Callousness of the authorities, judicial delays and lack of awareness defeat its purpose

T. Lakshmi from Basheerbagh does not want to let go of her husband even after he kept betraying her faith for four years. She came to know of her husband’s second marriage after having two children. However, she reposed trust in her husband’s avowal to terminate the second marriage.

Soon, he left her on the pretext of job training in Tirupati, and promised to return after six months, not before taking away Lakshmi’s jewellery, and also borrowing Rs. 3 lakh from his in-laws. He didn’t return even after a year, and Lakshmi came to know of his continuing relationship with his second wife. Upon being questioned, he flatly refused to stay with Lakshmi.

Since then, there is no door that Lakshmi hasn’t knocked, yet justice seems elusive. She is not aware of the Domestic Violence Act, which empowers her to seek protection from the State. Instead, the family counsellors advised her to have patience till her husband is disenchanted with his second wife!

Lakshmi’s case was heard at Friday’s programme on ‘Domestic Violence’ organised by the A.P State Commission for Women.

Manjeet Kaur, another victim, had altogether a different tale. Hailing from Nizamabad, this middle-aged widow is denied entry into the in-laws’ house, nor is she given her fair share of her husband’s property. Upon lodging complaints at the women’s protection cell and the Domestic Violence cell, all she got was an assurance for payment of Rs.2,000 per month.

Seven years after the Domestic Violence Act came into being; the promised intervention of the State into the closed door affairs of the Indian families stands defeated, due to lack of awareness, callousness of authorities and judicial delays.

“Though about 24,000 people complained of domestic violence since 2006, Domestic Incident Reports (DIRs) were filed only in half the cases. Final orders were received in just over 1,100 cases,” says Siva Kumari, a voluntary activist. DIRs detailing the violence are to be prepared in every case that approaches the cell, and sent to the magistrate, after which, the magistrate will order counselling.

But in practice, two counsellors stationed at the DV cell strike arbitrary compromises between the parties, without preparing a DIR, she says. Though the Act stipulates that dedicated protection officers, preferably women, be appointed in each district, the government has merely assigned additional responsibilities to the Project Director, Women and Child Development, and later to the RDOs - whether men or women.

Adding to the woes are prolonged judicial processes, despite the stipulation that the cases should be adjudicated within 60 days after first hearing.

As the chairperson of Women’s Commission T.Venkataratnam pointed, the Act can be a success, only when there is separate machinery, funds for implementation, and dedicated courts.

MLA Jayasudha, who also attended, pointed to absolute lack of publicity for the Act, and sought the message to be spread through hoardings at traffic signals.

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