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Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi wants the Domestic Violence Act amended to allow women to seek protection from their daughters-in-law also.
The present law only provides for protecting women from domestic violence by any man with whom they live or have lived in a “shared household, when they are related by consanguinity, marriage, or through a relationship in the nature of marriage, adoption, or are family members living together as a joint family”. It does not allow women to be charged under the law.
According to sources, Maneka has asked officials to work on incorporating a provision under which women who face violence by their sons and daughters-in-law can also approach the protection officers.
“Many cases have been brought to the notice of the minister where elderly women have been misbehaved with or even tortured by their sons and daughters-in-law for property or other reasons. Even when the case is genuine, no action can be taken against the daughters-in-law under the law. The minister feels that the law should protect all women, regardless of their relationship with the oppressor. We are exploring legal options and will move an amendment soon,” said a source close to Maneka.
However, legal experts said allowing women to be charged under the law may defeat its very purpose, as a slew of counter-cases may be filed in response to genuine complaints. While the present law allows an oppressed woman to move against her son, the daughter-in-law has “immunity”. Challenging this “immunity” may threaten the very edifice of not just the Domestic Violence Act but also the Dowry Act, said experts.
“The decision to keep women out of the purview of the definition of respondents in the law was deliberate and calculated. If changes are made that allow a mother-in-law to move against a daughter-in-law, it would mean that the moment a woman files a domestic violence or a dowry case against her in-laws, her husband would get his mother to file a counter case against her under the Domestic Violence Act. That will open the floodgates for misuse of the law,” said a lawyer associated with Lawyers’ Collective.