WHEN the government announces a lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19 because it’s literally a matter of life and death what happens to troubled violent marriages? Does the lockdown also mean that the abuser stops abusing all because there is a deadly disease on the prowl? Actually, this is the exact problem with abusers because they never stop the abuse.
One of the most heartbreaking calls that I got during this time was from a lady Sitara, belonging to Pune who wanted to know whether her husband abusing her with unprintable language related to the female anatomy would qualify as domestic abuse? She further recounted her tale of horror, where he was also coercing her to sleep with his brother since his wife was in the village and who would take care of his sexual needs?
When she protested, it is when the abuse began and he started taunting her that he would get rid of her when the lockdown ended since he wants a dutiful wife. As I listened in horror all the while thinking of how to help I explained to her what exactly Domestic Violence is.
The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005
Definition of domestic violence. — For the purposes of this Act, any act, omission or commission or conduct of the respondent shall constitute domestic violence in case it—
(a) harms or injures or endangers the health, safety, life, limb or well‑being, whether mental or physical, of the aggrieved person or tends to do so and includes causing physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal and emotional abuse and economic abuse; …
(d) otherwise injures or causes harm, … to the aggrieved person.
(ii) “sexual abuse” includes any conduct of a sexual nature that abuses, humiliates, degrades or otherwise violates the dignity of woman; …..
……under this section, the overall facts and circumstances of the case shall be taken into consideration.
So, in simple terms it’s any violence of any kind, inflicted mainly on the wife, that’s the thumb rule to remember.
So, it’s in these times that the government should have offered some practical solutions via the judiciary.
Alternative Dispute Resolution – Sitara should have been able to call a lawyer who should have been in a position to legally enforce ADR even if unilaterally and the lawyer should then be in a position to submit a report of the incident to the judge. The judge could pass an order which could then be conveyed to the police station in charge. This is because usually, the police are keener to move forward when there is an order.
If all this was done online through various video links, then the entire process could be done in little under an hour. So, the use of technology coupled with a slight change in an existing legal principle could make all the difference.
Video Recording – A simple video recording uploaded on the Judge/court’s email id with a copy sent to the police station would again at least serve as a first step. Then the next steps of affirming the authenticity and verification would follow.
Will these stop the perpetrator from inflicting abuse permanently? It may not, but at least it would stop it during this period.
For the record, I called Sitara again but her phone was switched off.
[Vandana Shah is an award-winning lawyer, social entrepreneur and author whose book Ex-Files published by Penguin under the Shobhaa De imprint is a part of the Judicial College syllabus].