WOMEN’s RIGHTS Activist Ranjana Kumari talks to SANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTY about spearheading a nationwide drive for efficient implementation of the Domestic Violence Act

Many live with it for years together, unwillingly. The reasons could be social pressure, children, financial insecurity, or sheer lack of knowledge about one’s rights. Many want to give a fight but don’t know how. Then there are some who come out in the open, to battle it, but often get caught in the knots of the law.

Domestic violence has been a reality in the life of many women across age groups. In 2005 came the Domestic Violence Act but its effective implementation is still an issue of debate. Clearly, lack of mass awareness about the provisions of the law is at the root.

“Not just the victims but those who implement it are also not aware of their duties many times,” says Delhi-based women’s rights activist Ranjana Kumari. This includes the police too. “So many times it has come to our notice that when a person visits a police station, the officials don’t know whether to register the complaint there or the application should be directly referred to the magistrate,” she adds. On receiving such a complaint, Kumari says, “the police officer should take the complainant to the exact location of the magistrate but they think they have nothing to do with such cases. When the life of the victim is under threat it is the police which will have to protect her. When the court’s order is not respected by the husband, it is the police which will have to arrest him.”

Not just the police, there are other stakeholders who play a part in the successful implementation of the Act –— lawyers, protection officers, service providers, shelter homes, etc.

With an aim to increase the understanding of the law and also to find ways to implement the Act efficiently, the Centre for Social Research (CSR) and Women Power Connect (WPC) has recently started a country-wide campaign. “We organised a meeting with the stakeholders in cities such as Patna, Chennai and Pune, etc.,” says Kumari, President, WPC and Director, CSR.

Through these meetings, she says, “we initiate discussions with bureaucrats, law enforcement agencies, elected representatives at the State and Panchayat level, civil society organisations, community members and also media persons.” An exercise aimed at capacity building of the service providers is also being implemented side by side. “We are conducting leadership programmes for them. But there are so many States which don’t have registered service providers yet.”

Types of cruelty under the Act

l Action that might cause serious injury to health of the woman

l Behaviour that might lead a woman to commit suicide

l Harassing the woman or her kin to give some property

l Harassing the woman or her kin for not being able to carry out the demand for money or property.

Forms of cruelty recognised by the law

Physical violence

Regularly locking a woman out of the house

Disallowing the woman her normal social interactions and confining her at home

Denying food

Insisting on perverse sexual behaviour

Acts to torture her mentally including denying paternity of the children, abusing them and denying the mother access to the children

Threatening annulment of marriage if dowry is not given.

What can a woman do to fight a violent husband

Through the Magistrate, the woman can get her husband to sign a bond not to behave violently. The Magistrate can ask the husband to deposit money or property against such a bond which he will forfeit if he continues to abuse her.