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Dilution of laws is an injustice to genuine victims, who’re forced to leave their struggles halfway because the abusers use loopholes in the law to escape.
Trigger warning: This contains discussion of domestic abuse and abuse at the hands of law enforcers, and may be triggering for survivors.
In a recent Odisha HC court ruling for survivors of gender-based violence, the court observed that many women find the criminal justice system complex, confusing and intimidating. Many do not know where to turn to help.
This WHO data claims that One in Three women suffer from domestic violence. According to unwomen.org these facts and figures on UnWomen, less than 40% of women who experience violence seek the help of any sort. Less than 10% of those seeking help, appealed to the police.
Do you know why?
Every message on social media sites, NGOs, legal activists yell this message – Raise your Voice against social evils, be it domestic violence, dowry, rape, or anything against the ethos of the Constitution.
What none of them answers in clear words is WHAT NEXT?
Let me share a few (fictionalized) stories of some women.
Nisha was working as a Team Leader in Gurgaon when her marriage was fixed with a man from an influential family. Within a month, confident and independent Nisha was reduced to an obedient and submissive woman, who would shrink behind a chair at the sight of her husband’s raised hand. She would not be allowed to eat food on the dining table along with the rest of the family, not allowed to visit her parents; these were just a few of the diktats to set her position in the house.
On the advice of her colleague, she sought the advice of free legal counsel at her workplace. They encouraged her to raise her voice when she was hit next. She did not have to wait long for this opportunity. The very next day, her husband banged her head on the chair when she asked her mother-in-law to have dinner with the rest of them.
She dialled the number she had been given. The ‘authority’ took her to the nearby hospital. She had got 25 stitches on her forehead. Despite having all the evidence of domestic violence, having proof that next time she may not come back alive, the uniform counselled her to compromise. No doubt, the ‘Authorized Place’ had a gloating chart of data hung on the wall which said that they have successfully ‘resolved’ 99% of martial dispute complaints.
Mahi, another woman, took the courage to go a step further.
During the court hearing, when she raised an objection to the coats hired by her husband for calling her a slut, he threatened her in the packed courtroom. He was a senior coat. No one, even her own coat, took any action. The protectors of the law blatantly denied even witnessing the incident. No guesses Why?
Maybe these were ordinary women. Maybe a woman who is more well-read and supported by her parents is having a better footing.
Let me break these myths as well with the story of Disha.
Disha was working as a young scientist in the same Institute in Austria where the seed of 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was sown. Her husband, a legal advisor to a top MNC in New York, compelled her to leave her promising career and move to US as he had got a better job offer there. From economic abuse, body shaming, gaslighting, she ‘adjusted’ with everything because, in most of the marriages, the onus of saving the marriage and compromise lies with the woman.
After the birth of their son, when her in-laws also joined them from India, this abuse took the form of physical violence. At last, fearing for her life and her three-month baby, she somehow reached India in a crippled form. This is what years of abuse does to you.
There are many blanks in this story. Why she didn’t seek help in the US? Wasn’t she well-educated?
One of the biggest challenges with domestic abuse is to pin-point when it actually began, because by the time you realize that you are a victim, you have already got acclimatized to the situation. There is an interesting experiment to prove my theory. If you put a frog in a pan of hot water, it will jump out of the pan but if you put it in a pan of cold water and then gradually raise the temperature, the frog will continue to sit in the water and ultimately die.
And thus, it took Disha another five months to finally raise her voice and seek help. But she realized that the actual gaslighting, humiliation begins after raising the voice in our biased system. She was labeled too ambitious, too modern by the Uniforms and Coats.
She would be called to the Cell along with her old parents on one pretext or another and made to sit for hours. These were just the methods to clip the wings of women who dared to challenge the violence. Ask any domestic violence survivor (this is another vague epithet), for most of them their experience with the women’s cell is the most traumatic experience. This stresses the need to recruit people not as per gender and IQ, but EQ at such sensitive appointments.
Looking for affordable legal help, Disha approached all possible organizations, changed lawyers at least three times, because, through the expensive advocates, her NRI husband managed to influence everyone. Her struggle is still going on and so of the others. She has realized that it is easy to raise voice in this country, but here the one having the deepest pocket has the highest pitch.
For any victim in India, the real struggle begins AFTER raising the voice. We have all the laws in place to support and empower women. But all measures fall flat because the guardians and executors of these laws have made these laws the very tool of harassment for both the parties.
Instead of diluting the laws, like 498A, on the reasoning that it is often misused, there is a need to closely monitor the execution of these laws to fill the chasm between oppression and justice. The dilution of laws is an injustice to millions of women who are genuine victims, and forced to leave their struggles halfway because the abusers use the loopholes in the system as maize to blindside the already traumatized voice raisers.
Even in countries, which are considered liberated for single women, many cases of violence go unreported, especially among the Non-residents. The main reason is that most of these women are on a dependent Visa, which is used as a tool by the abuser to arm-twist their hapless victims. In my opinion, making the employer morally accountable if there are complaints against their employees for violence, would prove as a deterrence. Violence or abuse against any individual can never be a personal matter.
In high profile cases like Nirbhaya ‘justice’ was at last delivered(?), but the delay in justice and painful journeys through legal and social mazes crush millions of meek voices. Somewhere in their heart, they have now learned that this is not the country for women.
Which is how raising a voice, speaking up, can often cause more harm.
Author’s note: Through my writeup, I do not intend to undermine the integrity of our Constitution and the judiciary. Like many, I too have faith in our legacy, though it sometimes feels shaken.
A version of this was first published here.
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Vartika Sharma Lekhak is a writer based in India. She is the author of the
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Women’s Helpline 1091: Raise Your Voice Against Domestic Violence
New SC Judgement On Domestic Violence Act Allows Estranged Women To Live With In-Laws
Taking Stock: Post Dec 16, Has Anything Changed For Women In India?
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