What Can a Domestic Violence Survivor Do When the Justice System Lets Her Down?


02:51 AM

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What Can a Domestic Violence Survivor Do When the Justice System Lets Her Down? Blog Image

Why in News?

  • A recent study of over 4 lakh FIRs in Haryana has found that from filing FIRs to getting convictions, the legal process is stacked against women.
  • Moreover, forty years after the introduction of the domestic violence provision in the IPC, women are still at risk of having their complaints dismissed or disbelieved by police and judiciary.

Data Reflecting Crimes Against Women

  • Crimes against women have increased year on year. As per the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report 2015, every day 21 women die because of dowry in India.
  • According to the NCRB report 2019, 4 lakh cases were registered under Section 498A (deals with the criminal offense of "cruelty by husband or relatives of husband" towards a married woman)of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
  • As per the National Family Health Survey 5 (2019-20), 30 per cent of women between the ages of 18 and 49 experienced physical violence from the age of 15 (that is over 20 crore women), while six per cent experienced sexual violence in their lifetime.

Laws in India to Address the Crimes Against Women

  • IPC Section 498A
    • Introduced in 1983, Section 498A was enacted to specifically address the alarming issue of violence faced by women within their homes.
      • The law came to tackle the problem of the large number of women dying in their homes after acknowledging that there was a need for a targeted legal provision.
    • One key aspect of Section 498A is its focus on cruelty inflicted upon women, whether mental or physical which has the potential to drive the woman to commit suicide or cause grave injury or danger to life, limb, or health.
    • This provision recognises the unique vulnerabilities faced by women in domestic settings and aims to provide a legal remedy to address such situations.
    • Another facet of Section 498A pertains to the unlawful demand for any property or valuable security.
      • This recognises the economic dimension of domestic violence, where women may be subjected to financial exploitation or coercive control.
      • By addressing demands for property or security, the law attempts to curb economic abuse within the context of domestic relationships.
  • IPC Sections 319 to 338
    • Before the introduction of Section 498A, the IPC did contain provisions from Sections 319 to 338 dealing with assaults and grievous hurt in various forms.
    • However, the enforcement of these general provisions in cases of domestic violence was often lacking.
    • The police were hesitant or unwilling to apply these sections to instances of violence within the home.
    • It created a legal vacuum for addressing the specific challenges faced by women in such situations.

Reasons Behind Apathy of Law Enforcement Towards Women Seeking Justice in Domestic Violence Cases

  • Prevalent Patriarchal Mindset
    • When it comes to recording FIRs in cases of domestic violence, burking (refusal to record FIRs) is done with a sense of righteousness.
    • The police's inclination towards advising counselling, saving marriages, and avoiding criminal complaints reflects a systemic issue that undermines the gravity of domestic violence cases.
    • The police, influenced by societal norms, tend to prioritise the preservation of the family structure over addressing the immediate concerns and safety of victims of domestic violence.
    • These suggestions and reluctance to file FIRs can only be attributed to deeply ingrained patriarchal mindset.
  • Demeaning Comments by the SC and High Courts
    • While the police’s apathy towards recording FIRs in cases of domestic violence stems from a patriarchal mindset, the impact of demeaning comments by the Supreme Court and the various high courts cannot be negated.
    • Demeaning comments from the judiciary lead to police's attitude towards women seeking justice.
    • The judiciary's scepticism about the misuse of Section 498A and labelling it as a weapon rather than a shield contribute to the overall reluctance.
    • This narrative further discourages victims from seeking justice, as they fear scepticism and bias.
  • Media Sensationalism
    • Media sensationalism is identified as another contributing factor to the police's reluctance.
    • For example, a high court labelled Section 498A as misused and it led to sensational headlines.
    • These sensational headlines further perpetuate a negative image of women seeking legal recourse in cases of domestic violence.

Case Study of Judicial Scepticism, Police Incompetency and Media Sensationalism(Rakesh and Reena Rajput v The State of Jharkhand)

  • Judicial Scepticism
    • The Jharkhand HC expressed scepticism about the misuse of Section 498A IPC, stating there is a phenomenal increase in matrimonial disputes and the said section is used as a weapon rather than a shield by disgruntled wives.
    • The court took a critical view of the allegations against the husband’s sister, pointing out inconsistencies in the date of the incident.
    • Instead of pulling up the police and magistrate, the court placed the onus on the woman and then went on to make a sweeping comment about women misusing the law.
  • Police Incompetency
    • The court highlighted errors and inconsistencies in the FIR, such as the date of the alleged assault and the sister's travel tickets, raising questions about the competence of the police investigation.
    • Questions were raised about why the police did not file a summary report and close the case if they were not convinced of the facts.
    • Additionally, concerns were raised about the failure to follow Section 41 of the Code of Criminal Procedure(lays the conditions for when police may arrest without warrant) and guidelines from Arnesh Kumar v. State of Bihar regarding arrest.
  • Media Sensationalism
    • Media reports emphasised the court's statement, with headlines like ‘Disgruntled wives are using S 498A IPC as a weapon rather than a shield.’
    • The potential impact of such media reports on public perception and the broader narrative about the misuse of laws in matrimonial disputes was highlighted, creating a sensationalised view of the case.


  • The institutional response of introducing legislations and enacting legal reforms has generally been praised in the public debate, however it is uncertain if these actions actually improved the situation for women on the ground.
  • Support services for survivors of domestic violence are lacking and the issue of police’s reluctance to swiftly act has also been ignored which is crucial for delivering justice for women.
  • Moreover, sceptical comments from judiciary send out a dangerous message to all the implementing agencies and will only serve to discourage the hopes of women approaching the law to address the serious issue of domestic violence.

Q1) What is the new law for 498A?

There is a latest Supreme Court judgement on 498A in 2022 which requires specificity in allegations against the husband's relatives in a cruelty case. There is another judgement on Section 498A of the Penal Code, 1860 restricting leniency against mother-in-law treating the daughter-in-law with cruelty.

Q2) What are the guidelines in the Arnesh Kumar case?

It is a landmark judgement where the Supreme Court acknowledged the abuse of Section 498-A Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC). The court noted that this provision is misused as weapons rather than shield by disgruntled wives. The Supreme Court gave directions to police officers regarding arrest according to Section 41, 41A and other essentials of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC). The court said that these directions shall not only apply to the case under Section 498-A Indian Penal Code, 1860 or Section 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 but also such cases where offence is punishable with imprisonment for a term which may be less than seven years or which may extend to even years, whether with or without fine.

Source: The Indian Express