How to Face Domestic Violence

Mechanisms, both statutory and in the form of helplines and NGOs exist for assistance in cases of domestic violence. The ignorance and the fear which might as well be gripping a victim should not ideally stop her from reporting a case of domestic violence. This article delves into the different solutions and legal recourses one could take on the face of domestic violence.


Domestic violence is a serious menace, which as per reports, cloud over a huge deal of families. Often, the victims are ignorant about the legal recourses they could avail to combat domestic violence; this probably leaves a good amount of domestic violence sans any legal counteraction. Every third women, since the age of 15, has faced domestic violence of various forms in the country, reported the National Family Health Survey (NHFS-4) released by the Union health ministry. The reported numbers, themselves, seem scary; perhaps, the real amount of domestic violence is much higher than any one of us would ever imagine. The worst part is the normalization which comes along with the lack of adequate mechanisms to report domestic violence. This article delves into the major legal provisions and procedures to go ahead with a complaint against domestic violence of different forms.

Defining Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence has to be defined in an inclusive fashion, bringing in the different specimens of the same. The Protection of Women Against Domestic Violence Act is the first ever Indian law which came up with an appropriate definition for the same. This comprehensive definition captures women’s experience of abuse and includes not only physical violence but also other forms of violence such as emotional/verbal, sexual, and economic abuse. The same is built on the definitions in international law such as the UN Declaration on Violence Against Women and a Model Code. The Act views domestic violence as human right violation.

Forms of Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence, in contrast to the common notion which implies that the same involves just physical violence

1. Physical Abuse: Physical abuse is the common kind of abuse where physical force is used to perpetrate violence. Nonetheless, this is not just the only kind of abuse which could come under the definition of domestic violence; although physical abuse, too, cannot completely be attributed to men as such despite a general understanding that men are generally physically stronger than women.

2. Emotional Abuse:  Emotional abuse involves the destruction of the victim’s self-worth, and is brought about by persistent insult, humiliation, or criticism. Emotional abuse can be a difficult type of domestic violence for many people to understand, since, on the surface, it appears to be quite common in unhealthy relationships.

3. Financial Abuse: The sole breadwinner of the family could abuse his financial power to infringe the right of the other partner. This qualifies as financial abuse.

4. Psychological or Sexual Abuse: Psychological abuse refers to mental harassment of the victim whereas sexual abuse could generally be defined as unwelcome sexual acts. These too can never be exclusively attributed to men since it is pretty obvious that women too can abuse men psychologically and through unwelcome sexual acts.

Laws against Domestic Violence

The general penal law as well as a specific legislation serve the purpose of fighting domestic violence. The 2013 amendment had widened the scope of rape as such, but failed in making additional provisions for the purpose of combating domestic violence. Hence, we have two major legal recourses in this regard. Hence, it is imperative on us to understand the purpose and scope of each framework. We have a provision under the IPC and a dedicated legislation for this purpose. We shall dive deeper into the frameworks set up by the said frameworks.

Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005

This is the first ever comprehensive legislation which addresses the issue of domestic violence and, as I mentioned above, brings in a systematic definition for the same. The Act is an offshoot of legislative action based on Article 15 (2) of the Constitution of India, which clearly says that “State can make special provisions for women and children” towards realizing the right to equality. This indicates the use of affirmative action to remedy a wrong.

Here, the act solves the issue of lack of a mechanism to address the issue of domestic violence. The same has been done by creating the office of the Protection Officer and recognizing the role of the Service Providers. State responsibility to curb domestic violence has been brought into play via mandates for affirmative duties which has to be rolled out by the government to provide legal aid, medical facilities and shelter homes in the hope that women in distress be given all these facilities. Here, it is pertinent to note that he Act is a civil law which aims at providing reliefs to the aggrieved parties.

This statute is a law in response to the needs of the woman, which recognizes the right to residence of women and a right of the women to live in a violence-free home and that she should not be facing violence. Nonetheless, it provides only temporary and emergency relief. One interesting fact is that the same has certain crossovers from civil to criminal law; when the protection order or Magistrate’s order is violated, criminal law will start, thereby bringing into play, a stronger enforcement mechanism.

The Protection Officer

Protection Officer is the person who receives the complaint under the act. This officer either has to be a government servant or a social worker working for women and child welfare, with a post graduate degree in Humanities or Law. One or more Protection Officers could be appointed within the jurisdiction of each Judicial Magistrate.

The protection officer is bestowed with duties to inform aggrieved person of her rights under the Act, to provide all forms and applications and assistance to the aggrieved person, to make a safety plan and take adequate measures in view of the safety plan and to enforce the orders of the Court as and when directed by the Court.

Procedure under the PWDVA

The procedure for going about bringing the act into operation in your favor if you believe you’ve had a victim of domestic violence could be explained in detailed steps as given below.

The very first step is informing the Protection Officer. Any person who has reason to believe that such an act has taken place or is likely to take place can inform the Protection Officer. Aggrieved woman would then be informed of her rights under the law. The span of the term ‘aggrieved person’ covers not just a wife but a woman who is the sexual partner of the male irrespective of whether she is legal wife or not  (includes live-in relationships as well).

The daughter, mother, sister, child (male or female), widowed relative, in fact, any woman residing in the household who is related in some way with the respondent is covered by the act.

Here, a police officer, Protection Officer, Service Provider or Magistrate who has received a complaint shall inform her of her right to make an application for obtaining relief by way of protection order, an order for monetary relief, a custody order, a residence order, a compensation order, the availability of services of the Protection Officers, Service Providers, including shelter homes, medical facilities, etc., her right to free legal services under the Legal Services Authorities Act 1987, and her right to file a complaint under section 498 A of the Indian Penal Code.

Further, the Protection Officer makes the Domestic Incident Report to the Magistrate and forwards copies thereof to the Police Officer in charge. The officer has to ensure that the aggrieved person gets all the benefits mentioned and that a list of all Service Providers is maintained and that the aggrieved person has access to counseling, shelter homes and medical facilities where required;

Once the matter is with the Magistrate, the Magistrate shall fix the first date of the hearing, which shall not ordinarily be beyond three days from the receipt of the application by the Court, and shall endeavor to dispose every application within a period of 60 days from the date of the first hearing.

The respondent will be informed by the Protection officer of the date of hearing by service of a notice of the date of hearing. The term ‘respondent’ implies “any male, adult person who is, or has been, in a domestic relationship with the aggrieved person”.

This ensures that the respondent’s mother, sister and other relatives do not go scott free, the case can also be filed against relatives of the husband or the male partner

The Magistrate may also direct either of the parties to undergo counseling or seek assistance of a person, preferably a woman, engaged in promotion of family welfare, for assisting him/her in discharging his/her functions under the statute or even conduct the proceedings in camera.

Here, it is imperative on the system to have provisions for the safe shelter of the aggrieved person, who under the act does have the right to reside in a shared household, whether or not she has any right, title or beneficial interest in the house and shall not be evicted.

Magistrate, after giving both parties an opportunity of being heard, and satisfied that domestic violence has taken place, can pass a protection order or a residence order, direct the respondent to pay the aggrieved person monetary relief and in addition, can pass compensation orders, custody orders and ex-parte orders. The Magistrate has to ensure that a copy of any such order shall be given free-of-cost to the parties. If the said protection order has been breached, the act takes the route of the criminal law crossover and punishes the offender with either imprisonment or fine or both.

Degree of Evidence required to prove a Domestic Violence Allegation

Since the relief sought under the PWDVA is per se civil in nature, proof will be tested on the balance of probabilities and proof beyond reasonable doubt is not required. It must be remembered that domestic violence should be seen as a distinctive scenario as it normally takes place within the privacy of the home where no outside witnesses are likely to be present.

If it happens within a joint family then, although the relatives of the husband witness the violence, it is unlikely that any relative of the husband will support the woman. The woman, therefore, will be the primary witness in cases under the PWDVA.

When no direct eye witness evidence is available, and there is only the statement of the statement of the woman, circumstantial evidence is considered to arrive at a conclusion on the facts of the case. It is therefore important, that the context in which the verbal or emotional abuse takes place has to be mentioned to corroborate the complaint. Care should be taken to record the history and circumstances of the case, the impact of the violence on the woman and her children must be mentioned. Verbal and emotional violence often has health consequences for the women. Children also may suffer adverse consequences in their performance at school or in their interactions with others. All this must be pointed out as evidence of violence to the court.

Duties of the government

The Central and the State Government shall take measures to ensure that: provisions of this Act are given wide publicity through media, the Central and State government officers including police officers, members of the judicial services, etc., are given periodic sensitization and awareness trainings on issues addressed by this Act, that there is effective coordination between the services provided by concerned Ministries and Departments dealing with law, home affairs, health and human resources, and that there is aperiodic review of the same.

Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code and Allied Sections

The said provision was introduced in the year 1983 to protect married women from being subjected to cruelty by the husband or his relatives. A punishment which may extend to 3 years and fine has been prescribed. The expression “cruelty” has been defined in wide terms so as to include inflicting physical or mental harm to the body or health of the woman and indulging in acts of harassment with a view to coerce her or her relations to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security. Harassment for dowry has been read into the scope of latter limb of the section.

Further, creating a situation driving the woman to commit suicide is also one of the ingredients of “cruelty”. This is being discussed under section 113 A of the Evidence Act. Here, when the question is whether the commission of suicide by a woman had been abetted by her husband or any relative of her husband and it is shown that she had committed suicide within a period of seven years from the date of her marriage and that her husband or such relative of her husband had subjected her to cruelty, the court may presume, having regard to all the other circumstances of the case, that such suicide had been abetted by her husband or by such relative of her husband.

Scope for Misuse

It is also pertinent to address the misuse of the said section as well. This was once addressed by the Supreme Court where they observed that it was often being “used as weapons rather than shield by disgruntled wives.” In a recent caselaw, the Supreme Court set out a criteria for going about dealing with complaints under the said provision. Important directions include direction that these cases may be investigated only by a designated Investigating Officer of the area, restraint on impounding of passports or issuance of Red Corner Notice should not be a routine in respect of persons ordinarily residing out of India, not requiring personal presence of every family member or clubbing of cases. This brought forth a more equitable and convenient regime into place.

Where to find Help

It is important to call out for help when you need it. There is a good deal of helplines and legal aid entities which would assist you to get help. The contact details or direct help could be obtained from forums which have been established to take up the challenge. I shall mention a few here.

National Commission for Women: Details of helplines and legal aid establishments which can assist you in facing domestic violence could be obtained from the website of the National Commission for Women. These details are reliable since this is a government run website.

CAW Cell: The Crime Against Women Cell was established in the year 2010, across various states, and assists in reconciliation between the parties in cases where a victim approaches the cell with a complaint.

Legal Aid NGOs: There are a good number of legal aid NGOs which could come to your assistance, in case you’re a victim of domestic violence. Instances are Azad Foundation, Nirbhaya Centres, Lawyer’s Collective, Angala, Asra etc.

Bottom line

Availing help and reporting domestic violence is one big step one could take towards protection of self and disincentivisation of domestic violence. Let our nation shrug away the chains of patriarchy and violence.

Also Read – Violence Against Women

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