'Delayed judgments, no shelter': Women-led advocacy group highlight shortcomings of domestic violence law
Domestic violence is one of the most serious forms of violation of rights affecting women. Every third woman in Uttar Pradesh faces spousal violence. A recent report assesses the effectiveness of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 in the state. It also documents the gaps and challenges in the implementation of the Act.
गाँव कनेक्शन 29 March 2022 1:27 PM GMT
Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh
Uttar Pradesh tops in crimes against women. It has no independently appointed protection officers, there are delays in filing domestic incident reports and there are no centrally notified medical facilities or shelter homes for women in distress due to domestic violence. These are the key findings of a report released by a women-led organisation Association for Advocacy and Legal Initiatives Trust (AALI).
The study titled Securing Justice: Status of Implementation of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 in Uttar Pradesh Years 2015 to 2019, released on March 26 aims to understand the status of implementation of the Act in Uttar Pradesh.
Despite the fact the protection officer is mandated under the law to provide women with multi-agency coordinated support pre-litigation, only 15 per cent of women sought support from protection officers for counselling, 17 per cent have sought support to register FIRs, 15 per cent sought shelter, 15 per cent sought medical services.
"Such low numbers could indicate the survivors' lack of awareness that they can approach the protection officer as a point of contact before approaching the courts," read the report. The study was conducted in 25 districts including Varanasi, Sonbhadra, Amroha, Lucknow, Kushinagar, of Uttar Pradesh.
A total of 101 survivors were interviewed for the study. Majority of the survivors who used the domestic violence Act, sought relief from physical violence (88 per cent), verbal and emotional violence (82 per cent), or economic violence (80 per cent). A significant number also reported sexual violence (36 per cent).
"Whenever we talk of domestic violence, we think only of physical violence against married women, but unmarried girls who are denied of their right to choice in matters related to marriage, education or career, also face severe mental and physical violence at the hands of their families and we completely ignore it," said Archana Singh, Centre Manager of Asha Jyoti Kendra, Lucknow, at the report release on March 26.
The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) 2020 data shows domestic violence against women figured as the top category of crimes against women: 30 per cent cases under the category were registered under offence of 'cruelty by husband and his relatives'.
Meanwhile, the National Commission for Women (NCW) pointed out that it received 31,000 complaints of crimes against women in 2021. The number was the highest since 2014, and over half of the complaints were from Uttar Pradesh.
The data from the findings of National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-5 reveal that 34.8 per cent of women aged 18-49 years experienced spousal violence in Uttar Pradesh, much less than the national level of 29.3 per cent. Women in rural areas are more prone at 35.5 per cent.
Survivors face many challenges in filing cases under the Act and a majority of them — 58 per cent — do not experience positive outcomes from litigation, found the report. Nearly 70 per cent of the survivors believed that the law has not been able to provide them with timely and fair justice.
The AALI report also revealed that the protection officers cause significant delay in filing domestic incident reports (DIR). The Act provides that all cases filed must be disposed within 60 days of filing. The study shows 30 per cent of the survivors reported that DIRs had not been filed even though their cases had been filed between the years 2015 and 2019.
The study included interviews with 90 lawyers and 20 protection officers. According to 62 per cent of the lawyers, protection officers take more than 30 days to file the DIR before the court. Lawyers are of the opinion that the reason protection officers are not able to file DIRs on time is "because their duties under the PWDV Act is not their priority".
Of all the cases filed between 2015 and 2019 decisions have been delivered on time in only 11 per cent of the cases, the remaining 89 per cent cases are either pending or withdrawn.
The study revealed that protection officers lack proper training and are engaged in other duties besides those under the domestic violence Act. "They are currently unable to facilitate the full range of services and reliefs to survivors," the report said.
The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 provides for a support system through a multi-agency coordinated support system comprising protection officers, medical and shelter services for women in distress due to domestic violence that must be operationalised through protection officers in the state.
During a panel discussion at the release, Renu Mishra, executive director AALI, highlighted how violence against women starts as soon as they are born. "A girl has to face discrimination in her own home and because of this her entire childhood is lost," she said.
Puneet Mishra, Deputy Director, Department of Women and Child Development, joined the panel discussion. He stressed that "individually we all need to be sensitive on the subject related to violence against women and then only there will be a reduction in incidences of such cases."
The AALI report has recommended actions to be taken by the state and the judiciary that can address existing gaps and lead to complete realisation of women's rights as envisioned in the law. Following are some of the recommendations:
- Independent protection officers must be appointed in all 75 districts of Uttar Pradesh.
- Protection officers must be provided with necessary infrastructure and staff to do their duties.
- All primary healthcare centres, community healthcare centres, and district hospitals must be notified under the Act.
- All government-run shelter homes must be notified under the Act and new shelter homes should become operational in all 75 districts.
- Legal services authority must create a separate panel of lawyers for providing pro bono legal aid in cases under the PWDV Act, 2005.