Number does not include cases of dowry harassment, rape

About 600 women in the city have sought compensation for medical expenses under the provisions of the Domestic Violence Act since it came into force four years ago. It includes 100 petitions that the Department of Social Welfare received since January. The number does not include the cases of dowry harassment and rape registered in the All Women Police Stations in the city. Since January, at least a dozen cases of dowry harassment and rape were registered every month by the police.

Protection officers attached to the Social Welfare Department and non-governmental organisation representatives working with victims of domestic violence say though women suffer abuse every day, they do not seek remedy under the Act as the process is time-consuming. As protection officers are allowed only to assist with receiving compensation and not punishing the perpetrator, very few women approach them.

Though the Act stipulates that the cases should be disposed of within 60 days of filing them, the absence of a panel of lawyers to handle such cases is also delaying the procedures.

Prasanna Poornachandra, Chief Executive Officer of International Foundation for Crime Prevention and Victim Care, says the Act is good but the process is unreasonable. “It takes six months to get a protection order when it should not take more than 24 hours. A woman has to go through five sessions of counselling even if she is not seeking divorce,” she says.

According to her, abuse is common across all socio-economic groups. “Women will remain in an abusive relationship when husbands threaten to take away the child. It is domestic terrorism when violence increases if there is fear of losing a job. As we cannot wait for the law to help out, we come up with plans to independently handle such situations.”

A survey of the petitions filed with the Social Welfare Department revealed that the trend was similar in both north and south Chennai. According to Protection officer (North) M. Santhi Saraswathi, 307 women had filed petitions from north Chennai while 286 women had done so from the southern parts of the city.

Taking cognisance of the situation, the Social Welfare Department organised a legal colloquium in December to improve reporting of trafficking in women and children and domestic violence. Representatives from the Indian Council of Child Welfare and Madras High Court judges and lawyers participated.

The colloquium recommended that the Domestic Incident Report, which currently runs to 18 pages, should be simplified. It has also suggested having in place a panel of lawyers to take up the cases through the State legal service cell. The need to post women government employees as protection officers was also emphasised since they were perceived as being more sympathetic.

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