KARNATAKA

Official apparatus lacking to enforce domestic violence Act in State



Bageshree S.

Protection officers yet to be appointed

'No clarity about who is qualified to be a protection officer' No case has been filed yet under this Act in Bangalore

Bangalore: The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 came into force on October 26, 2006. It came with the promise of radically transforming the way violence against women is being addressed.

But the delay in setting up the official machinery necessary to enforce it effectively and lack of awareness on the provisions of the Act are proving to be hurdles for women who want to make use of this Act in the State.

According to records at the Police Commissioner's office here, not a single case has so far been filed under this Act.

The most glaring gap in the official machinery is that the State Government is yet to appoint Protection Officers (POs), who play the pivotal role of liasing between the aggrieved person and the court.

PO's responsibilities

As stated in Section 8 of the Act, a PO is responsible for visiting the site of the crime and recording the incident. He or she should give the aggrieved person immediate notice of her rights and the remedies and services available to her under the Act. Importantly, a PO can be penalised for failing or refusing to discharge his duties.

"This Act can never be successful without the appointment of POs, who are empowered by the State. When people approach us, we have to go to a temporary protection officer to proceed with the case. This delays the whole procedure," said a member of Vimochana, a non-governmental organisation working on women's issues. The temporary POs, named only in some places, were existing functionaries in the Government who could not devote enough time to any of the cases, she said.

Sheela Ramanathan of Human Rights Law Network said that temporary appointments have to be made with a government notification. "Otherwise the officer cannot be held accountable," she added.

Objections

Some women's organisations have also expressed reservations about the very idea of POs. While welcoming the Act, K.S. Vimala, General Secretary of All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA), said that the officer could "prove a hurdle between the court and the victim". She added that there was no clarity in the clause about who was qualified to be an officer. "How would the Government ensure that they are pro-women," she asked.

A senior official with the Women and Child Welfare Department, however, stated that it was "too early" to raise questions on the appointment of POs in the State.

"The Dowry Prohibition Act was introduced in 1961, but it took the Karnataka Government around 43 years to implement it.

The Domestic Violence Act is in its nascent stage. The role of a PO is very critical. But, we need some more time to implement it properly," said a senior government official.

However, he asserted that Karnataka was "well positioned" to implement this Act.

Meanwhile, a steady number of domestic violence cases reach Vanita Sahaya Vaani, the women's helpline. They receive 120 to 135 dowry cases every month.

The number of dowry cases registered with them last year was 1,255. "Domestic violence is an intractable problem that appears to be getting worse," said Hema Deshpande, co-ordinator of the helpline.