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Domestic Violence – A heavy side to the Act

Domestic Violence – A heavy side to the Act

Taji George, a lawyer with 20 years of experience behind him, was recently approached by a client with a peculiar problem — his wife was charging him of domestic abuse.

Well aware of the repercussions should the matter reach court, George’s client had been pacifying his in-laws by sending them settlements for years.

His wife had sold three of the houses he owned in Bangalore, and was trying to wriggle out of the joint-ownership they shared on the fourth. The twist in this sordid tale? George’s client hadn’t laid so much as a finger on his wife.

The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, which is meant to safeguard the rights of women who have been harmed within their households, can actually serve as a potent weapon for wives looking to make a quick buck off their better halves.

Vandana Vaidya, a practising advocate, says that such cases are more common than one would assume. “Where there’s a law, it will be misused. Clients file false cases if they want to get out of a marriage with a handsome settlement,” she explains.

Most lawyers are well aware of this problem. In fact, George insists on taking up only those cases wherein his clients can substantiate their claims with solid proof. “I try and analyse the intention behind every case, a skill that comes with experience,” he says.

But as Hemanth S, a litigator, illustrates, this isn’t always easy. “Genuine clients can’t always prove their cases, whereas clients who are lying sometimes manage to do so. It’s difficult to determine the veracity of their statements,” he says. Once trapped in a situation where he is being falsely accused of domestic violence, there isn’t much that a man can do.

“If no documented proof of his innocence can be provided, the husband will be persecuted and held accountable for maintenance charges,” says George. Vandana agrees that it is a difficult situation. “The only option is to apply for anticipatory bail, and then fight the case. It helps if the concerned party maintains a low profile because he runs the risk of losing his job. Many private firms don’t want to be associated with cases like this,” she explains.

Clearly, this situation calls for some radical restructuring of legislation.  George feels that the act can be faulted at the most basic level of definition. “It deals only with the grievances of women, and doesn’t anticipate cases that occur the other way round,” he criticises. Vandana believes that misuse of the act can be avoided if steps are taken to ensure only genuine cases are registered. “It would be better if investigation and counselling take place prior to filing a report,” she suggests.

It’s important to remember, though, that the act also protects many women who are victims of domestic abuse. Which is why Hemanth S believes that any solution for the problem has to be balanced. “It is, after all, a social welfare act. Courts need to go into the evidence in more detail, instead of just skimming the surface of the case. It would also make sense to impose a harsher penalty on misusing parties,” he says.