In theory, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, seems to be a conglomeration of loopholes tied together rather than a net to catch those guilty of committing violence against women. After all, how can one be sure that the law will not be misused by women? Or, for that matter, how will the law, never mind those who will wonder whether they are victims or not, define “verbal violence” that includes insults? These are valid questions. But in the Indian context, there have been too many occasions when a protective measure, either in the form of a law or a policy, has fallen by the wayside because of such head-scratching. This is, one must not forget, a country that defies its modernity and progressiveness in the general treatment it metes out to its women. Much of the abysmal treatment of women has been internalised as ‘tradition’; while the abuse of women — whether of girls, adults or senior citizens — is not even considered a crime. Thus, it is not too much law, but too little law to protect women that has been a worry.
In the context of violence against women, it is well-known by now that most cases of abuse take place within homes. This makes the law tricky as it enters a region that is rightly considered ‘private’. But if this ‘sanctum sanctorum’ happens to be the prime arena where physical and mental violence against women takes place, it is time that the protective cover of ‘home’ is taken away from the offender. The law also addresses the sexual abuse of children and forced marriages of girls, not to mention dowry demands.
Which makes us come to the other end of the stick. For a law to make any real sense, the victims must be made aware that they are victims. For a large majority of women, the suffering is silent simply because they are not aware that, one, something is terribly wrong, and, two, that there is a law to stop such suffering and punish the guilty. Crime against women is committed mostly by men. But women, too, have not been innocent of abusing women. Whether it be violence against the daughter-in-law, the mother-in-law or the domestic help, women have also played a role in this unsavoury and continuing affair. With all its flaws and loopholes, the new law should identify and put a stop to domestic crime against women. A 21st century India doesn’t only deserve to treat its women with dignity but also absolutely insists on it.