Women would definitely feel empowered with the laws that help them redress their grievances whether at home or at work. Earlier, two decades ago, police stations would not take cognisance of domestic matters when women went for help for they would state that it is a ‘personal matter’ and they should sort it out with their husband at home. Women who were battered, abused and assaulted at home had no- where to go for their severe grievances. They were scoffed at and shamed by the police personnel as well as society. The Domestic Violence Act -498A was enacted for precisely this purpose to protect women from abuse and neglect at their husbands’ home. The ‘personal problems’ was made a ‘public concern’ and awareness was generated on the issue. The new ‘Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Bill’ aims to protect women at the workplace and it has already been tabled in the Parliament for approval. We hope it will be passed into an Act that could then give the women a platform to address their grievances at the workplace. However, there is a lot of hue and cry from male groups about the ‘draconian’ laws that favour women to the extent of being unfair to men. There could be a grain of truth here as anything which is of some use could also be misused and abused. That certainly does not mean that the Act is bad.
I would like to argue for a judicious use of the Act.
When two people marry, there is going to be interpersonal conflict, differing expectations from both the sides, stated and unstated ambitions and goals, as well as conscious and unconscious motivations of the couple and the families that agree to solemnise the marriage and bless the couple. The trouble in the marriage may start from the fateful day itself (unmet expectations) or within a few days or months. Incompatibility between the couple is fast becoming a recognised cause in modern times for conflict as personalities clash on opinions, expectations and life style. The marriage comes under stress and strain thus. However, we should understand that conflict or discord is not a crime and nor is a stressed marriage a crime. Such discord should be identified by the couple or the family as early as possible and they should be counselled. Psychological therapy and counselling helps the parties identify and address the issues in a fair and just manner. Reconciliation of the couple through compromises can be worked out and the marriage can be saved from disintegration and ultimate divorce. Psychological counselling also helps the couple handle the stress ensuing from the discord so that matters do not escalate into abuse and violence. The moment the behaviour of the couple degenerates into abuse and physical violence, bad behaviour starts and is called ‘criminal’. If the violence and abuse continues despite protests, recourse to the law becomes inevitable. However, it is important to note that it should be the last option when all other means of reconciliation fail. Only then should the Act be evoked.
Problems cannot be solved with abuse, violence and subjugation of the weak. This is criminal indeed and needs punishment. Men have taken the women for granted for too long and have treated them like their property. They have tried to coerce and dominate them by all possible means of intimidation, threats or by sheer physical force. This is criminal and needs to be understood by men very clearly. The old attitudes of ‘I can beat my wife if I like’ or ‘I can treat her the way I want’ is no longer accepted. Men and their families (would be mothers’ in law) must be made aware and coached into the new attitudes on which the new laws are based. They must know that it is not okay to abuse women, it is not okay to beat her, it is not okay to stop her with her choices of life etc. They must know that she is an individual with equal rights to live a life of dignity and respect.
On the other hand, women and their guardians must not encourage aggrieved women to misuse the law for seeking revenge from their husband or husband’s family or for extracting unreasonable amounts of compensation. Recourse to such practices will only make a mockery of the law and weaken the system. The aim of this Act is not to give the women a tool in their hands to ‘victimise’ men in return (just as they have been victimised) but the aim of the Act is to protect them-selves and seek justice from wrong doing. Hence women should think it over many times before they evoke the Act. She will then be a seeker of justice and not a perpetrator of another crime.
Published in The Hitavada – Womens World 15 Dec 2010