By Indira Jaisingh And
Times Of India
04 July, 2003
She is arguably Indias
best known practising woman lawyer. But Indira Jaisingh is also a passionate
advocate of womens issues. A founding member of Lawyers
Collective, she was actively involved in lobbying the government on
the Domestic Violence Bill. With Parliament failing to take up the Bill
in its last sitting, Ms Jaisingh lays bare its shortcomings to Malini
Why do we need a new law
on domestic violence? Arent the existing laws adequate?
This isnt a new law
but the only comprehensive law on domestic violence. As of today, there
are certain criminal laws that address domestic violence against the
wife but none that address violence against sisters, daughters, mothers
and mothers- in-law. The existing criminal law does not address a womans
needs for residence or maintenance, for instance. The proposed law allows
women in domestic relations with the aggressor to seek a whole range
of civil remedies under a single-window clearance system. Sending the
husband to jail might not be the solution that a woman facing domestic
Where did the impetus
to formulate a law on domestic violence come from? How long has the
The impetus came from increasing
domestic violence against women and the absence of effective civil remedies
to deal with it. The process has taken over 10 years. In 1992, the Lawyers
Collective, inspired by laws in other countries on the issue, drafted
and circulated a model law on domestic violence. In 1994, a committee
set up by the National Commission for Women came up with a draft proposal.
Four years later, the Lawyers Collective, in consultation with
various womens groups, proposed an alternative Bill in accordance
with the UN Framework for Model Legislation on Domestic Violence. Under
pressure from womens groups, the Central government introduced
a Bill on domestic violence in the Lok Sabha in 2001. This was re-presented
in Parliament on March 8, 2002 and referred to a standing committee.
Is this Bill supported
by womens groups?
No, because the Bill ignores
many of the demands of womens groups, as enunciated in the alternative
What are the points of
There are many ranging
from the definition of domestic violence to the fact that the aggressor
has been granted a right to self defence under the proposed law. Then
there are questions about the reliefs allowed to aggrieved women and
the fact that they can be sent for mandatory joint counselling along
with the aggressor. All these and many other provisions have dangerous
implications for women.
What was the response
of womens groups?
They protested in different
ways and were ultimately successful in getting the Bill referred to
the parliamentary standing committee attached to the ministry of human
resource development. This committee, after countrywide consultation,
submitted its re-commendations to the Rajya Sabha in December 2002.
These recommendations accept most of the demands of the womens
groups except the definition of domestic violence.
What is the problem with
Basically, it fails to define
domestic violence and leaves it to the judges to decide. It gives too
little to the aggrieved and leaves too much to the judges. While the
definition does include both physical and mental violence, it includes
under domestic violence only acts that amount to habitual
assault and those that make the life of a woman miserable.
The usage of such words as miserable also renders the law
Anyone whos argued
cases on behalf of women in abusive situations will know how difficult
its to convince the judges about the existence of violence in
all its manifestations. Judges tend to think that their role is to preserve
the marriage by condoning violence and asking the woman to forgive
and forget. But condoning violence can in fact lead to further
violence and, in some cases, even death.
Much has been said about
the so-called misuse of Section 498A IPC, which deals with mental cruelty.
Will this increase under the new law?
Any and every law is capable
of being misused and that in itself is no argument for not enacting
a law. As far as Section 498A is concerned, there is no data on its
misuse. While its true that many of the cases under this provision
are later withdrawn by women, thats not because they were misusing
it in the first place. They are often coerced to withdraw the cases.
We should be more concerned
with protecting women from being beaten and killed in their homes rather
than with how we can protect men from any alleged misuse of the law.
Moreover, this is a civil law that does not involve imprisonment of
the aggressor. It merely restrains men from committing acts of violence.
Are you hopeful that the
Bill will be passed?
Most governments in this
country verba-lise their commitment to womens issues. India also
happens to be a signatory to many international covenants. All this,
along with the committees report, makes one hope that this Bill
might see the light of day. But its up to the government to live
up to the expectations of half its citizenry. We also hope the government
will consider the definition of domestic violence as provided in the
UN framework I mentioned earlier.