Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Modification of the Domestic Violence Act

Sometimes good intentions can lead to ill-effects as well. The condition of women in India overall needs a great deal of improvement. Dowry deaths, harrassement, female infant killing, eve-teasing and molestation, all of these happen to a large extent in our country, much more than we as a society should tolerate. To change society, there are a number of educational and empowerment measures that should be taken, but giving legal protection to women is also necessary. And hence the need for some strict anti-dowry laws and to protect women against domestic violence.
This is where problems start arising. Owing to the fact that in many of these situation, the oppressed women find it hard to find proof, the laws have been slanted in their favor and the burden of proof has been made much lower. And therein lies the scope for misuse. Given the slant of these laws, it is very easy for a lady to misuse such laws. So, among the many genuine cases of dowry harrasement, there will be cases where innocent people have also been caught.
Misuse can take many ways. If a couple if separating in a bitter way, charging your husband and his family members with dowry demands or harassement can lead to them undergoing severe problems with the police and the law (not to talk of the media that can condemn them without a trial). If, god forbid, a married women dies accidentally within a few years of marriage, the husband and his family can be in for severe trouble, and have to show proof that there was no harassement.
This law is a double-edged sword, being used against both the guilty and the innocent. What is the way out ? For some time now, various courts have been finding a section of the cases as false and asking for more investigation and more safe-guards before acting against the husband's family. And it seems finally that the Government has started listening:

The government has decided to amend the Domestic Violence Act and incorporate certain changes in it to ensure that it is not misused.
Besides, the Women and Child Development Ministry would also organise a conference to incorporate men's perspectives in the Act to give it a holistic view. The proposal is in the process of finalisation, sources said.

One can only hope that this is a genuine effort and not an exercise in futility, or a way to show that concerns about the even-handedness of the law are being addressed. And this still does not address the issues about the other laws such as the anti-dowry laws that have also been mis-used in the past. In order to ameliorate the condition of women, the existence of laws is necessary, but the laws need to re-calibrated so as to prevent misuse.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 7:30 AM