Staying Alive

EDITORIAL TIMES OF INDIA NOV 2,2007

Nearly 8,000 aggrieved — mostly married — women have filed complaints since a law to protect them from domestic violence came into force in October, 2006. A national report on domestic violence titled ‘Staying Alive’ by Lawyers’ Collective and supported by UNIFEM is the first monitoring and evaluation report of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (PWDVA).

The PWDVA was conceived as a civil law whereas Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code falls under criminal law. The new law is more inclusive; it creates space for settlement of disputes and looks to providing relief to the aggrieved rather than just focusing on convicting the guilty.

The report states that the primary users of the new law are married women. There are also a number of cases where relief has been granted to widows and daughters. The law upholds the rights of women to reside in a shared household and to counselling and protection.

As a single-window clearance tool, it looks at physical, economic, mental and sexual aspects of violence. And it includes not just married women but those in live-in relationships as well as daughters and widows who are victims of domestic violence.

The PWDVA protects the right to reside in a shared household, yet finds it difficult to assure protection for want of institutional support. For instance, the law envisages the appointment of protection officers to record incidents and support distressed women, even giving them shelter in homes if necessary.

But state governments are making do with existing staff and homes instead of training and employing fresh candidates for that job and creating new infrastructure. States ought to assign funds in budgets for this provision so that women can take recourse to facilities afforded under the law.

Besides budgetary support and recruitment of special officers, state governments ought to give priority to education and poverty reduction programmes. The National Family Health Survey III revealed that violence against women is a serious problem in India.

Thirty-five per cent of women surveyed had experienced violence at home. But more women get abused in poorer and less educated households, which confirms the need to put education and poverty reduction on top of development agendas. Clearly, the law alone is not enough to protect a woman from abuse.

She needs economic independence that can free her from social prejudices and vulnerability. That kind of empowerment can come only with education, awareness and financial independence.

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