Finally there is a law to make home safe for women. The much debated law, aimed specifically at protecting women from being abused in any form by their husbands or male live-in partners, comes into effect from Thursday. Under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005, offenders can be jailed for a maximum of one year or fined up to Rs 20,000, or both. They can also be charged under other sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), if applicable.
The new law provides an all-encompassing definition of domestic violence including not only physical violence by the husband, such as beating or physically hurting his wife, or sexual violence like forced intercourse, but also verbal or emotional violence such as insulting the wife or preventing her from taking up a job, and even economic violence such as not allowing the wife to use her salary. "The definition includes threats of abuse and dowry demands too," said Renuka Chowdhury, Minister for Women and Child Development.
Chowdhury said around 70 per cent of women in India were victims of domestic violence in some form. "The enactment of the law is a historic step towards ending gender discrimination," she said. The law addresses sexual abuse of children, or forcing girls to marry against their wishes as well.
The Act also gives a married woman the right to remain in her husband's home, or under the same roof in a joint-family household, even if she does not have any rights to the property.
The Act empowers the court to pass protection orders to prevent an abusive husband from aiding or committing acts of domestic violence. The offender, for instance, can be restrained from communicating with the victim and from visiting her workplace or any other place she frequents.
Not everyone is happy with the Act. Pandurangi Reddy Bharati, who runs the Save Indian Family Foundation, said, "It will lead to the economic blackmail of men."
Chowdhury did not deny that the Act could be misused but said there would be "protection officers" to ensure it did not happen. "We will sensitise the officers on all aspects of the law," she said.
State governments will have to appoint a woman protection officer in each police station to book and pursue cases. Victims can seek compensation under the law.