Deconstructing The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act PWDVA Act (2005)

    • By,
      Rashad Khan – Academic Associate, Kautilya

The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA) was passed in 2005 as a legislation that would aim to protect women from the violence that takes place in the intimate setting of a domestic relationship. In India, under section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code, the act of domestic violence has been considered to be one which is criminal in nature; however, it was felt that a more comprehensive legislation that would be in accordance with civil law was needed. This was considered with the understanding that women may not always want to undergo criminal proceedings and might just want intervention which could later leave open space for reconciliation. If we consider the data regarding domestic violence from WHO, it is stated that Across their lifetime, 1 in 3 women, around 736 million, are subjected to physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner or sexual violence from a non-partner Many other studies have shown the extent to which domestic violence is rationalized and normalized in Indian society, making it more and more difficult for women to break the chain of violence and attain justice.

The PWDVA Act has described physical abuse as “any act or conduct which is of such a nature as to cause bodily pain, harm, or danger to life, limb, or health or impair the health or development of the aggrieved person and includes assault, criminal intimidation and criminal force;” and sexual abuse as includes any conduct of a sexual nature that abuses, humiliates, degrades or otherwise violates the dignity of woman”.

It also highlights the economic abuse that women undergo in the process, mentioning that the deprivation of economic resources or property itself is also a criminal act. This is a very important point as in many cases the threat of economic insecurity is the key aspect which is used to trap the women into an understanding that there will not be any other sustainable mode of living if not the violent relationship she is in.

The act also takes into consideration relationships other than the one of marital nature, the definition of domestic relationships used is broad enough to accommodate different types of relationships where adults agree to cohabit. This is a very key aspect of the act as many relationships which are not marital in nature might have persisting cases of domestic violence and the act ensures that these are also considered, and that fair compensation is provided to the survivor in that scenario as well.

As the cases of Domestic violence were now being handled by the magistrate courts, a new mechanism was set in place. The office for the Protection Officer was set up, with the duty to assist the magistrate and the survivor. The office of the protection officer would be situated within the Department of Women and Child Development (DWCD) and tasked with the responsibility of bringing services which an aggrieved woman would need during the legal process. The protection officers would also inform the women of their legal rights and be there through every step of the process. The role of the protection officer is emphasized with the understanding that women are not comfortable engaging with the police and also how the police officers being a product of the patriarchal society, would be entrenched in the societal norms that dictate that outsiders should not interfere in “personal matters” that take place within one’s household.

Due to the setting up of a different machinery which involved other stakeholders such as the protection officers, additional expenditures were required and there was a lack of clarification among both the state and central governments as to who would meet those monetary requirements. This led to very small funds being allocated to the program, affecting the training of the protection officers, setting up of services to aid the aggrieved and the overall experience of the survivor. This confusion as to who would allot money from their budgets led to several challenges for the implementation of the act.

Another big challenge that is evident is how there was very little coordination between the various other stakeholders. A huge shortcoming was the lack of communication between the police and the protection officers leading to complications in accessing shelter homes and medical services as discussed by Flavia Agnes and Audrey D’Mello. Their lack of training due to lack of budgetary allocations further made the experience of the survivors even worse during the proceedings.

The major problem with the Act itself is the conclusion that is arrived upon for the aggrieved. Though the act emphasizes the necessity of economic rights for the women, the work of Flavia Agnes and Audrey D’mello has shown that at the end of the day, the burden of saving the family and looking out for her well being was to be shouldered by the women. Due to the lack of maintenance on alternate services that could be provided to the aggrieved to find their own footing in the society, counseling was seen as the resort for the women in order to ensure that her future would be “stable”. It is a patriarchal notion that drives this idea of preserving the family, with the women being the ones who have to shoulder the entire burden of maintaining peace in the household. The culture and space that has been cultivated due to the dominance of patriarchal ideology limits the role of the women only to the family, which is why the legislations that arise to counter these forms of oppression can only act as guiding paths while at large society has to be changed.

*The Kautilya School of Public Policy (KSPP) takes no institutional positions. The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and do not reflect the views or positions of KSPP.