The law against domestic violence passed in 2005 is not making a significant difference to the lives of thousands of women in Tamil Nadu who continue to be battered and abused, a senior government officer told this reporter.
“Unfortunately, this is a progressive legislation that is not making much progress”, said Saroja Thiruvengadam, Deputy Director at the Directorate of Social Welfare, Tamil Nadu, referring to the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA) in 2005.
PWDVA is a civil act that enforces the right of women to a violence-free home and specifies the kinds of violence a woman faces in the household. It also appoints a Protection Officer (PO) who handles Domestic Incident Reports (DIRs), a recourse available to women facing domestic abuse but who are unwilling to level criminal charges against their husband.
Delay in justice is one of the factors that makes the Act ineffective. Ms Thiruvengadam said “Judges should dispose of cases faster, not take sides, and issue orders with proper directions.”
According to this act, they are required to dispose the case within six days of the complaint being registered. But the cases sometimes drag on for months. “Often, the judge orders compensation but the men are unable to pay up. Sometimes, the judge issues restraining orders but they are not followed up by the police. Also, policemen need to be sensitised about this issue”, Ms Thiruvengadam added.
However , the legislation has brought in some reforms. The opening of several All Women Police Stations (AWPS) in Chennai, which are obliged to register complaints whenever a woman facing domestic violence approaches them, has helped improve the reporting of such cases.
Kavita Mani, one of the founding partners of Gurunath and Sai Law Firm said, “Tamil Nadu has registered more domestic violence cases compared to the rest of the country.”
National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data shows the state registered 3,838 cases of domestic violence in 2012 — or 84% of all complaints (4,567).
“This is not because of a higher prevalence of domestic violence but is proof of the effectiveness of AWPS in encouraging women to register complaints,” said Ms Mani.
Ms Thiruvengadam added, “The Directorate of Social Welfare Tamil Nadu has organized awareness campaigns both among the people and the officials. This has also helped to increase the number of cases reported.”
However, some media reports state the contrary. Population Council’s recent report on ‘Violence within marriage among young people in Tamil Nadu’, says 51 % of men and 60 % of women believe wife beating is justified with 34% of men admitting to beating their wife.
Also, two NGOs or Service Providers (SP) in Chennai are authorized under this Act to record DIRs and to assist aggrieved women with respect to medical examination, legal aid and safe shelter.
Mrs. Prasanna Poornachandra, founder trustee and CEO of the International Foundation for Crime Prevention, one of the authorized NGOs, said, “We register around 350 cases every year, mainly from North Chennai. Women are now speaking out against verbal and emotional abuse since they don’t have to go through the humiliation of reporting cases at the police station and they can approach us or the Protection Officer directly. In addition to shelter, we also provide job training to the women and education facilities for the children.”
Ms Mani said “It is important to realize that this issue is not restricted to illiterate women belonging to lower classes. I have had educated women for clients who spoke out for their rights and were subsequently abused by their husbands in ego clashes.”.
One in three women in Tamil Nadu face domestic abuse, according to Ms Thiruvengadam . She said, “Economic violence is one of the most underreported forms of domestic violence. In fact, economic dependency lies at the roots of physical violence. In addition, it prevents the timely reporting of cases due to lack of funds with the women. Husbands often snatch ATM cards, take away their salaries and restrict them from visiting their maternal household.”
Selvi (30), was abused by her husband for five years before she approached the Centre for Womens’ Development and Research (CWDR) for help. She, said, “Other women in the household are often complicit in the violence. My mother-in-law imposed strict timings during which I could step out of the house. If I disobeyed her, she would incite my husband to teach me a lesson.”
On the other hand, Ms Thiruvengadam said that dowry cases only make up for 10 percent of domestic violence complaints. “Some of them are genuine but many are false cases registered by the women themselves to combat cruelty”, she said.
“Compared to the 80s and 90s, the number of dowry cases have fallen. Also, sometimes women are advised by their lawyers to level false dowry allegations to make it a criminal case and ensure the husband’s arrest. It is a kind of retributive justice”, Mrs. Poornachandra added.
Regarding the traditional link between alcoholism and domestic violence, she said, “I believe alcoholism is just an excuse for domestic violence. There is absolutely no causal link between alcoholism and domestic abuse. Domestic violence is merely a symptom of a patriarchal society in which women are considered inferior by default.”
Link to a report on domestic violence by The Hindu: