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Domestic Violence Act for divorced women too: Supreme Court (Relevant for GS Prelims, GS Mains Paper II; Polity & Governance)

Applicability of the act

The Domestic Violence Act — meant to punish men who abuse women in a relationship — extends to all man-woman relationships, and also protects divorced women from their former husbands, the Supreme Court has upheld.

A three-judge Bench of Supreme Court confirmed a Rajasthan High Court ruling of 2013 that the term ‘domestic violence’ cannot be restrained to marital relations alone.

What relationships are included?

The apex court did not intervene with the interpretation that ‘domestic relationship’ is not confined to the “relationship as husband and wife or a relationship in the nature of marriage, but it includes other relationship as well such as sisters, mother, etc.”

“Domestic relationship includes any relationship between two persons who either live at the present moment or have at any point of time in the past lived together in a shared household… Absence of subsisting domestic relationship in no manner prevents the court from granting certain reliefs specified under the Act,” the High Court’s reasoning was upheld by the Bench.

Rationale behind judgment

The court held that domestic violence can continue even after divorce and the reach of the Act should not be shackled by confining only for the protection of women living in marriage. It illustrated how a divorcee husband could resort to violence by entering the workplace of his former wife to commit an act of violence, or even attempt to communicate with her, or threaten or cause violence to her relatives or dependents or any other person.

It amounts to domestic violence if the former husband tried to dispossess the woman from a jointly-owned property or refuse to return her ‘stridhan’ or valuable security or other property. The Act brings all these acts of violence within its ambit.

Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005

Primarily meant to provide protection to the wife or female live-in partner from domestic violence at the hands of the husband or male live-in partner or his relatives, the law also extends its protection to women living in a household such as sisters, widows or mothers.

Domestic violence under the act includes actual abuse or the threat of abuse whether physical, sexual, verbal, emotional or economic.[3] Harassment by way of unlawful dowry demands to the woman or her relatives would also be covered under this definition.

The salient features of the Protection from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 are as follows:

1. The Act seeks to cover those women who are or have been in a relationship with the abuser where both parties have lived together in a shared household and are related by consanguinity, marriage or a relationship in the nature of marriage, or adoption; in addition relationship with family members living together as a joint family are also included. Even those women who are sisters, widows, mothers, single women, or living with them are entitled to get legal protection under the proposed Act.

2. “Domestic violence” includes actual abuse or the threat of abuse that is physical, sexual, verbal, emotional and economic. Harassment by way of unlawful dowry demands to the woman or her relatives would also be covered under this definition.

3.One of the most important features of the Act is the woman’s right to secure housing. The Act provides for the woman’s right to reside in the matrimonial or shared household, whether or not she has any title or rights in the household. This right is secured by a residence order, which is passed by a court. These residence orders cannot be passed against anyone who is a woman.

4.The other relief envisaged under the Act is that of the power of the court to pass protection orders that prevent the abuser from aiding or committing an act of domestic violence or any other specified act, entering a workplace or any other place frequented visited by the abused, attempting to communicate with the abused, isolating any assets used by both the parties and causing violence to the abused, her relatives and others who provide her assistance from the domestic violence.

5. The draft Act provides for appointment of Protection Officers and NGOs to provide assistance to the woman w.r.t medical examination, legal aid, safe shelter, etc.

6. The Act provides for breach of protection order or interim protection order by the respondent as a cognizable and non-bailable offence punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine which may extend to twenty thousand rupees or with both. Similarly, non-compliance or discharge of duties by the Protection Officer is also sought to be made an offence under the Act with similar punishment.

(Adapted from the Hindu)

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