Introduction 

Human society is largely male dominated although certain tribal communities are an exception. The need for discipline is everywhere- in society, nation, schools, institutions. Husband is natural disciplinary authority in male dominated world. Hence he has always assumed responsibility to discipline his family- wife and children. The husband's authority to discipline his family has been recognized in all societies- Hindu, Muslim and Christian. The power to discipline family has been often misused by men for getting more dowry out of greed. Even when a husband is himself wrong and needs to be disciplined, he will not accept his guilt and mend himself. Rather, he responds by violence if the wife gives sane advice. Many men consider their right to have their own way and retaliate by violence when their authority is challenged. Domestic discipline has degenerated to domestic trranny in many cases. Hence government had to intervene by legislating against domestic violence.

What is domestic violence 

Domestic violence is not necessiarily physical torture in shape of slapping, hitting, whacking, spanking or inflicting pain or injury. This also includes causing mental stress, using harsh and abusive language, continuously making false accusations, threatening. Domestic violence may also be against children,  elderly and in some cases also husbands. Also domestic violence may be against not only wife but any woman living in intimate relation in the same residence. Thus even live in relation is covered by the term 'domestic violence'.

'Domestic violence' is defined by Merriam webster dictionary as "The inflicting of physical injury by one family of household member on another;  also a repeated/ habitual pattern of such behavior"   Thus domestic violence may be by anyone against anyone in the family. There is greater stress on repeated/ habitual pattern. Thus a stray incident may not be considered domestic violence. The definition does not also include verbal threats and abuse.

According to the US Office on Violence aganist women- "Domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner". Thus this definition is gender free as the violence may be by any partner- male or female against the other. This is abusive behavior, thus covering verbal abuse also. This includes any relationship and thus live in relation is also not excluded. Also there should be a pattern of abusive behavior. An isolated incident is not domestic violence. The purpose of such behavior should be to maintain power and control over another intimate partner. This is most significant part. Thus domestic violence does not include domestic punishment which is for correcting family misconduct.

The definition of domestic violence by the 'Children and Family Advisory and support Service' in the United Kingdom in its 'Domestic Violence Policy' is more comprehensive. Domestic violence is defined as:

  • common couple violence- arising in a single argument where one or both partners lash out at each other
  • Intimate terrorism- may also involve emotional and psychological abuse. Violent resistance is sometimes thought of as 'self defence' is violence perpetrated by victims against the abusive partners.
  • Mutual violent control is rare type of intimate partner violence occuring when both partners act in a violent manner, battling for control.          

Sexual abuse and spousal rape are also considered domestic violence. Generally, a husband is entitled to sex with his wife. But the non consensual sex with his wife is not rape according to a recent Indian legal decision. However, it is debatable whether this will constitute domestic violence. Domestic violence may also be by means of depriving the partner of facility to spend money or use certain asset. Causing mental tension is psychological or emotional abuse.

Gender aspect

Domestic violence may be by or against any gender. However, women are more vulnerable owing to physical structure, male domination and social tradition. Women are subjected to domestic violence more. There is demand from certain male organizations from saving men from domestic violence. But usually men do not accept that they have been subjected to violence. Even if a husband is battered by his wife, he will feel it below his dignity to accept this fact. If he accepts this, he may be laughed at and not sympathised by other men. Hence there is more protection to women. Similarly, same sex relation also is not immune from domeatic violence. But at most places, same sex relation is not acceptable norm and as such this is not considered. 

Protection of women in Indian law

Owing to the fact that women are usually at the receiving end of domestic violence, 'Protection of women from domestic vilolence Act 2005' came in force from October 2006. According to this act, domestic violence constitutes:

  1. Habitually assaulting or making the life of the agrieved person miserable by cruelty of conduct even if such conduct does not amount to physical ill treatment; or
  2. Forcing the aggrieved person to lead an immoral life; or
  3. otherwise injuring or harming the aggrieved person 

However, the act makes an exception for a conduct that is reasonable for own protection of for protection of own or another's property. It is significant that the conduct complained against should be 'habitual'. Thus a stray or single act of aggressive conduct will not constitute domestic violence. Also the conduct is not restricted to physical ill treatment only. Thus the definition is wide enough to cover physical, emotional, financial, psychological harassment. Harassment for dowry or other issues will also be covered by the term 'domestic violence'. It is significant that the Act covers not only the spousal relation but all women living in same household- mother, sister, widow etc.

Criticism unfounded

The law has been criticised by many as this is liable to misue. But this criticism is unfounded as every law is subject to misuse. It is at doscretion of judicial and law enforcing authorities to see that the law is not misused. Exclusion of men from the scope of law is also criticised. But as stated above, bulk of the domestic violence is against women. Hence, law covers women only. Moreover, there is ample law on human rights and crimes that cover men also. There is separate body of law for child right. We have to take the circumstances prevailing in our country while making law. Unlike west, there are not so many divorces and second or thir marriages. Hence, children are taken care of  by theiir natural parents and not by their step parents which is the case in west. we need not make our law according to circumstances in the west.  So, our law need not take too much notice of possibility of domestic violence against Children

Conclusion

Apart from law, there is need to change attitude. Men should shed the false notion of male superiority and treat their wives as equal partners in their life journey.  Men and women both should be enlightened about the need for healthy gender approach. This will go a long way in eradicating domestic violence.         


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