Violence and then biases

Print edition : March 08, 2013

EVER since the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, came into force, the Lawyers’ Collective has been bringing out regular evaluation and monitoring reports in collaboration with other agencies. The sixth such report looks at some 10,000 judicial decisions in certain months of 2011 and 2012. The largest users of the Act continued to be married women, followed by widows and divorced women. Most of the applications or complaints had been filed after the woman victim had moved out of her shared household into her natal home or was on her own.

Looking at judicial pronouncements—one of the objectives of the review—the courts were not entirely successful in escaping entrenched patriarchal beliefs and biases. Some of these biases, notes the report, have resulted in positive outcomes—such as the courts ruling that it is the moral responsibility of fathers or husbands to provide protection to the women concerned. Courts, says the report, had a tendency to search for the ideal victim while granting relief and adhered to the image of the “good married woman” still residing in the matrimonial home.

This denial based on residential status was the most pronounced in Delhi; States such as Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat showed a similar bias. Protection orders were denied on the grounds that the courts perceived that the aggrieved woman was not under any threat or danger of violence in her natal home. This, says the report, failed to take cognisance of the “potentially volatile period between the time of filing an application and the grant of relief”.The report says that irrespective of where the woman resided, she had to tackle issues such as economic resources, fear of retaliation, and safety of her children.

The report recommends that the judiciary show zero tolerance for all forms of domestic violence regardless of the perceived severity of the violence and go deeper into the consequences of such violence, especially at the time of granting relief; and recognise biases and stereotyping as reflected in orders and judgments. In the foreword to the report, Indira Jaising, executive director, Lawyers’ Collective, writes: “Never before have I seen the use of morality with such a vengeance to deny rights. I was always under the impression that morality is the foundation of rights, not its worst enemy.” A distinction also needs to be made between the rights under the Act and the status of women under their personal laws; it needs to be ensured that the latter did not supersede the reliefs under the Act. Essentially, the report says, the search for the perfect victim should be abandoned as tolerance of minimum forms of violence often led to extreme forms, such as the Delhi gang rape.

T.K. Rajalakshmi

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