While India’s new Domestic Violence Act claims to empower women suffering from abuse by the men in the household it has little to offer young children who stand to become unwitting victims as women in troubled relationships take recourse to the law.

Under the new law which came into force earlier this week, women including wives, live-in partners, daughters, mothers, mothers-in-law, etc would be protected against abusive male members of the household. Those accused of abusive behaviour may be fined Rs 20,000 and may be sentenced to a year’s rigorous imprisonment.

How the law is implemented depends entirely on the police officials investigating the case. A kind-hearted police officer may push a feuding couple into arriving at a settlement so that their family life is not ruptured. But more often than not corrupt or overworked police officers may act in a high-handed manner permanently destroying a relationship.

The very first case under the Domestic Violence Act has resulted in a man from Chennai getting arrested. His wife is in hospital nursing severe injuries. Media reports on the case speak nothing of the children assuming at least one is part of the household. Minister for Women and Child Development Renuka Chaudhary who gloated that the law was a ‘Diwali Gift’ for millions of women too had nothing to say about the fate of children who would end up as collateral damage.

Such a law will not really work if the state is not able to provide for the welfare of children in trouble relationship. Instances where even women set afire by their in-laws refrain from naming their husbands for fear of jeopardising their children’s safety only indicate that many genuine victims of domestic violence will continue to suffer in silence. It may safely be assumed that many of the cases registered under the Act may be those done suo motu by the investigating officers.

Incidentally, the law as it stands at present does not take into account men who are victims of abusive women. After all, if women can go out, earn a salary and run the rat race just like men they can as well end up becoming abusive like their opposite sex as well. This gender disparity in the law though will need to be addressed by judicial intervention.

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