
- publicly and forcefully disrobing a woman
However, despite the commission’s recommendations, the amendment failed to address the issue of marital rape. This exception basically assumes that marriage automatically means the woman will always consent to her husband’s sexual desires.
This ridiculous notion implies that rape cannot happen within a marriage, when in fact it does, and even happens quite frequently to Indian women.
Crime Against Women Cells
This is an initiative of the Indian government to better help female victims of domestic abuse. In every district’s police station, a Crime Against Women (CAW) cell was put in place.
Women suffering from domestic violence may approach these specialized help desks for direct assistance from the police, whether to file an official complaint or follow up on one. Each one is headed by an assistant commissioner.
This program begun in 2010, as the Indian government’s answer to steadily growing numbers of abuse that targeted women.
While the Indian government has made significant efforts in reducing the largely unchecked epidemic of violence against women, there is still a long way to go.
Merely passing laws meant to protect women from abuse is obviously not enough to achieve success. Even after the 2013 amendment, horrific crimes such as gang rapes continue to happen, and happen publicly.
The numbers have even continued to rise, though this may be because of increased awareness among women, resulting in greater reporting of domestic violence overall.
A necessary step in moving forward lies in changing the overall mindset of society towards women. There needs to be more education on how to treat women as equals, instead of as lesser beings that deserve to be punished for the tiniest mistakes.
If the Indian government can combine proper enforcement of their existing laws with thoughtful gender education programs, we could be looking at a safer and brighter future for Indian women in the next few decades.
About the Author:
Jon works in marketing team at Loch Employment Law – The Employment Law Lawyers in the UK. He is fond of reading, writing & meeting people. In a former life, Jon worked as a content specialist and has good knowledge about employment policies & law. You can catch up with Jon at Loch Employment Law London office for any advice related to employment laws.