by Harpreet Kaur
I have reviewed the PWDV Act 2005. Chapter I, gives the title of the act: The protection of women from domestic violence act 2005. It also states that this act extends to the whole of India except the State of Jammu and Kashmir.
At first reading, in the present Act, there is definitely an issue, of family, which is missing, just as we had observed in our group discussion; it does read more like a divorce law. But I have found an amended version of the bill (under construction) on the net, which talks about domestic harmony where they are trying to confront the issue of domestic violence (DV) in a little less mechanical manner.
The second glaring issue we discussed was about the act only recognizing women as the aggrieved person. We know and totally understand that women are the most often and worst abused in domestic violence. But are we going to set aside our awareness of DV on young boys, elderly men, ill and physically challenged males, leaving them with no place to seek protection? This has also been addressed in the amended version. In it ‘aggrieved woman’ has been replaced by ‘aggrieved person’. Which is more satisfactory from our perspective.
This leaves us with our biggest concern: issue of domestic violence and the position of Dalit women. To me, the major question is, will Dalit women see this act as a protective measure?
The Act does not mention caste in any context and it makes me wonder if it has had active input from Dalit women.
What the mainstream feminists will consider is whether one is a Dalit or non-Dalit, one is a woman first. So if our rights are affected we need to find justice, why would you bring caste in this matter?
I would like to share some of my initial thoughts on this, which could become the basis of our research. Please feel free to point out alternate views or negate them fully.
Lets consider this, women from non-Dalit background also face DV in one form or another, but with Dalit women and less educated its more like walking on a two-sided sword, either way she will be the one who will get affected. If she is separated and gets the monetary compensation then too, it will be of the same standard as she had before separation, but with increased vulnerabilities. Her responsibilities will increase and her helping hands decrease and if she gets to stay in the same place no guarantees that her situation will be better in future, because as we know poverty is a vicious circle. Whereas a non-Dalit woman will face lesser problems since she is situated at a different level of empowerment, she may be better informed about her rights and she can find better opportunity in terms of job, alimony, and avail support systems which is not the case with the Dalit women.
Even when we talk of the educated Dalit women the scene does not change much because their support systems are still rudimentary and there is a tendency to keep the family matters within the four walls. The question whether they should take matters out of their home is an enormous task which most of us don’t want to take for various complex reasons, linked closely to surviving with as much of our dignities in tact. As the stigma of a broken family is too much to bear for women as we go down the social order and for the children as well. Thus viewing the domestic act as empowering remains fraught with difficulties for Dalit women. We need to build a community that can do outreach work with Dalit women and bring in their perspectives, and become familiar with their expectations from Domestic Violence Act.