Gender discrimination has persisted in our society for ages and is considered a root cause of various atrocities against women. Domestic violence is one of the most prevalent forms of physical, mental, sexual, or emotional abuse against women inflicted by their spouse, partner, or family member. According to WHO statistics, approximately 33% of women experience abuse in intimate relationship in their life. Domestic abuse incidences have dramatically increased in India, with most of these cases going unreported due to apathy, ignorance, and cultural norms. Domestic violence victims hesitate to report the abuse to prevent shame and ridicule of their families, overlooking the devastating effects on their health and well-being.
The article attempts to study the forms and prevalence of domestic violence in the Indian landscape. The article analyzes the theoretical approach & legal provisions on domestic violence and concludes by providing strategies for curbing the menace of domestic violence in our society
Domestic violence refers to violence or abuse inflicted on a person by their partner or spouse in a marriage or cohabitation. Though the term depicts violence suffered by both males and females, it is typically used for violence suffered by females in a domestic setup. Domestic violence can be inflicted against a partner, children, parents, or any other elderly and may assume various forms, such as verbal, emotional, physical, sexual, or reproductive.
In addition, the abuse can range from subtle to violent forms, e.g., verbally abusing, hitting, kicking, slapping, restraining, controlling, harassing, stalking, intimidating, neglecting, economically depriving, acid attack, or female genital mutilation. A non-cohabitating family member may also inflict abuse.
Domestic violence is a crime profoundly rooted in Indian culture. It is one of the most heinous crimes, intertwined in the complex web of patriarchal society and traditional culture prevalent in India, but still one of the least reported ones. Ancient texts such as Manusmriti sanctioned punishing a woman when she committed a mistake or acted without her husband’s consent. Similarly, in Medieval Europe, husbands were allowed to chastise their wives, apprentices and servants to discipline them physically. Along with the ongoing freedom struggle from British imperialism, the period between 1910 and 1947 witnessed the inception of women’s associations like Arya Mahila Samaj & Bharat Stree Mahamandal. In addition, the Indian National Congress channelled women’s political participation in the pre-independence era. However, these movements focused on nationalism but did not consider issues of inequality and social exclusion of women. Even post-independence, gender-based inequality was not given much importance. Instead, these issues were considered the problems of the urban elite, whereas issues of rural women were discussed only in the context of nationalist and class causes. The Feminist revolution in the USA significantly contributed to the legal recognition of domestic violence in the late 1960s and early 1970s by demanding the criminalization of domestic violence. During the same period, an autonomous movement in India raised voices against gender disparities, sexual assault and dowry-related deaths.
Though the Indian legislation did not use the term domestic violence till 2005, ‘section 498A’ and ‘section 304B’ was added in the IPC in the year 1983. Section 498A prescribed a non-bailable crime with three years imprisonment for cruelty towards wives, and Section 304B defined ‘a minimum of seven years imprisonment extendable to life imprisonment for dowry death’. However, section 498A covered cruelty only under four heads: “conduct likely to drive a woman to suicide; conduct likely to cause grave injury to the life, limb or health of the woman; harassment for forcing the woman or her relatives to give some property; or harassment when the woman or her relatives is unable to yield to demands for more money or does not give some property”. The provision was criticized for its limited applicability and for leaving out provisions on sexual and economic violence faced by women. Another shortfall has been the implementation of the legal provision; research suggested that out of 100 cases filed under section 498A, the accused was convicted only in two instances. Further, the conviction only took place in cases where the case was registered under section 498A along with section 302 on murder or section 304B on dowry death.
Unfortunately, courts did not recognize domestic violence as a crime until the 20th century. Instead, domestic violence was considered a family problem to be resolved privately within closed walls. However, “the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005” was made as a historic piece of legislation to effectively protect women rights guaranteed by the Indian Constitution who are victims of violence of any sort occurring within the family, and it came into effect on 26th October 2006.
- Forms of Domestic Violence- Evidence from Indian Community
All nations have a pervasive culture of misogyny that aids in violence against women. Both domestically and internationally, the victims of domestic violence are predominantly women. As per the estimates of the World Health Organization, 1 out of 3 women experiences domestic violence in their life. Still, worldwide domestic violence remains an underreported crime for both women and men. In many countries around the world, domestic violence remains ingrained in the system allowing people to indulge in crimes like female foeticide.
The upsurge in the occurrences of domestic violence can be correlated to the psychological perception of the abuser. On most occasions, the victim confuses abuse with a family conflict blown out of proportion and fails to report the same to the appropriate authority. The victim remains trapped in a violently abusive relationship arising from power, control, traumatic bonding, isolation, fear, shame, lack of financial resources, past experiences, family situations, cultural acceptance, and societal stigma.
For instance, subjecting a woman to verbal abuse for a long time, with a sudden episode of beating and thrashing followed by a phase of long silence, calm, and reconciliation, often result in a cycle of abuse. Similarly, the abuser does not identify themselves as the one abusing and considers it a family dispute in a household. The abuser feels entitled and justified to harm the victim without fearing criminal consequences.
Even a single act of abuse against a woman can establish a case of domestic violence. Women do not need to suffer the abuse for an extended period to take legal recourse. However, many women neither get the necessary support from the family nor can avail legal remedies as it becomes difficult for them to end their exhausting relationship with the perpetrator involving frequent episodes of tension, abuse, apology and silence. The victim often endures stalking, harassment, and injury by the perpetrator even after walking out of the relationship and remains in persistent fear of harm that the perpetrator could inflict on her children, her family and herself.
A survey conducted by UN Women categorized the major types of violence against women and its frequency: verbal abuse (50%), physical abuse (36%), sexual harassment (40%), denial of communication (30%), & denial of necessities (35%).
Women experience domestic violence in multiple forms: physical, psychological, sexual, and financial.
- Physical violence is one of the overt forms of domestic abuse, which embraces acts or conduct resulting in harm, bodily pain, or danger to health/ life; for example, use of force, slapping, hitting, assaulting, threatening with a weapon or using a weapon. In addition, forceful restraints, choking, throwing objects, forcing drug/ alcohol consumption, intimidation, confinement and restrictions are common types of physical violence.
- Psychological & emotional violence has been gaining much recognition recently and includes threats, harassment, stalking, verbal abuse by name-calling/blaming, and isolation. In addition, persistent insults, emotional berating of the victim, and humiliation are also considered emotional abuse.
- Sexual abuse involves reproductive or sexual coercion and marital rape, often considered inclusive in married life. In addition, the effort to have unwanted sexual comments, sexual act, female genital mutilation, forced abortion, or refusal to use contraceptives also fall in the category of sexual abuse.
- Financial abuse refers to financially depriving the spouse/ partner and taking control of their economic resources through manipulation or asserting control. For example, denying the right to work to a female partner is also a form of financial abuse. In a marriage where the woman is financially dependent on her husband, the situation worsens when they are put on a restricted monetary allowance or their expenses are closely monitored by her husband.
Domestic violence and its occurrence have been classified into four categories in a recent study based on data extracted from the National Crimes Record Bureau’s Annual Report from 2001 to 2018: dowry death, cruelty by husband/ his relatives, cases under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 and abetment to suicide.
The number of crimes reported as dowry deaths was 137,627 between 2001 and 2018, with 38,342 (27.9%) cases between 2014 and 2018. The reported crime rate in India was 2 in 2018 per 100,000 women aged 15 to 49 years.
From 2001 to 2018, 1,548,548 cases of cruelty by husbands/relatives were reported in India, with 554,481 between 2014 and 2018. The reported crime rate in India was 18.5 in 2001 and 28.3 in 2018 per 100,000 women in the same age group, witnessing a significant increase of 53% over this period.
Between 2014 and 2018, 22,579 crimes under the abetment to suicide of women were documented. The average crime rate was 1.27 per 100,000 women in the same age group.
A total of 2,519 cases were reported under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act between 2014 and 2018, belonging to the same age criteria of 15 to 49 years. The average crime rate was 0.14 per 100,000 women. However, most states did not report any case under this Act. As a result, the average number of arrests in India reduced from 1.6 in 2014 to 1 in 2018.
There has also been a wide variation of reported crime at the state level. For example, Delhi, Assam, Meghalaya, West Bengal, Jammu and Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh documented more than 160% increase in the reported crime rate from 2001 to 2018. Conversely, a significant decline was observed in the reported crime rate in Mizoram, 74.3%, from 2001 to 2018.
Domestic violence is interconnected to various physical, mental and psychological traumas in the form of injuries, anxiety disorders, depression, unplanned pregnancies, sexually-transmitted diseases like HIV and other health problems. Physical wounds and mental trauma can impact a woman’s health and well-being for the rest of her life. Domestic violence incidents are not the same; frequency, severity, outcome, and purpose might differ, but they all have similar long-term effects on the victims and their children.
- Theoretical Approach to Domestic Violence
The psychological approach assists in understanding the factors behind the increase in domestic violence cases in our society. Early experiences & personality disorders increase the risk of aggressive and violent behaviour. Additionally, psychological study shows a significant connection between domestic violence and community violence. For example, one of the utmost risk markers for a man to become violent or abusive towards his wife or children could be his childhood exposure to violence. It does not necessarily refer to the abuse inflicted on him in his childhood but to his experience of someone in his family being physically, emotionally, or financially abused. Researchers and psychologists have made an effort to investigate the issue and create intervention programmes to prevent such violence and heal domestic violence victims.
The phenomenon of domestic violence & factors behind it can be correlated to significant theoretical approaches:
- The feminist theory states that the wife’s ill-treatment and abuse are directly associated with the patriarchal society, often reflected in a woman’s attitude and behaviour. The prevalence of gender inequality in society contributes to male-female violence. Abuse and violence are merely a mechanism of social power, domination and control by men over their female partners. Men have always been placed on a higher pedestal in society, and when they feel powerless in a domestic setup, they resort to aggressive behaviour. Furthermore, the notion of masculinity and social acceptance of using force to gain control of a woman fosters an ecosystem for domestic abuse. 
- The conflict theory considers conflict an inevitable element amongst all groups in society. It is distinguished by the position of power, compliance & opposing goals. The phenomenon of domestic abuse is based on the conflict theoretical approach that considers family and society as a site for evolving conflicts amongst members with divergent interests and goals. For example, contradictory opinions lead to disagreement, leading to aggression and violence used by individuals to resolve the situation in their favour, particularly when other strategies fail.  Similarly, conflict arises between couples staying in a shared household in a domestic setup, and when a dispute blows out of proportion, it might result in some form of abuse.
- The social learning theory bases its explanation on family interaction patterns that create an environment of violence and abuse. Behaviour is learnt through observing, imitating, and reinforcing through direct experience and individual learning guidelines. Similarly, aggressive behaviour is a reaction to direct and indirect experiences involving critical processes like modelling and reinforcement.
The theoretical approaches are crucial in identifying and analyzing the various facets of domestic violence. In addition, internal and external factors aid in increasing instances of domestic violence cases. For example, individual factors like low education level, young age, sexual abuse during childhood, and personality disorders; relationship factors such as male dominance, multiple partners, and conflict in a relationship; & community factors like gender inequitable social norms, poverty, low social & economic status of women are some factors leading to domestic violence.
- Salient Provisions under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005
“The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005” is a progressive legislation with provisions on immediate relief, compensation, rehabilitation, counselling and legal aid for the victims of domestic violence. Section 3 of the Act defines domestic violence as an act, conduct, commission, or omission of the respondent which:
- Harms/ endangers/injure the safety, life, health, limb, or well-being, either mental or physical or both, of the aggrieved person;
- Causes physical, sexual, verbal, emotional and/or economic abuse;
- Harms, harasses, endangers, and injures the aggrieved person with an intent to coerce her or any related person to meet unlawful demand for dowry, property or valuable security;
- Threatens the victim or any person related to her;
- Injures or causes physical or mental harm to the aggrieved person.
A few important provisions in the Act granting protection to the aggrieved person are discussed below:
- Aggrieved person: The Act applies to the woman (aggrieved person) who is/has been in a domestic relationship with the abuser (called the respondent). The woman should have lived together in a shared household and is related to the respondent by marriage, consanguinity, any relationship like marriage, adoption or is a family member residing together as a joint family. In a leading case, the court recognized the live-in relationship within the Act’s purview of Section 2(f) while expanding the meaning of “relationship like marriage.”
Similarly, the Supreme Court held that under the Domestic Violence Act, a complaint could be filed against the female relatives of the husband/ male partner. Thus, complaints can be filed not just against an adult male but also against a female related to that adult male.
- Protection Officers: The Protection Officer appointed under the Act will assist the Magistrate in discharging his functions and will assist in providing legal aid, medical examination and shelter home to the aggrieved person. In addition, the Protection Officer shall ensure the order for monetary relief is complied with and executed.
- Right to reside in a shared household: The aggrieved person is entitled to live in the shared household regardless of any beneficial interest, title or ownership. In a leading case, the Supreme Court affirmed the Delhi High Court’s judgment that a wife sharing a household before the enactment of the Domestic Violence Act is equally entitled to protection as an aggrieved person under the Act.
- Protection orders: The Act grants power to the Magistrate to pass a protection order in favour of the aggrieved person, prohibiting the respondent from aiding/ committing any act of domestic violence to the victim or her relatives. The protection order prohibits the abuser from entering the workplace or frequently visited places by the victim. In addition, the abuser is not allowed to attempt communication with the aggrieved person or alienate any financial assets jointly owned or held with the aggrieved person.
- Residence orders: The respondent is prohibited from alienating/ disposing of the shared household or giving up his rights in the shared household by a residence order issued by the magistrate. The magistrate can direct the respondent to return the property, valuable security or stridhan of the aggrieved person.
- Monetary Reliefs: The magistrate can order payment of adequate, fair and reasonable monetary relief by the respondent for the loss of earnings, medical expenses or loss due to damage, destruction or removal of any property to the aggrieved person or her children.
- Custody orders and compensation orders: The magistrate has the authority to grant temporary custody of the child or children to the aggrieved person or the person making an application on her behalf. The magistrate can pass an order to direct the respondent to pay compensation and damages to the aggrieved person for injuries, mental torture and emotional distress.
Gender-based discrimination has always existed in our community and continues to prevail, irrespective of class, culture, or religion. Precisely, it is the social conditioning that normalizes domestic violence in our community. Men are placed on a higher pedestal than women. A man’s work is considered labour; his dream, ambition, and career are glorified. On the contrary, a woman’s household work is termed her duty. India’s patriarchal structure makes a woman experiencing domestic violence carry the stigma throughout her life. Despite the progressive reforms under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005, domestic violence remains dominant in our community due to gender-based discrimination. Research suggests that 42% of men and 52% of women consider it rational for a man to beat his wife.
Men in intimate relationships predominantly enjoy a structural entitlement. Women are conditioned to compromise, adjust, and not raise their voices in an abusive relationship. Society shapes women to find the cause of domestic abuse in their conduct. Physical abuse like slapping, pushing, and punching is regarded as an occasional harsh display of emotion by the male counterpart. Women are victims of violence because of a prevailing culture of silence and denial. It is only because of the internalization of societal culture and values through socialization that wives do not abandon their husbands, even in difficult situations. If they wish to leave their husbands’ and in-laws’ house, this acts as a stigma for their parental home and often creates obstacles for the marriage of their younger siblings. For a woman to break away from an abusive relationship is not an easy affair, and is a long battle, often met with no support from her family and friends. Most women who take the extreme route of separation or divorce are subjected to humiliation by their partner and their family members. The victim’s legal right to compensation, maintenance, or custody becomes a subject of pity.
Physical, mental, and emotional abuse can have long-term distressing consequences for domestic violence survivors. Due to individual responses to stress, age, frequency and degree of abuse, these traumatic experiences can have different outcomes. The abuse has a far-reaching detrimental effect on woman’s physical, reproductive, sexual and mental health. Furthermore, a victim may need longer to adjust to a safe environment, particularly if the offender was violent or has committed the crime over a long period. Domestic violence against women significantly impacts children who witness the abuse committed against their mothers in front of them. These children develop an aggressive attitude and demonstrate violence in their own lives as adults.
Responses to Domestic Violence
- Support services
Budget decisions, staffing, and state policies significantly impact the sustenance and development of support services for women suffering from domestic violence. These services include provision for alternative shelters, counselling, child-care facilities, education programs and income generation programs. In addition, many non-governmental organizations are formulating welfare strategies and ensuring support services to the victim, for which adequate government funding should be provided to assist in better design implementation. Mechanisms to improve the accountability of state and non-governmental organizations working with women experiencing domestic violence should be established. Such a system will provide the necessary checks and balances to monitor the quality of services.
- Preventive services
The state shall intervene to prevent domestic violence, which can be achieved by promoting legal literacy and disseminating information on legal services. Furthermore, in collaboration with NGOs, the state shall undertake progressive, proactive steps to fight traditional community practices of violence against women through community mobilization and promoting ethical & moral leadership. Training the service provider should not be a one-time task, but they should be acquainted with new skills on an ongoing basis. Moreover, the service provider must employ qualified and competent people to work with the victims.
- Deploying an early intervention strategy
Several individual, relationship, or community factors directly or indirectly contribute to the increase in domestic violence cases. The risk factors of domestic violence must be identified and addressed early to prevent its occurrence. The immediate precipitating factors and underlying factors of abuse, along with the structure women find comfortable tapping for support, should be the starting place for designing initiatives to counter violence.
Therefore, the government should design and implement an early intervention strategy to combat domestic abuse. For example, Safety Awareness Programs for Women and Cognitive Based Abuse Prevention Programs should be designed and implemented as prevention and mitigation strategy. In addition, institutionalized domestic violence responses will ensure continuity and reflect the state’s commitment to combating the problem.
- Media and advocacy campaigns
Media and advocacy campaigns are essential in raising awareness of the issue of domestic violence and in changing the power dynamics in a household. For example, in 2020, a Hindi film, Thappad, portrayed the prevalence of domestic violence in the educated urban strata of society. The film depicts the life of an educated housewife whose husband slaps her in front of friends and relatives at a party. The victim feels humiliated due to the physical and emotional abuse inflicted on her. As a result, she decides to end her relationship with her husband. She fights a legal battle for divorce on the ground of abuse, but she is met with no support, even from the ones who witnessed the incident. The character in the film says, “we belong to a society where women’s testimony is regarded as false claims. The women approaching the court of law are subjected to embarrassing questions about their intimate relation, which might be emotionally distressing.” The character depicts the real-life story of every victim of domestic abuse in Indian society who finds difficulty in breaking away from the cycle of abuse. Such movies are frowned upon by the Indian audience, as they believe in glorifying domestic abuse, and many critics even labelled the film as a “feminist move.” Nevertheless, in reality, movies based on social causes assist in changing society’s perception of abuse and gender-based discrimination. In addition, media campaigns can promote a balanced and healthy perception of male-female relationships.
- Education and raising awareness
Strategies to be explored to curb menaces like domestic violence include educating females along with imparting gender-sensitive education to males. The underreporting of crime against women is a significant concern for the present and future. Almost 90% of these domestic violence cases are not reported due to social stigma and the threat from the perpetrator. Many women feel it is better to prevent crime at their level instead of seeking state intervention or police action. Thus, it is essential for all women, irrespective of their age group, to be aware of their rights and remedies under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005. If they become a victim of any physical, emotional, psychological, financial or sexual abuse, they should know about the available legal recourse. They should approach the nearest police station, service provider or women’s helpline cell, or someone trustworthy who can help them. Moreover, it is necessary to develop and implement educational strategies to change the attitudes, beliefs, and biases of law enforcement, judiciary, and citizens.
- Preventing misuse of legal remedies
Unfortunately, complaints and allegations about unscrupulous families and women abusing and misusing these laws have increased recently. It has resulted in the impossibility of actual victims of violence obtaining redressal despite such strong regulations in their favour. In the past, there have been instances of women exploiting section 498A of the IPC against men and their in-laws. In addition, there have been false FIRs filed by women allowing real offenders to walk away freely from the crime in the legal battle of truths and lies. Thus, the assumption that women will always use the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 to combat injustice does not qualify as rational, fair and reasonable. In all circumstances, women should not file false FIRs and not abuse the criminal justice system.
- Gender-neutral provisions in legislation
The World Health Organization has recognized that gender inequalities increase the risk of violence. Therefore, each member of society must endeavour to promote gender equality. Further, the ideology that states men cannot become victims of domestic abuse is irrational. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence estimates that 1 in 4 men have been victims of physical violence by their partner in a domestic relationship. In a leading judgment, the High Court of Karnataka held that an adult male or husband could file a case under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005. However, later the decision was reversed, stating that only women can file a petition under the Act eliminating the prospect of a man being the victim of abuse by his wife. Thus, undoubtedly the Act is discriminatory by implying that women are the victims and men are the perpetrators. Therefore, the laws prohibiting domestic violence and protecting aggrieved persons need to incorporate gender-neutral provisions because even men can become victims of domestic violence by their partner or wife.
- Creation of a holistic environment
The creation of a holistic environment starts within the family. A family should instil values of equality, justice, and freedom among members. Men should not discriminate against and look down upon women. Women suffering from violence should have a support system built within their families. Curbing family violence will further prevent community violence.
Domestic violence is a social, legal & policy concern, and undoubtedly, the menace is also a grave public health issue impacting the aggrieved person and perpetuating inter-generational, avoidable morbidities. Therefore, the health system should be integrated in a gender-positive manner for the victim and their children.
Strengthening the enabling environment by enforcement of laws and policies that address violence against women and implementing empowering projects to reduce gender inequality is imperative. In addition, fostering collaboration among community groups working on violence prevention will be helpful for the aggrieved person. Government, communities, and individuals can combat domestic violence by improvising access to services and opportunities for women & girls, making sustained & deep-rooted collaborative efforts to reduce harmful attitudes, and promoting healthy and mutually respectful relationships.
The Authors of this manuscript are Albel Bhati, Research Scholar & Practicing Advocate at Noida and Mandeep, Associate Professor at School of Law, Galgotias University, Greater Noida.
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