Can Domestic Violence Act protect Rumanas?
Sadrul Hasan Mazumder
Professor Rumana Monzur was brutally tortured to blindness by her closest and most loving associate on earth her husband, in a place where she was supposed to be the safest her home. The incident dramatically came to public domain after seven days which was the latest torture she had been facing since her marriage which has multisided reality. Domestic violence is not lonely true for Rumana rather a common phenomenon in the fate of millions of women across the Globe including Bangladesh which is highly prevalent and most unrecognized form of violence and a very pervasive, serious social malady. Comparative and available literature suggests many-sided realities that cause violence against women in general and domestic violence in particular. Mentionable amongst others are loss of control in argument, power and control (Dominance), ego clash, extra marital affairs, extended family problems, poverty, growing up in violence & abuse, sexual displeasure/mistrust, alcoholism, less charm due to old relation which are driven by cultural, economic, legal and political factors. But the question is “why RUMANAs remain silent?” and “how to raise awareness?” so that they protest against such violence from the beginning.
So called fabrics of the society has given violence against women such an extent that many of the survivors feel that they are at fault. Many of those who perpetrate violence feel justified by strong societal messages saying that rape, battering, sexual harassment, child abuse, and other forms of violence are acceptable. This is why, in many cases, both the victim and perpetrator are often unaware that what is going on is indeed abuse. It is often because of social paradigms that even physical abuse is being denied by the victim thinking as her partner's right 'GIFTED' by the social institution called 'MARRIAGE'. Incidences reported all around have been found as a fashion as if such behaviour heightens the value of being a man in the society. Interestingly it prevails both in the affluent and lower class of the society, the difference is that when it happens in the slum we notice quickly as the women come out of their homes shouting but in the affluent class of the society we notice only when RUMANAs commit suicide or they are brutally murdered or tortured to blindness. In consideration from the rights perspective these forms of violence clearly goes against the national, regional and international legislations, policies, treaties and conventions which limits their mobility; right to resources, education, choice, access to justice, decision making process; freedom of expression etc. While more and more women talked to each other, it became apparent that violence against women occurs on a massive scale; that no woman is immune; and that family, friends, and public institutions have been cruelly insensitive about it where most of these sad stories remain unreported.
Silence has become the strategy for coping violence against women, which pose a serious threat in designing social programmes for addressing violence against women and girl child in general and domestic violence in particular. So called social prestige also found as one of the inherent causes of such silent violence against women and in most cases woman has to face indecent questions like, “What did you do to make your husband angry”? We have got the Domestic Violence Act, which aims at protecting a woman who has already faced violence at home so that such incidences will not recur. In a society where people at large continue to believe that domestic violence is a private matter between a couple, rather than an offence that requires a strong, swift and integrated response to resolve just not to ensure that the incidence that already has taken place will not recur but also to reassure that women will remain safe at the place where they are supposed to be the safest. This requires massive social awareness including support services as short term intervention and introducing moral education as long term intervention.
Women rights activists and organisations have celebrated “16 Days of Activism” across the world this year with the slogan “From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let's Challenge Militarism and End VAW”, which was started as part of an international strategy to end all forms of violence against women and now its time for self-realisation, what we have achieved so far are actually benefiting those who are at risk and to draw the best possible mechanism so that all required services can be made available to every single woman remain at risk today - to bring them out of the cycle of violence right now.
Unequal arrangement for women in Bangladesh maintained by the Constitution reflects gender-based discrimination in mainstream society. At domestic level, during marriages and separations, for example, women's right to choice is governed by the personal laws that give more importance to social obligation than personal choice which brings undesirable consequences in the lives of many women and their children but the Domestic Violence Act solely has little to contribute to reverse the scenario. The Compensation [Section-16: The Court may pass a decree of compensation ascertainment of victim's injury or damage or loss as a result of domestic violence] that can be sought under the Domestic Violence Act has operational difficulties in determining the intensity and severity of violence and thereby the incurred cost due to such inhuman acts or behaviour. Although there are studies and researches [by CPD, BIDS & CARE Bangladesh] to determine the cost of violence against women but the techniques and methodologies followed still remain in doubt as to whether such techniques are well designed and articulated to tap the actual sufferings and quantify the substantive monetary losses. The studies also failed to measure the social cost of violence that clouds the dignity of women at their workplace, to their children and in the society at large. Let me not raise the issue of psychological consequences which again the greatest challenge firstly to understand the climax women usually experience in violence circumstances and secondly drawing any device of measuring the cost of damages thereby. Domestic Incidence Report [DIR] - the unique invention of tracing the nature and severity of domestic violence prescribed in the Act [Section-11(2) of DV Act] is a highly technical and sensitive tool which required training of all concerned for its proper usage which is the fundamental to formulate prayer seeking Interim Protection Order [Section-13(1) of DV Act] and articulating arguments to mature as Permanent Protection Order [Section-14 of DV Act].
Members of the Citizens' Initiative against Domestic Violence [CiDV] had relentlessly contributed in the process of formulating the draft Bill which finally had been passed almost a year ago following least discussions and debates in the Parliament like many other important laws resulting inadequate budgetary allocation and immediate preparations for the “Get Ready” activities to ensure effective enforcement of the said Act. Congratulations and thanks to all individual members and organisations having excellent track record of fighting violence against women who are also contributing in formulating the Rules of Procedure and the government should take each of their arguments into cognizance and adopting the Rules of Procedures at the shortest possible time, please! Reminding that some important salient sections of the DV Act are so unique which may create confusion in the first instance for example, [Section -31 of DV Act] which enables engaging the perpetrator in social services so that his family will not further be victimized as he is the only earning person in the family, I would suggest operational coordination among the concerned Ministries under the leadership of the Social Welfare Ministry to enforce the order to be passed by the Honorable Court. These sections were articulated following series of thoughtful discussions based on practical experiences without which such a welfare Act may not benefit the survivors but rather be misused.
The writer is a Development Activist and Freelance Consultant.
Concluding part will be published next week.