Domestic abuse victims can get free legal aid, counselling every week

A counselling session in progress at Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer Marriage Hall in the city on Saturday. Photo: G. Moorthy

A counselling session in progress at Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer Marriage Hall in the city on Saturday. Photo: G. Moorthy  

For the 25-year-old Sumathi (name changed), her first wedding anniversary turned out to be her worst nightmare. Her husband and his family, who had been harassing her for dowry, proceeded to throw her out of the house at night after which she was forced to go to the nearby police station.

“Much to my horror, the police told me that a case had been registered by my husband against me for harassing him for money. I was completely shattered and had no idea what to do next,” she said.

Sumathi is not alone. Most women who are victims of domestic abuse and violence are unaware of what to do.

“They usually go to the nearby police station and file a complaint under the Dowry Prohibition and Harassment Act, which is punishment-oriented. There are no immediate remedies that women can seek under this, which causes mental stress running between courts and police stations,” says Selva Gomathy, a trustee at the Justice Shivraj V. Patil Foundation for Socio-legal Studies and Development.

The Justice Shivraj V. Patil Foundation has been offering free legal aid and counselling for victims of domestic violence on every Saturday for the past five weeks.

One such counselling session was conducted at Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer Marriage Hall here on Saturday.

“We have so far counselled nearly 20 women and have given them legal aid as well by educated them on the Protection of Women from the Domestic Violence Act,” Ms Selva Gomathy told The Hindu.

“Most women come with problems ranging from their husband’s alcoholism to ego clashes and refusal to hand over property rights. All of this results in her getting harassed and abused,” she adds. The civil remedies in place under the Domestic Violence Act include shelter, medical facilities and legal aid, which should be immediately provided to affected women.

“Residence, protection, maintenance and custody orders can also be granted,” explains S Balasundari who offers legal aid.

Says Ms Balasundari, “People fear to seek legal remedy thinking it is something that will separate a family. When the Domestic Violence Act is involved, it doesn’t mean immediate divorce. They take their problems to a police station or Kangaroo court, which prolongs relief.”

Padmakumari. R., who has been counselling women as part of this initiative, says that the stigma attached to counselling will take time to wane since everyone perceives it as necessary only for people with mental problems.

“People who come to us are often depressed and exhibit suicidal tendencies. Most of us live in nuclear families now and problems are repressed by these women who, as a result, are under a lot of stress,” she says.

“We focus on confidence-building and lending support to the woman to be independent and stand up for her rights,” adds Ms Padmakumari.

The counselling sessions have also had young, unmarried women facing abuse at home seeking counselling and legal aid.

The foundation further plans to launch a helpline for counselling and legal aid for victims of domestic abuse and violence.

“More women are now mustering courage to come out and seek counselling and legal aid through forums like this one. However, awareness of the provisions of the law that help women uphold their rights is of utmost importance,” concludes Ms Selva Gomathy.

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Printable version | Sep 30, 2020 7:58:26 PM |

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