Legal equality without shaking the social hierarchy and the laws without gender sensitization of law enforcers cannot end violence and crime on women. According to OECD SIGI Report 2023 one in every three women are the victims of Domestic Violence globally, and a large percentage of these women are under 30 years. India’s statistics are slightly higher than the global numbers, given our population and to put it in perspective the number of women who face Domestic Violence in India is about 220 million, which is equivalent to the total population of Brazil.
In 2021 National Crime Records Bureau reported 428,000+ cases of spousal violence (sexual abuse, mental harassment, and physical abuse) across India, a number that is only increasing every year, even when 87% (as per National Family Health Survey 2019-21) of the women who face Domestic Violence still do not report or seek help.
“Sexually abused, beaten if resisted by the alcoholic husband, finally got kicked out of the house, had to stay in my car till I could rent a place” recollects a Senior Executive of an MNC as she spoke about her struggle with violence and the journey of trauma to end the marriage.
Domestic Violence is not limited to a particular class, caste, region or religion, the fact is the stigma, social constrains, family obligations, financial dependency has forced women not to speak out but silently suffer without help. Sumathi (name changed) an Engineer working in an IT Firm had approached an NGO seeking help to file a case against her abusive husband, the law enforcing agencies were forcing a compromise and asking her to adjust with her husband instead of implementing the law and giving her protection.
Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 was enacted in Parliament on 26th October 2006, where the Act defined ‘Domestic Violence’ for the first time in Indian law, it includes physical violence, emotional, verbal, sexual and psychological abuse, and it is a civil law with protection orders and not criminal enforcement.
Over 12 lakh cases have been registered ever since the Act got passed in 2006, and millions of stories of trauma that never entered records of any police station. As on July 2022 over 4.71 lakh cases are pending the courts across the country based on the data submitted by the National Legal Services Authority before the Supreme Court of India.
There are several provisions in the law to punish crime against women, but reporting, journey for justice and conviction rate is not encouraging enough for most to seek legal help. ‘Whenever I went to the police or asked help, the standard response I got was - think about your children, think about your future, if we take action, you may not have a home to stay’ says the 37-year-old woman who liberated herself from violence, worked as cook for few years and now drives a cab for a living.
The lack of gender sensitization among the law enforcers, socio-legal process, near to no support system, the stigma and the ‘Cycle of Abuse’ has re-enforced normalization of Domestic Violence over several decades. The normalization of Domestic Violence is so entrenched in our society that both the victim and the relatives of the victim find no fault in the abuser and will consider all kinds of reasons to justify the acts of the abuser. The Cycle of Abuse clearly demonstrates how the process of normalization is also propagated by the abuser and how the victim falls prey to the propaganda of normalization, thereby encouraging generations of abusers.
Sadly, cases of Domestic Violence do not take political or media space, it gets restricted to research and survey reports unless the perpetrator or victim is high profile. Domestic Violence is not just violence on an individual, it is indeed an act on the society itself, because children and young relatives growing up in the atmosphere of violence have the greatest chance to be the perpetrators or victims themselves.
Every act of violence that goes unnoticed, unreported, unattended, and unpunished becomes an acceptable norm in any society, hence Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act in real terms only aims at Protection and not Stopping or Ending the violence.
Law makers, enforcers and justice system have a greatest responsibility to be the voice of the politically and socially muted half the population of the country, unless the social hierarchy is not questioned any number of laws, policies, and acts will not render justice to the silently suffering victims of Domestic Violence. The quote of Abhijit Naskar a Neuroscientist & Author “Behind every man alive and kicking, there is a woman. Behind every woman abused and killed, there is a man,” will continue to haunt human race forever unless women are liberated from the Cycle of Abuse.