Kerala - Thiruvananthapuram

India: Domestic Violence Victims Being Turned Away by Courts


INDIA-THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Nearly a month and a half after the Protection of Women against Domestic Violence Act (DVA) came into effect, the authorities are still dithering on its implementation.

The Act has been welcomed by women's rights organisations as a law which, for the first time, clearly defines domestic violence as a human rights violation that need not necessarily be associated only with marriage and dowry demands.

However, the euphoria seems to have been short-lived. In many districts, victims of domestic violence who approach the courts seeking protection under the new Act are being turned away by courts, saying that the State has not put the regulatory mechanisms in place to implement the Act.

"Till the State appoints the regulatory authorities - Protection Officers (POs) and NGOs as service providers - women cannot seek protection under the new DVA. The local police now wash their hands of any complaint of domestic violence saying that under the new Act, complaints should be filed with the magistrate. Unless the Government takes urgent measures to appoint POs, this Act too will become another worthless legislation," says Maria, advocate.

Women's rights activists report that at the moment, it is the decision of the individual judges whether they should accept a case under the Act. In Kottayam and Ernakulam, many judges have accepted cases even in the absence of POs, while in Thiruvananthapuram, victims are being turned away.

Women's rights organisations have also rejected a suggestion from the authorities that women circle inspectors or probationary officers of the Social Welfare Department be given the additional charge of POs.

"We see this as another attempt to weaken the implementation of DVA. Surveys have shown that over 40 per cent of women in the State have faced domestic violence at least at some point in their family life. Domestic violence is a serious social issue and a PO should be a full-time official who can deal with emergency situations," a women's rights activist in the city says.

The Act calls for civil remedies such as protection of women victims, relief and custody orders for children. It avoids police mediation.

The court should take cognisance of the complaint, institute a hearing within the next three days and dispose of the case within 60 days of the first hearing."One should not lose sight of the positive aspects of the new Act, which, for the first time, acknowledges sexual, verbal, psychological and economic abuses as acts of domestic violence. It provides for the victim's protection, protects her right to live in the matrimonial home and her property rights. But the Act's effectiveness is dependent on the key implementing officials," says J. Sandhya of Human Rights Law Network.

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