Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Domestic Violence Bill: Logical or Illogical?

It is difficult to understand the logic behind the Council of Islamic Ideology’s criticism of the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill, recently passed by the National Assembly. Expressing its reservations, the CII referred to the bill as ‘ambiguous’ and ‘containing few reforms’. It warned that in its current form, it would fan family feuds, push up the divorce rate and allow the police to violate what the council referred to as the ’sanctity of the home’. In fact, the bill against domestic violence is one of the more significant steps taken recently by the country’s legislators.

The abuse of women and children, particularly in the domestic sphere, is endemic in Pakistan. In most cases such transgressions — even those that merit being treated as assault under the Pakistan Penal Code — go unreported as they are considered a private matter. The domestic violence bill brings rights abuse in the home into the domain of the justice system, thereby promoting societal consensus against forms of violence that could otherwise be considered acceptable. Domestic violence is rampant partly because the lack of legislation on the issue was understood as a refusal by the law to recognise such abuse as a crime.
The CII also criticised the bill on the grounds of gender-discrimination, saying that it ignored the possibility of old or weak men suffering. In fact, the bill covers a variety of situations by defining a ‘domestic relationship’ as inclusive of ties through kinship, adoption, joint family, employment and domestic help. ‘Vulnerable’ persons are defined as those at risk because of ‘old age, mental illness or handicap or physical disability or other special reasons’.
The definition also includes domestic help. This clearly extends the protection of the law to anybody in a domestic situation, regardless of age or gender. Indeed, the protection granted to domestic staff is significant, given that economic dependence often forces such people to silently witness the trampling of their rights.
It is true that no piece of legislation is perfect; the body of a country’s law represents, in fact, a continuous process to identify issues and create safeguards. Yet the grounds on which the CII has based its reservations represent the regressive and parochial thinking that has kept this country mired in the dark ages. It can be said that those who subscribe to this attitude condone domestic violence and believe that the issue should remain unaddressed. The CII could spend its time more usefully by projecting moves meant to prevent rights abuse and launching its own initiatives in this regard.
*The Domestic Violence Act in India is always under scrutiny for that fact that it open the flood gates for cases even on minor issues, it also provides protection for unmarried couples ( the female partner) and also women in live-in relation with men. A law is always misused by some or the other class of people, but that does not qualify that this should lead to a solution of lawlessness for that aspect.
Domestic Violence is a major issue in the two countries, legal efforts should be made to eradicate it. If people think this law can be misused then they must make viable committees to check the credibility of cases filed under it.

The reach of the law should reach the most affected strata of women, then only it will solve its purpose of its existence.
By Soumya Saxena

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