Domestic Violence Laws and Other Measures

Session Report
Aqsa Qureshi

A Four Week Online Certificate Training Course on “Ending Violence Against Women: Awareness of Laws and Policies in India”, organized by the Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC), at the IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi. The session was on “Domestic Violence Laws and Other Measures” by Adv Shalu NigamAdvocate, Author, and Researcher, Gender and Human Rights & Visiting Senior Fellow IMPRI.

What is Domestic abuse?

Adv Dr Shalu Nigam started the session by throwing light on the reality within a household regarding safety, protection and comfort. She further introduces spectrum of domestic abuse, how the law is inconsiderate about family violence and sees the relation between a man and women only as domestic abuse, but it is much more than that. Abuse is physical, sexual, emotional, economic or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. She further talks about how fear acts as the major component through which the abuser to take control of the victim’s life and circumstances.

Some of the examples of such conduct are:

Beating, forced sexual intercourse, making a woman watch pornography against her will, insults, humiliation, blaming a woman for not having a child or not having a male child, repeated threats, depriving a woman or her children of any economic necessities, denial of food, dispossessing of household assets or streedhan, threats, using weapons to threaten, strangulate or force to have sex with other person, harassment or any other such behavior.

In natal home, violence may include abortions, feticide, infanticide, discrimination against girl child, neglect, incest, raping, selling women, witch hunting, discriminating widows, denial of property, denial of health and education, denied autonomy, trafficked, honor killing, forced marriages, burned alive, and face many other forms of violence.

Domestic Violence and Legal Reforms in the Indian Context

In India, the debate on domestic violence law draws a linkage to the issue of dowry abuse. Domestic abuse did not appear as an issue affecting women until the 1980s, when Section498A IPC was introduced along with Section 304B IPC relating to dowry death. This connection between dowry, greed and the burden of a girl child lasted throughout the nineteenth and twentieth century’s and remained a major area of concern for the women’s movements after independence. It led to the formulation of the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961.Parliamentary debate in 1959 – Dowry could not be construed as an exploitative practice; rather, the legislators deem it as a traditional, harmless voluntary gift exchange.

What is dowry?

According to section 2 of Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, the term “dowry” means any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly.

 Arjun Dhondiba Kamble v. State of Maharashtra, the court held that,

“Dowry” is a demand for property of valuable security having an inextricable nexus with the marriage, i.e., it is a consideration from the side of the bride’s parents or relatives to the groom or his parents for the agreement to wed the bride-to-be. But where the demand for property or valuable security has no connection with the consideration for the marriage, it will not amount to a demand for dowry.

In Rajeev v. Ram Kishan Jaiswal, the court held that any property given by parents of the bride need not be in consideration of the marriage, it can even be in connection with the marriage and would constitute dowry.

According to section 3, it is an offence to both take dowry and give dowry. So, the family of bridegroom would be liable for taking dowry so would the family of bride be to consent to give dowry.

Penalty for giving and taking dowry (Section 3) – if anyone gives or takes, abets the giving or taking of dowry shall be punished with an imprisonment for not less than five years and minimum fine for Rs 15000 or the amount of the value of dowry, whichever is more. Penalty for demanding dowry (section 4) – if any person directly or indirectly demands dowry shall be punished with minimum 6 months imprisonment up to two years and with fine which could be ten thousand rupees.

Legal fight against dowry

Dowry is a punishable offence under Indian Law, but it is necessary to provide information regarding such offence for punishment. For which:

  • The victim has to file an FIR in the local police station.
  • A comprehensive report is to get submitted to the police.
  • A criminal case should get filed against the person asking for dowry or even harassment, and a divorce case can also be filed.
  • Filing complaints with police or women cells is essential.

In several cases, the courts have clarified that while filing the cases in the courts, income and assets of both the parties should be filed separately.

According to the Section 8(b) of this Act, the state government has to appoint Dowry Prohibition Officer, who has to strictly implement the provisions under this Act, stop Dowry transactions and collect enough evidence to make the case strong, necessary for the prosecution.

In 2019, in a petition is filed before the DHC and the court ordered the Delhi Government to appoint DPOs.

The bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Hari Shankar directed the government to provide the training to DPOs to ensure they perform their duties effectively.

The court also directed the Delhi government to “prepare the necessary literature in the form of pamphlets/ frequently asked question type of booklets” for the work to be done by the DPOs under the Act.

Legal Reforms to Address Violence in Marriage

The 1980s witnessed a process of legal reforms. These stemmed from the contradictions in the law and its failure to remedy the situation of persistent inequalities within the patriarchal society that resulted in murders or ‘stove-deaths’ of women. On 17 May 1979, Tarvinder Kaur, a 24-year-old bride from Model Town, Delhi, was burned alive, but her death was registered as a suicide by police even though in her dying statement, she clearly stated that her in-laws had set her on fire. This callousness and corruption on the part of police created outrage and resulted in demonstrations.

Women’s organizations highlighted the fact that the deaths were not accidents but murders due to dowry abuse. The ruthless killing of 21-year-old Shashibala in March 1979 within a year of her marriage while she was pregnant acted as a stimulus.

Kanchan Chopra, a stenographer in Delhi, was burned by her husband after she was forced to swallow acid. Police again registered this case as a suicide.

It was only after women’s groups took to the streets to protest dowry-related murders that the Criminal Law (Second) Amendment Act 1983 was introduced by the state as a package to curb violence.

The then Minister of Home Affairs Venkatasubbaiah introduced the bill to “cover cases of cruelty on account of dowry or otherwise” in recognition of the ineffectiveness of the Dowry Prohibition Act 1961.

The Criminal Law (Second) Amendment Act, 1983 introduced Section 498A, 304B and added stringent punishments under Section 306, IPC.

Simultaneously, Section 113(A) was introduced in the Indian Evidence Act, which states that if a woman commits suicide within seven years of marriage and there is evidence of cruelty prior to her death, her husband and in-laws would be held responsible for her murder unless evidence to the contrary is provided.

Right to reside in a shared household.

The Domestic Violence Act recognizes a woman’s right to reside in a shared household.

This means a woman cannot be thrown out of such household except through the procedure established by the law. In case she is thrown out she can be brought back again after obtaining the order from the court. This law does not alter the legality of ownership or transfer the ownership and a woman cannot claim that she owns a house; it only provides an emergency relief to the victim in the sense that she cannot be thrown out of her house. This law provides that any woman who is having a ‘domestic relationship’ or living in a “shared household’ with a man who subjects her to violence can file an application for claiming reliefs provided under the law.

Acknowledgement: Aqsa is a research intern at IMPRI.

Read more session reports on web policy learning events conducted by IMPRI:

Violence Against Women And Response Of Women’s Movements In India – IMPRI Impact And Policy Research Institute (impriindia.com)

Legal Perspectives On Violence Against Women In India – IMPRI Impact And Policy Research Institute (impriindia.com)

Legal Safeguards Against Violence In Public Spaces And Workplaces – IMPRI Impact And Policy Research Institute (impriindia.com)

Legal Safeguards and Constitutional Rights against VAW

Substantive Equality: A Constitutional Safeguard for Women

Acknowledgement: Aqsa is a research intern at IMPRI.

Read more session reports on web policy learning events conducted by IMPRI:

Violence Against Women And Response Of Women’s Movements In India – IMPRI Impact And Policy Research Institute (impriindia.com)

Legal Perspectives On Violence Against Women In India – IMPRI Impact And Policy Research Institute (impriindia.com)

Legal Safeguards Against Violence In Public Spaces And Workplaces – IMPRI Impact And Policy Research Institute (impriindia.com)

Legal Safeguards and Constitutional Rights against VAW

Substantive Equality: A Constitutional Safeguard for Women