The law defines two concepts fairly clearly: [bold font mine]
2(a) “aggrieved person” means any woman who is, or has been, in a domestic relationship with the respondent and who alleges to have been subjected to any act of domestic violence by the respondent.
2 (q) “respondent” means any adult male person who is, or has been, in a domestic relationship with the aggrieved person and against whom the aggrieved person has sought any relief under this Act.
That is, I presume (and I am no legal expert) that the gender of the victim and the perpetrator of domestic violence has been hard-coded into the law. The title of the law also makes it pretty clear—it concernes itself only with the protection of women (a fact that is repeated a few times in the document in different contexts e.g. “Provided that no order under clause (b) shall be passed against any person who is a woman.”)
Moving on, we reach the following section:
31. Penalty for breach of protection order by respondent.-(1) A breach of protection order, or of an interim protection order, by the respondent shall be an offence under this Act and shall be punishable with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine which may extend to twenty thousand rupees, or with both.
In lay terms, that means that if the man does not follow the remedial actions prescribed by the protection order, he is now deemed to have committed a criminal offense that may result in one year jailtime and a financial penalty.
And now this section: (bold font mine)
Cognizance and proof.
32. Cognizance and proof.-(1) Notwithstanding anything contained in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (2 of 1974), the offence under subsection (1) of section 31 shall be cognizable and non-bailable.
(2) Upon the sole testimony of the aggrieved person, the court may conclude that an offence under sub-section (1) of section 31 has been committed by the accused.
What this means (again as I understand it) is that if the woman says that the man has not done what he had been told to do under the protection order, then that may be considered to be enough to decide the man’s fate. My interpretation is corroborated by this line from an article about the new Law.
Now, when a woman files a complaint the onus is on the man to prove that he did not abuse his wife.
I thought that one of the assumptions of jurisprudence was that an accused is innocent till proven guilty. Evidently not.
So how does the law define “abuse”? Well one of the things that constitute “abuse” is:
(iii) “verbal and emotional abuse” includes- (a) insults, ridicule, humiliation, name calling and insults or ridicule specially with regard to not having a child or a male child.
Before I go any further, let me sound a caveat to myself. It is very difficult, as a man, to be critical of a “Woman’s Bill” without being labelled a chauvinist and a misogynist. I know. I have been called those before, in different contexts when I felt I was merely making a case for equality. So I shall take special pains and choose my words very carefully so as to make my point clear and avoid any “unintentional” misinterpretations.
Straight of the bat, I would be a fool not to realize that cases of physical, sexual and emotional battery inflicted by men upon women far outnumber abuse that women inflict upon men and that this law relates to the most general case. However, people would be seriously deluded if they think women never abuse men in any way or form, especially in a middle class urban millieu where this law is likely to be used more frequently simply because of the greater awareness of its existance and its clauses. Just like men abuse women for not being able to provide a progeny, I know of cases, which may be a lot fewer, where women taunt their husbands for being impotent or lousy in bed. Why is one a crime and not the other?
As an example, how would people feel if there was an anti-terrorism ordinance which was called “The Protection of Buddhists from Terrorism” where the definition of perpetrator was a Muslim and a victim was defined as a Buddhist with the law being rationalized by the fact that most terrorists in India are Muslims and there has never been a Buddhist terrorist to date?
Which brings me to the central thesis: the concept of equality. Physical, sexual and emotional abuse are serious issues and laws are needed to be able to precisely define such acts of violence and create proceedures for taking action if they occur. However these laws should understand that perpetrators of domestic cruelty are simply “bad people”—they do not necessarily have to be male. In today’s world, an economically dependant husband could be as vulnerable to abuse from a working wife as a non-earning wife is from a bread-winning husband. Ergo he needs to be protected by the state. Sure the number of such husbands may be miniscule, but laws exist to protect us all, not just the majority.
When the gender of the victim and the perp is hardcoded into the law, a lot of pre-judgement has already been made as to who is guilty. In a “he says, she says’ scenario, the law openly declares that it favours the ‘she says’. This pre-supposition of guilt makes the law open to being used as an instrument for blackmail and armtwisting (if you do not do so-and-so I will set the cops on you and trust me, you will never be able to prove that you did not verbally abuse me). —something that can easily be avoided by creating gender-neutral, ‘family harassment’ legal structures that seek to protect both women as well as men from the “perpetrators” and the “abusers of the law”.
No matter what their gender may be.