Protecting Women From Domestic Violence
Progress towards enforcing women’s right to a violence-free life remains limited, six years after the enactment of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA) in 2006. Survivors continue to be largely invisible and deprived of support. Faced with lasting resistance against addressing violations that take place in the privacy of homes, under- funded, understaffed, hampered by the difficulties of coordinating stakeholders who rarely interact, the law is yet to live up to its promise.
Available information highlights the extent of the problem, though the lack of adequate data certainly understates its severity. National Family Health Surveys in 1999 and 2005 are the only large-scale attempts to gather information on the issue: more than 37 per cent of women between 15 and 49 years of age reported having experienced physical or sexual violence in their marriage in 2005.1 In Bihar, this figure was a staggering 56 per cent; Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu follow with figures ranging between 40 and 50 per cent.2 Given the sensitivity of the information and the difficulty of enabling women to speak freely during the survey, these numbers are likely to be underestimates despite the precautions taken by surveyors.
The PWDVA is a civil law that complements existing criminal laws. It provides immediate relief—to married and unmarried women—ranging from medical aid, shelter, monetary support and legal assistance.4 It links the right to a violence-free home with a structure aimed at facilitating access to justice, through devoted staff and infrastructure. By doing so, it aims to reach out to the majority of women who are not in a position to face heavy criminal procedure. Registered crimes of domestic nature were at 0.02 cases for 100 women in 2011;5 the remaining 37 per cent of women who reported facing physical and sexual violence in their homes were left unprotected by criminal law.