On May 28, a 16-year-old girl was stabbed to death in northwest Delhi. The entire incident was captured by a surveillance camera, which showed the accused stabbing the victim multiple times, battering her with a stone slab, and kicking her body mercilessly.
The sheer brutality of the act reminded people of yet another incident: the murder of Shraddha Walkar that came to light in November 2022, where 28-year-old Aaftab Poonawala strangled his live-in partner over an argument and dismembered her body into 35 pieces before disposing of it in Chhatarpur forest.
Both cases, apart from highlighting the issue of women’s safety also raise a pertinent question—what recourse do women have to protect themselves from a toxic relationship, and what legal safeguards do they have to protect themselves from physical and mental abuse in a relationship?
Legal remedies available to women facing abuse
It is important to understand that any kind of physical abuse or even mental harassment is reportable to law enforcement agencies, and the victim does not need to wait till it manifests into a serious crime that can threaten her life.
Zero First Information Report (FIR)
It is important for every woman to know the fact that they are entitled to file a ‘Zero FIR’. If a woman has been the victim of any crime, be it assault or domestic violence, she is entitled to file an FIR at any police station of choice. The difference between a Zero FIR and a regular FIR is that a regular FIR is registered by the informant/victim near the police station where the incident has occurred and where the police station has the jurisdiction to investigate, whereas a Zero FIR can be lodged in any police station irrespective of the place where the incident happened. This exception has been made to ensure quick action and avoid any delay in the investigation of the alleged crime.
Under The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Rules, the state government appoints a protection officer in each district whose help the aggrieved women can take. It is the duty of the protection officer to provide all assistance to the woman who is a victim of domestic violence.
Voluntary organisations and NGOs
There are several reputed NGOs working to provide help in the form of legal assistance and counselling to women who are victims of physical and mental abuse at the hands of their partners. An aggrieved woman can connect with them to seek help and guidance.
Application to the magistrate
Apart from the police, an application can be filed in a magistrate’s court by the aggrieved woman or by someone on her behalf.
A detailed guide
The National Commission for Women has a detailed guide on its website that can help an aggrieved woman navigate the process of filing a complaint in case of abuse (http://ncw.nic.in/sites/default/files/Chapter04.pdf).
The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005
Section 3 of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 states that any act, commission, omission, or conduct of a person that harms or injures, or endangers the health or safety of an individual whether mentally or physically amounts to domestic violence. It further includes any harm, harassment, or injury caused to an individual or any person related to that individual to meet any unlawful demand would also amount to domestic violence.
It is important to note that this Act was perhaps the first attempt to recognise the existence of non-marital adult heterosexual relations. Section 2 (a) 1 of the Act defines “aggrieved” person as “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”.
Section 2(f) of the Act states “domestic relationship” means a relationship between two persons who live or have, at any point in time, lived together 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.
Section 498A of Indian Penal Code (IPC)
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.
For the purposes of this section, “cruelty means”:
(a) any wilful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) of the woman; or
(b) harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand.
It is important to understand that it is not necessary for a woman to be in a married relationship or in a live-in relationship to file a complaint of abuse. There are several sections in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) that can be invoked against a person abusing a woman.
From reporting incidents of stalking to indecent representation, women have the right to report any incident that can be categorised as verbal, social, economic, physical, or mental abuse.
There are several laws and acts that provide legal entitlement to women to seek justice against any abuse. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, are a few of them.