Domestic Violence in India: Definition, Limitations of Laws, and Preventive Initiatives Ahead

We need to realize that domestic abuse in any form is systematic and structural. Hence, this issue cannot be challenged without focusing on the basic understanding of inequality under the patriarchy more sincerely.

What is Domestic Violence?

Gender-Based Violence (GBV) is considered a global concern affecting women’s human rights, health and development.  It exceeds the notions of geography, class, caste, culture, age, race, and religion and influences every society and nation in the world. This violence has flourished due to gender relations and inequalities that assume men as a superior gender to women. As a result of the lesser status of women created by patriarchal traditions and socialisation processes, much of gender violence is perceived as typical and enjoys social sanction (Saravanan, 2000).

There are various ways in which gender-based violence exhibits itself throughout India. It exists in several domestic and sexually violent forms through cruel practices such as dowry, honour killings, acid attacks, witch-hunting, rape, sexual harassment, child sexual abuse, trafficking for commercial sexual abuse, child marriage, sex-selective abortion and endless other forms. Beyond these practices, India is also coping with violence due to inequalities in social life, displacement, and communal occurrences. This article focuses on domestic violence against women.


Domestic violence can take the forms of physical, emotional, and psychological aggression. It is used by the more powerful in the household to ensure the obedience of the less powerful and, therefore, is related to power dynamics within a home. It is stated that “domestic violence comprises not only inter-spousal violence but also the hostility perpetrated by other family members. Usually, an important part of the power relationship between spouses and their families relates to dowry and its implications” (Karlekar, 1995).

The forms of domestic violence frequently observed by Ahuja (1998) were “slapping, kicking, pulling and dragging by the hair, hitting with an object, strangulation, and threatening. Forms of psychological abuse were also found to exist, such as verbal abuse, sarcastic remarks in the presence of strangers, enforcing severe restrictions on freedom of movement, restraints against women in decision-making processes, making frequent complaints against her to her parents, friends, neighbours, and relatives much to the humiliation of the wife.”

As Visaria (1999) states, some of the worst forms of violence include “severe strikes to the body with heavy objects such as rods. In addition, perpetrators subject women to sexual assaults and sexual coercion, leading to acute injuries to the breasts and genitalia.” These forms of violence are often not discussed by the survivors, as society treats it as a private matter too shameful to be addressed in public.

How are Domestic Violence Incidents Intensifying During COVID-19 and the Lockdown?

Every nation struggled to persevere through the COVID-19 pandemic. As a consequence of implementing numerous lockdowns and making it mandatory to stay at home, the occurrences of violence against women increased worldwide during these periodic lockdowns (UN Women, 2020). The statistical evidence by the National Commission for Women, India, in early April 2020 shows that there has been a tremendous surge in grievances associated with violence against women after the countrywide lockdown since March 2020. This increase has pushed NCW to encourage the use of Mental Health Helplines for those witnessing any form of domestic violence around the country (Chandra, 2020). The interconnection of the abuse caused during any natural disaster is multilayered and triggered through numerous and interdependent causes like anxiety due to physical quarantine, economic interruption, slowed down businesses, unemployment, scarcity of necessities, limited social support, and others (Vora et al., 2020). 

What are the Present Laws Against Domestic Violence?

The Indian state, since independence, has attempted to bring about desirable changes in the status of women and check gender violence through legal reforms. Additionally, under its purview of vision towards emancipation, the women’s movement demanded more feasible and strengthened laws against violence.

Some of the laws present in India include sanctions under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (Anti-Cruelty Act) that punishes the husband or the relatives of the husband who subjects women to cruelty with imprisonment. Additionally, the Dowry Prohibition Act constitutes legal consequences in connection with a demand for dowry, which is the “exchange of any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly” before or after the marriage to the groom’s family (Ministry of Women and Child Development GOI, n.d.).

Furthermore, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, is a civil law that ensures the protection of married women and women in live-in relationships against their partners (India, 2020). However, there exist various limitations to these enactments listed, and they do not always lead to a holistic approach towards the ones affected by abuse. Lack of sensitivity on the part of the administrative bodies to comprehend, implement, and punish the offenders diminishes these laws to the status of any common law in the Indian framework (Ghosh & Choudhuri,  2011).

Recently, the One-Stop Centre Scheme implementation has been an inclusive initiative that enables access to a cohesive range of facilities such as medical and legal aid, police assistance, psychological counselling, and temporary support services to women affected by violence. However, the limited number and the quality of these services by such centres in the nation needs further effort.

What are the possible practices and Initiatives Ahead?

The existing laws and policy initiatives have certainly made positive changes in India. It has provided the affected women with the scope to address their grievances. However, there remains room for further improvement for an inclusive arrangement ahead.

A better approach is needed at the government and policy level to enhance the victim-centred services in terms of protection from perpetrators, housing facilities, financial support, medical treatment, and counselling. The respondents engaged in this service ought to have sensitive and eminent training to manage these facilities.

At the community level, the members can make a difference by condemning violence and responding positively to a woman’s effort to seek help. The normalisation of domestic abuse has to change by implementing adequate socialisation and education among the children regardless of gender. Men and boys need to realise that they are not the opponent but allies in preventing such wrongdoings.

At the individual and family level, there is a need for in-depth self-reflection in addressing the issues related to anger management and unlearning the cycle of violence, which the perpetrators themselves have either experienced or seen happen before in their households. The family needs to make sure that they contribute to women’s engagements in an encouraging environment to grow and flourish economically and socially. We need to realise that domestic abuse in any form is systematic and structural. Hence, this issue cannot be challenged without focusing on the basic understanding of inequality under the patriarchy more sincerely.

REFERENCES

Ahuja, Ram. (1998).  Violence against women.  Jaipur:  Rawat Publications

Chandra, J. (2020). NCW Launches Domestic Violence Helpline. Retrieved April 29, 2020, from The Hindu: https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/ncw-launches-domestic-violence-helpline/article31312219.ece.

Ghosh, B., & Choudhuri, T. (2011). Legal Protection Against Domestic Violence in India: Scope and Limitations. Journal of Family Violence, 26(4), 319–330. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10896-011-9369-1

India, L. (2020, May 25). Law regarding domestic violence in India. Lexlife India. https://lexlife.in/2020/05/21/law-regarding-domestic-violence-in-india/

Ministry of Women and Child Development GOI. (n.d.). Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 | Ministry of Women & Child Development. https://wcd.nic.in/act/dowry-prohibition-act-1961

Saravanan, Sheela. (2002). Violence Against Women in India A Literature Review. A Literature Review. Delhi, Institute of Social Studies Trust (ISST). https://www.savetemples.org/files/2012/Violence-Against-Women-India.pdf

UN Women. (2020). Violence Against Women and Girls: the Shadow Pandemic. United Nations: https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2020/4/statement-ed-phumzile-violence-against-women-during-pandemic

Visaria, Leela. (2000). Violence against Women: A Field Study. Economic and Political Weekly. 35. 1742-1751. 10.2307/4409296.

Vora, M., Malathesh, B. C., Das, S., & Chatterjee, S. S. (2020). COVID-19 and domestic violence against women. Asian journal of psychiatry, 53, 102227. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajp.2020.102227

Moumita Barman is currently pursuing her Master's degree from TISS, Hyderabad in the field of Public Policy and Governance. Her research interests lie in Gender, Social Conflict, Caste in India, and Education.

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