In a country where domestic violence is not only widely prevalent but also underreported, the Supreme Court’s observation on marital cruelty assumes great significance.
A Bench comprising Chief Justice P Sathasivam and Justices Ranjan Gogoi and SK Singh has rightly held that the complaint of mental and physical cruelty leveled against the husband and parents-in-law cannot be dismissed at the onset. Its ruling that a trial is essential may not by itself translate into relief for scores of battered women.
Yet armed with the knowledge that their grievances will not be dismissed on frivolous pretexts, it can enable more women to come forward and seek redress. Even though much is said about women’s growing empowerment, instances of domestic abuse continue to find sanction in the patriarchal system.
According to the National Family and Health Survey 3, almost two in every five married women in India have experienced domestic violence. In states like Punjab and Haryana, it is one of the major crimes against women. While Haryana reported 18 cases everyday, helplines in Punjab were flooded with complaints of domestic abuse by women in distress.
Ironically, though domestic violence was recognized as a criminal offence way back in 1983 and the path-breaking Protection of Women Against Domestic Violence Act was passed nine years ago, not many recognize the gravity of the problem. While more heinous crimes like rape are looked at with horror, incidents of spousal violence are invariably brushed aside.
Sadly, though a host of laws have been passed to enable women to fight oppression, gender inequity and violence is a reality women in high positions too have to live with. Answers lie not only in proper implementation of the existing laws but also a change in attitudes that tend to dismiss cases of domestic violence as mere spousal disagreements. It’s time India realized violence against women, be it on the streets or within the four walls of a home, was abhorrent and must be dealt with severely.