Wednesday, April 11, 2018
Who will save these women and children? By Kalpana Sharma
This was probably one of the most gut-wrenching traumatic days I have spent in a long while. It was worse for the women who spoke, but those of us who listened came out with our equanimity shattered.
I have been writing about women, about violence, about neglect, about inequality, about injustice, for more than three decades. Yet, on April 10, 2018, as I sat with a panel of four other women listening to woman after woman testifying, I saw how little has changed.
Laws have been changed. But mindsets have not. New laws have come in. But their non-implementation is identical to what happened in the past. In other words, nothing has changed.
Majlis and several other non-governmental organisations working with women on issues concerning sexual violence, divorce, maintenance, child abuse etc came together to conduct a jan sunvai. The idea was to give women a chance to tell their stories, and then to strategise what could be done to address their individual problems, as well as the larger systemic issues that their individual experiences exposed.
Around 40 of the 72 who had recorded their testimonies with the different groups came in person to speak. These were women cutting across community -- Hindu, Muslim and Christian. Amongst them were middle class white-collar workers as well as poor uneducated women doing odd jobs or working as domestics. What was common was that all of them were victims of domestic violence in one form or the other and all of them were seeking some form of justice from the criminal justice system. And had failed in doing so.
This is why they turned to an NGO, in the hope that this would give them some respite. But Majlis and the others narrated their frustration too at the many roadblocks on the way to getting justice for these women, many of them systemic, embedded in a corrupt and uncaring system where the word of a poor person, and particularly a poor woman, simply does not count.
By the end of the three hours, my ears were ringing and my hands were hurting from taking down notes. Each testimony was searing. But some I will never forget.
She is small built and spoke quietly, without any drama. She told us that her husband is an alcoholic, that he would beat her even when she was pregnant. As a result, she had an abortion. She described the house where she lived. There were two rooms. She, her husband and the child slept in one and her father-in-law in the other. One night she found her father-in-law in bed next to her, with his hand on her chest, even though her husband was asleep on the other side. When she shouted and woke up the latter, he refused to believe her.
She also narrated how she had weaned her daughter off the breast and got her used to drinking milk from a feeding bottle. One night, she found her husband had the two-year-old on his chest, and then saw him slowly lower her so that she could suck on his penis. She shouted at him but he continued. Finally, she went to the police and filed a case under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO) in which it is mandatory for the police to register the offence. Despite this, the husband has not been arrested. She has also filed a case against her father-in-law for sexual harassment. But again, nothing has happened because the husband has contacts with the police through a local politician.
Then there is a dowry case. Who says the problem has disappeared? After she got married, this woman's husband demanded a motorcycle. When her parents could not pay for it, she was beaten and left for days without food. He would tell her that the only reason he married her was for sex. She was beaten so badly, that she had to be admitted to hospital and all this within three years of her marriage. Her father had sold his shop to pay for the marriage and had nothing more to give. Finally, she was compelled to move out and go to her parents. Yet when this woman went to the police to register a case against the husband, the police wanted proof of how much money had been spent on the marriage and how much had been given to the bridegroom. She says she stood for 15 days in the police chowky and they still did not take down her complaint. "Sometimes we went there are 12 midnight and stayed till three in the morning, waiting", she said. Instead of helping or taking down her complaint, the police keep sending her to another police station.
Even if the police do not help, under provisions of the Domestic Violence Act, the designated Protection Officer (PO) should come to the aid of such women. Yet several women spoke of how the PO told her that they never take note of a complaint the first time it comes and tell women to go back and try and work it out. Even if they went with a social worker, the latter was shouted at and insulted.
One of the most heart-rending cases was that of a four-year-girl who had been raped. When the family found her, and realised what had happened, they went to the police to register a complaint and took the child to the hospital. It took them hours to get the medical examination done. The child was traumatised and exhausted. A few weeks later, she was raped again. This time, she refused to let the doctors touch her when they wanted to examine her. The mother was asked to sign a document saying that "the victim" would not cooperate. The little girl's sister, who narrated all this, appeared equally traumatised. How can she believe that there is justice in the world if a little baby is put through this kind of treatment after being assaulted?
There were many more testimonies but there is a thread that runs through all of them.
First, the nature of the horrific violence they experience in their homes is virtually indescribable. One woman spoke of how her husband went out and bought leather belts to beat her and that her children had to apply balm to the welts on her back. Yet despite the relentless nature of such violence, and even after filing cases, many of these women have nowhere to go and choose to live in the matrimonial home because of their children. In one case, the abusive husband would enter the house, sit near the door, douse himself with kerosene and threaten to set himself and the entire family on fire if they complained.
Second, in almost every instance, when they did go an try and register a complaint with the police, most often because there was a social worker around to help, they were routinely told to go back and settle the matter as it was a domestic issue. At most, the police would take down an NC (non-cognisable) complaint whereby the abusive husband cannot be detained or arrested.
Third, even those who succeeded in filing cases, and sought help through the free legal aid service that was available, got no relief. The lawyers assigned to their cases were indifferent, inefficient and often demanded money. Most of them could not afford private lawyers and their exorbitant fees.
Fourth, under the Domestic Violence Act, Protection Officers (PO) are assigned to handle such cases. In Mumbai, these POs, although still not in adequate numbers, have been given extensive training and sensitisation courses. Yet, they continue to be rude and indifferent to the complainants, sending them home and telling them that they never register a first complaint. The women say that both the police and the POs seem to only care if a woman is either near death, or dead.
Fifth, the experience in hospitals is as bad as at police stations. There is a long delay before a medical examination is held, the victims are made to run around from one place to another and sometimes even turned away. The entire process, including having to narrate details of the attack to the doctor, with others listening, makes the victim revisit the trauma several times over. And although there are funds now for one-stop crisis centres, these exist mostly on paper.
I might add here that the media has failed to bring out sufficiently these systemic problems in the justice delivery system in cases of violence against women. Some select cases are reported in depth, but the widespread prevalence of this problem doesn't impinge on people because these issues are simply not reported.
For instance, there is hardly any reporting on dowry harassment or dowry deaths. If you skim through the print media, you might well believe that the giving and taking of dowry, and the torture of women in connection with dowry, has lessened. But clearly, this is not the case. In the 1980s, the anti-dowry campaign by women's groups, after many young women were killed within days and months of being married, brought to light the horrific nature of this crime. It remains condemnable even today, and needs to be monitored, reported and stopped.
The only detailed media report on this public hearing appeared in The Hindu this morning. It is a subject that is waiting for follow up by sensitive journalists who care about the lives of women, and who expect it a worthwhile cause to expose injustice.
Journalist, columnist, writer based in Mumbai. Author of "Rediscovering Dharavi: Stories from Asia's largest slum" (Penguin, 2000). Worked with The Hindu, Times of India, Indian Express and Himmat Weekly. Other books include "Whose News? The Media and Women's Issues" edited with Ammu Joseph (published by Sage 1994/2006), "Terror Counter-Terror: Women Speak Out" edited with Ammu Joesph (published by Kali for Women, 2003) and "Missing: Half the Story, Journalism as if Gender Matters" (published by Zubaan, 2010). Regular columns in The Hindu, Sunday Magazine and on The Hoot (www.thehoot.org).
This blog is written by a journalist based in Mumbai who writes about cities, the environment, developmental issues, the media, women and many other subjects.The title 'ulti khopdi' is a Hindi phrase referring to someone who likes to look at things from the other side.
Wednesday April 11, 2018
Domestic violence: women left to fend for themselves
By Sonam Saigal
Mumbai: The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (DV) was enacted in 2005 to include physical, sexual, emotional and economic abuse. But, due to various reasons, this has failed to bring relief to victims of domestic violence.
Majlis on Tuesday released a report that enlists problems faced by such victims:
Some protection officers (POs) do not file a domestic incident report (DIR) on the day the victim approaches them. Many victims are made to wait for hours and asked to visit offices several times to complete the paper work that need to be filed in court for relief. They do not coordinate and meet other stakeholders to discuss the case, cross-check documents, and strengthen the pleadings. Further, they do not conduct regular monitoring as listed under the Maharashtra State DV handbook.
The process of getting a lawyer is cumbersome and takes months. Some lawyers ask victims for money even though lawyers are appointed by the government to provide free services. They are not well-versed with the procedures and provisions under the Act. They do not coordinate with POs and NGOs that assist victims.
Some medical officers are completely unaware of their role and they do not fill the DIR and other forms mandated under the Act.
The police deter women from filing complaints and try to settle the matter informally. They do not inform women of their rights under the Act. They delay or avoid filing FIRs. They also delay summons and filing the report of service, which in turn holds up the victim’s case in court and to obtain interim relief. The police are not thorough on maintenance orders under the Act.
There is enormous delay in passing interim and final orders, and orders for relief are not passed before referring the case for counselling or mediation. This is in contravention of the guidelines under the DV Act. For example, the Thane court is completely uninformed about the guidelines. Documents are often misplaced and incorrect court dates are given due to which victims and their lawyers miss crucial hearings.
Officials at the homes for victims of violence are not well-versed with the Act and their role prescribed in it. They are not aware of the other laws applicable and not equipped to handle victims of trauma, distress and other challenges associated with running such shelters.
There are not adequate counsellors dedicated to victims of domestic violence. Private counselling services are not economical. Also, there is no help to avail of various schemes, financial aid, medical aid for themselves and their children, and vocational training.
Majlis Legal Centre is a forum for women's rights discourse and legal initiatives. We are a group of women lawyers and social activists committed to informing, educating and empowering women on their legal rights. Majlis offers legal services, conducts legal awareness trainings, engages in policy level interventions, public campaigns and public interest litigation in order to help women access justice.