Domestic abuse – rights of victim and laws involved

Section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code covers dowry-related harassment. Likewise, provisions of criminal law, a woman can utilize the threat of going to court to prevent this sort of harassment. The Indian Penal Code additionally addresses dowry deaths in section 304-B. If there is death of a woman because of “unnatural causes” within the seven years of her marriage and has been harassed for dowry before her death, the Courts will assume that it is a case of dowry death. The spouse or in-laws will then, at that point need to prove that their harassment was not the cause of her passing. Dowry death is punishable by imprisonment of at least seven years. When filing an FIR (First Hand Report), in a case where a woman is suspected that she has been murdered after a history of torture and abuse because of dowry demands, the complaint should be filed under section 304-B rather than under section 306, which deals with abetment to suicide. Section 306 should be invoked when a woman commits suicide because of dowry-related harassment.

The rights of victims against domestic violence include:

  1. The right to be reasonably protected from the accused refers to having separate waiting areas and/or report times for court. It does not afford police protection in your home or elsewhere.
  2. The right to reasonable, accurate, and timely notice of any public court proceeding, or any parole proceeding, involving the crime or of any release or escape of the accused. Court staff will notify you of court proceedings, but you’ll need to remember to update the court anytime your contact information changes so they can do so.
  3. The right not to be excluded from any such public court proceeding, until and unless the court, after getting a clear and convincing evidence, comes to a conclusion that testimony by the victim would be materially altered if the victim heard other testimony at that proceeding. This states that you have all the right to be present during the court proceedings unless the judge thinks that hearing the testimony of other witness might make changes in your perception of the incident, in which case the judge might have you sequestered until after you give your testimony.
  4. The right to be reasonably heard at any public proceeding in the district court involving release, plea, sentencing, or any parole proceeding. This gives you the option to provide a written victim impact statement or to speak in court before the judge deciding on a punishment.
  5. The reasonable right to confer with the attorney for the government in the case. This allows to meet with the prosecutor about your case.
  6. The right to full and timely restitution as provided in law. Restitution is paid to cover the costs the victim incurred related to the crime. Restitution might be given for medical bills, counselling costs, lost wages, stolen property, and more. It does not cover “pain and suffering” or other damages. Those are managed in civil court.
  7. The right to proceedings is free from unreasonable delay. Victims have the right to speedy trials, too. Unfortunately, case backlogs and staffing issues mean courts must take liberty with the term “unreasonable delay.”
  8. The right to be treated with fairness and with respect for the victim’s dignity and privacy. This one shouldn’t have to be stated, but it does.

In 1983, domestic violence was recognized as a specific criminal offense by the introduction of section 498-A into the Indian Penal Code. This section deals with cruelty by the spouse or his family towards a married woman. Four types of cruelty that are dealt with by this law are:

  • conduct that is likely to drive a woman to suicide,
  • conduct which is likely to cause grave injury to the life, limb, or health of the woman,
  • harassment to force the woman or her relatives to give some property, or
  • harassment because the woman or her relatives is unable to yield to demands for more money or does not give some property.

The punishment is imprisonment for up to three years and a fine. The complaint against cruelty need not be lodged by the person herself. Any relative may also make the complaint on her behalf.

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