Nirmala (name changed), a resident of Bengaluru, was subjected to repeated sexual torture by her alcoholic husband. Despite belonging to the Lingayat community, wherein people abstain from eating meat, Nirmala's husband not only ate meat but also forced her to cook it for him. She was a victim of both his sexual and verbal abuse. He regularly beat her up and locked her up in a room, while he spent all his income on liquor.

In October 2007, Nirmala filed a case against her husband under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005. This was after he accused her mother of running a brothel.

The Metropolitan Magistrate court ordered the husband to pay a sum of Rs 2000 per month as maintenance. Today Nirmala lives with her mother and earns her own living. Her husband is seeking a divorce.

The Department of Women and Child Development’s Bangalore urban district office is located on Hosur Road. Pic: Deepa Ranganathan.

Nirmala's is one of hundreds of domestic violence cases being formally reported to the Department of Women and Child Development here in Bangalore. According to the Department, between April and June 2010 a total of 118 cases have been registered at their Hosur Road office. In July alone, 54 cases were registered.

The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 defines domestic violence as "Any any act, omission or commission or conduct of the respondent shall constitute domestic violence in case it -

(a) harms or injures or endangers the health, safety, life, limb or well-being, whether mental or physical, of the aggrieved person or tends to do so and includes causing physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal and emotional abuse and economic abuse; or

Section 498 (a) of the Indian Penal Code says, "Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine. The offence is Cognizable, non-compoundable and non-bailable."

(b) harasses, harms, injures or endangers the aggrieved person with a view to coerce her or any other person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any dowry or other property or valuable security; or

(c) has the effect of threatening the aggrieved person or any person related to her by any conduct mentioned in clause (a) or clause (b); or(d) otherwise injures or causes harm, whether physical or mental, to the aggrieved person."

Before this Act came into existence, such cases were filed under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which is a criminal law.

When a complaint is filed under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005, the punishment for offenders includes either imprisonment upto a period of one year or with fine which may extend to Rs 20,000 or both.

More women coming out in the open

Since the 2005 Act, there has been a steady rise in the number of cases being reported. Between December 2007 and April 2009, an average of about 14 cases per month were registered. This number has since tripled. Between April 2009 and March 2010, 559 cases were received, averaging about 45 cases per month.

A board at the office of the Department of Women and Child Development explains the rights of women and the 2005 Act. Pic: Deepa Ranganathan.

If the number of cases has increased, clearly, it is because more women are coming out in the open. "Domestic violence, as an offence, was always there. Women were simply not reporting. Now, due to our measures like advertising about the 2005 act, they are coming to our door so that we can approach the court. Many voluntary anganwadi workers work with us, so as to create awareness about the act which is meant to protect the interest of the woman", says a protection officer of the state department, on the condition of anonymity.

Cases of domestic violence registered

July 2010 - 51 cases

April to June 2010 - 118 cases (Of these 105 DIRs have been forwarded to the family court, two of which have been granted compensation order)

March 2010 - 50 cases (Of these 33 DIRs were disposed off by the family court)

December 2007-April 2009 - 228 cases

For each of these cases, the department files a Domestic Incident Report (DIR), which is then forwarded to the Magistrate Court .The DIR contains the details of the case registered.

Some cases are also solved through counselling. "If both are willing to sit for a counseling session, we mediate and settle the case there itself. However, on other occasions, we have to take legal action and initiate criminal proceedings. In some cases, we also provide protection to the victim from the nearby local police station," explains the officer.

Angel Roopkumari , a worker at Vimochana , a city-based women's organisation that helps victims get justice by providing legal assistance, says the civil law has helped women come forward.

"The 2005 Act is much more hassle free which has given more and more women the confidence to come out in the open and report the case. Many may not want to go to the police or approach the court. They come to us and we guide them, educating them about legal provisions," Angel says.

But she also feels the punishment which entails the respondent to pay a monthly maintenance amount of Rs 2,000 is quite meagre. "How is the Act providing any (financial) aid to the victim?", she asks.

Angel also feels that changing laws is not enough. "Change has to come from inside the homes, from within our society. And that cannot happen overnight."

Domestic violence cases cutting across class and caste

In Bangalore, the Department of Women and Child Development is divided into two - urban and rural. Bangalore Urban is further divided into - Sumangali Sevaashram, Bangalore State (areas near JC Road), Bangalore South, Bangalore North, Bangalore Central and Anekal.

The Quarterly Progress Report of the Department of Women and Child Development. [Click on image to read full report] Courtesy: Department of Women and Child Development.

Between April 2009 and March 2010, most number of cases were reported from Bangalore North with a total of 127, while Bangalore South stood at the bottom of the list with a total of 65 cases.

Though officials with the Department of Women and Child Development refuse to divulge details about the background of the women who file these cases, women's rights organisations say that cases of domestic violence are reported by women cutting across class and caste. "I have seen the poorest of the poor and the richest elite being subjected to domestic violence of all forms", says Usha B N, Program Coordinator at Hengasara Hakkina Sangha (HHS), a feminist-activist women's rights organisation based in Jayanagar.

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