PUCL Bulletin, September 2002

Domestic Violence (DV) Bill:
New proposals by government will not protect women's rights

(Brinda Karat's speech at AIDWA, Chennai,. 9th May 2002
-- Reported by Sudha Ramalingam)

The Domestic Violence (DV) Bill tabled in the Lok Sabha was not even circulated to the National Council for Women - no women's organization was consulted. It was a bolt from the blue - tabled not by the Law Minister but signed and submitted by Murali Manohar Joshi, the HR Minister. MMJ is a person who has taken an open stand that women's place is only at her home. During the Beijing Conference he had declared that the conference would break the family and that the feminists are breakers of families. MMJ has said that Indian traditionalists want to save the family while feminists are bent upon breaking the same.

Women even western women activists are not for breaking families. They only strive for social consciousness and legal democratization of family relations with in shared households.

During Narasimha Rao's govt. in 1994 and there after during National Democratic Front govt. at the behest of NCW a bill was introduced after wide circulation and consultations with various women's groups etc. but failed.
Now MM Joshi has tabled a Bill totally different from what was already there and has brought in negative clauses.

Many countries have Acts against Domestic Violence (DV). There are International Conventions such as CEDAW defining DV. All of these include physical, mental, psychological, refusal to give economic support etc. as DV.
Whereas the present definition in the DV Bill tabled by M.M. Joshi gives legal sanction for DV. S.4(1) says that only if the husband habitually assaults it amount to DV. This is the only law in the whole world which speaks of habitual assault as DV. As per MM Joshi India women's tradition is 'to adjust' which would mean 'habitual' legally and 'constant accepting of beating' in actual terms.

Cl.4(2) says that nothing contained in Cl.(3) shall amount to domestic violence if it was done to protect himself or property. It has given an alibi for self defence. Property could be moveable or immoveable.

In the 1950s the first biggest struggle for women was for codification of the Hindu Law. The greatest compromise was made in succession laws- Dr. Ambedkar even resigned due to this.

Joint matrimonial property - has not been considered. During the subsistence of matrimony the wife is a concealed contributor to the acquisition of assets of the husband. This act reasserts the male's right to property as more sacred than the right of women to their body / safety. - It in short gives legal sanction to DV.

NCW gave a right to residence in the earlier Bill. It is in fact not linked to DV Right to matrimonial home / residence is an independent right. Both spouses have equal right to matrimonial home. If there is a DV women and children are thrown out and left with no other choice than to reconcile with the aggressor/husband because they have no shelter - nowhere to go. Hence she is made to reconcile due to distress. Most countries give protection to wife by injunction orders/protection orders to victims of DV. It restrains men from indulging in DV. Unless there is provision for issue of protection there is no possibility of avoiding DV. Right to matrimonial home is not given in the new bill.

Extending the whole false understanding of Indian culture of adjustment - clause 11 insists on couples to go for Mandatory Counseling. The Magistrate can order mandatory counseling - it forces the victim to sit with the aggressor, makes it more dangerous for the wife to even think of making her sit with him. This has to be opposed.

She did not go into the other aspects of more bureaucratic provisions of Protection Officer's appointment and role etc.

DV has increased - need for an act against DV is more now than before. More than 6,500 women have been burnt. 1,40,000 have suffered DV. Only S.498-A deals with DV as on date. Last 55 years even by conservative estimates more than 1,65,000 have been died due to DV. This is more than the number of deaths in wars. Or the number of death in Kashmir where the official figure of death is 40,000. - they are called terrorist deaths. What about the terrorist deaths in the domestic front? Is the agony or terror less because it they are women. These are questions affecting large sections of society. We do not realize the gravity.

AIDWA and other women's organizations met the Law minister in Delhi and voiced their opinion against the DV Bill and he has assured to differ passing it and to send it to the select committee. This bill cannot be set right by some amendments it is totally flawed.

Though law is not sufficient to deal with DV. We need a social movement against it. But Law is a deterrent and is hence needed. The present government is bringing a bill to saffronise our homes and not to protect women's rights. We are fighting against an interpretation of culture where DV is justified except if it is habitual. MM Joshi who has saffronised history and text books is now into the family. It is time that all women's organizations and other right thinking people should take it to the masses and spread the message to those in the districts and fight against this bill being passed.

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