Legislations abound while women run around

Pranav Prakash & Ayswarya Murthy take a look at how the limited legislation in favour of women is working on the ground…

Bengaluru: Jenna* got married on 17th August 2017. Within the first three months, the 38-year old IT professional says, she faced it all at the hands of her husband - physical violence, adultery, rape threats, dowry harassment and miscarriage. "Two weeks into the marriage, he started beating and insulting me. He was an alcoholic and a porn addict. The mother would never raise a voice against her son. She would advise me to have a child, saying it would stop his adultery and madness. When I got pregnant in two months, he got angry and hit me,” says Jenna.

She approached the court and got a case filed under IPC 498A (husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty) and the Domestic Violence Act in November. However, Jenna lives in fear all the time. “What is the guarantee that he will not come and attack me or my mother? There is absolutely no coordination between the courts and the police. How am I assured of my security?"

Despite multiple interventions by the judiciary, NGOs and the government, things continue to be bleak for women in this country. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) recorded 3,38,954 incidents of crime against women in 2016. Karnataka, which ranked 19th on the rate of crimes against women, recorded a 10.6% rise in such crimes between 2015 and 2016. The national figures, meanwhile, saw a 2.9% rise.

The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 and Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 are some laws brought in to put an end to injustice against women. But how do they work?

Rough road to relief

There are reasons why the Domestic Violence (DV)Act is considered a landmark legislation. The DV Act recognised the forms of domestic violence beyond just physical, by defining sexual, emotional and economic abuse. It states that those receiving the complaint, be it a police officer, service provider (legal, medical, shelter, etc.) or a magistrate, should inform the woman of the various services available and assist her accordingly. They are also supposed to inform her of the services of the protection officer (PO), who is preferably a woman and has a wide range of duties to ensure relief to the complainant.

Donna Fernandes, founder of Vimochana, a Bengaluru-based organisation fighting on issues for women, says the DV Act was the result of over a decade of struggle by women's rights activists, “but it's not enough”. She says while the law is broad, “it was always intended to provide only interim relief to the woman so that she is not on the streets or kept away from her children”.

The stark mismatch in the number of POs and cases of domestic violence also remains a cause of concern. “We need better and more POs because, unfortunately, a case is treated more seriously when it comes through POs and lawyers. When a woman tries to deal with this directly it gets even more drawn out. She is hounded for proof that she has been kicked out of the house. What else are the police and the legal system there for? They are supposed to investigate,” she says.

The Act also specifies that applications should be disposed of by the magistrate within 60 days, “but this never happens”. Donna also points out how cases are heavily depended on the judge's personal prejudices - how they look at women, their roles and expectations. “If someone is deemed not a ‘good woman’, they are thought of not deserving of maintenance.”

Has the workplace gotten better?

The International Labour Organisation ranked India’s female labour force participation (FLFP) rate in 2013 at 121 out of 131 countries, or 11th worst. In south Asia, India (27%) is slightly better than only Pakistan (24.6%). The battle that a working woman goes through only adds to this abysmal figure.

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Bill was passed by the parliament in September 2013. The law makes it compulsory for organisations with more than 10 workers to set up an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) to address grievances. For the unorganised sector and enterprises with less than ten staff, a Local Complaints Committee (LCC) is to be made available in every district.

The backlash that many women have experienced - from a change in attitude at work to termination - after approaching these ICCs is out in the open. Experts hold the committees’ lack of accountability responsible.

Laxmi Murthy, senior journalist and activist, points out that it’s mandatory for ICCs and LCCs to file annual reports with the appropriate authority. “However, in many cases the appropriate authority is itself not clearly defined, and this process is tardy. There are no penalties for noncompliance. Hence organisations are not taking it seriously enough,” she says.

She adds that committees are often hastily set up after an incident, and in many cases ICCs are composed of people close to the management, with a possible inclusion of external members who are neither gender-sensitive nor clued into the issue. “In such cases, the ICC becomes more of a hindrance than a help. Many (women) swallow a lot of violations just to be able to fit in.”

Laxmi’s suggestion is that the workforce have vocal and aware employees who insist on the formation of LCCs and monitor its functioning.

Where does the judiciary stand?

While the women’s movement has recognised some recent judgments - lifting ban on women entering Haji Ali Dargah’s inner sanctum and declaring triple talaq unconstitutional - as an encouragement, there are others that earned much criticism and reflected the need for gender sensitivity at all levels.

Like when the Kerala high court annulled the marriage of Hadiya, an adult Muslim convert, and put her under the custody of her parents. The Supreme Court came out this year with the ruling that Hadiya’s choice on marriage cannot be questioned and courts cannot compel an adult woman to live with her parents.

On the speed of the judicial system, there’s nothing new to offer. Data from 2014 to end of 2015, as reported by IndiaSpend, shows 83% of cases filed under dowry deaths were pending. So were 99.9% cases under abetment of suicide, 83% cases under cruelty by husbands and his relatives, and 99.8% cases filed under the DV Act. In Maharashtra alone, an RTI revealed, more than 57,500 cases involving crimes against women were pending in various sessions and magisterial courts in July 2015. The updated figures might throw a bomb.

Wouldn’t women make better laws for women?

There is an argument that things would change if it were women making these laws, but ​are there enough women in our parliament? Only around 12% of our MPs are women.

The Women’s Reservation Bill, which seeks to reserve one-third of all seats in Lok Sabha and state assemblies for women, has never seen the light of the day. It was passed by the UPA government in the upper house in 2010, but didn’t clear the lower house owing to political differences.

The Bill has had a long journey. However, CPI(M) leader Brinda Karat doesn’t see much hope. “The UPA claimed they did not have the numbers (majority) and they could not bring the bill. The BJP has refused to bring in the women’s reservation bill although they have the numbers to do it. Where is that Bill?” ​ Brinda asks.​

Jenna has just begun her journey into the legal system. Every time there is a hearing, she takes leave and goes to the court. However, he has been absent each time. “He has refused to receive three summons already and I am struggling here. All I want is that he should be held accountable," she says.

​*Name changed to protect identity​

(Pranav Prakash and Ayswarya Murthy are Bengaluru-based journalists. Both are members of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters. With inputs from Prabhu Mallikarjunan.)

From the newsroom:

Mumbai/Bengaluru: The cases of harassment of children registered under Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act (POCSO) has been increased around three times within a year and Karnataka stands in the 9th place.

At present, in the country, there are 90,205 cases under POCSO Act, which are in the final stage of the trial. Just a year ago, this number was 27,558. Though there are 597 special courts, 459 public prosecutors and 729 special police stations for the POCSO cases, there is not much success in solving the cases earlier.

According to the POCSO Act, the trial should end within one year after lodging FIR. The special courts are under the direct supervision of the High Courts. Still, it is astonishing that so many POCSO cases are pending in the country.

In the list of states according to the pending cases, Karnataka stands in 9th place with 3,529 cases. Maharashtra tops the list with 17,338 cases, followed by Uttar Pradesh- 15,938, Madhya Pradesh- 10,950, Kerala- 5,637, Delhi- 4,769, West Bengal-4,316, Rajasthan- 4,011, Gujarat- 3,606 and Chattisgarh- 2,562.

-By Shrivibhavana


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