What to do in case of domestic violence ?

What to do if you are in an abusive relationship? How do you get help if you are a victim of domestic violence? Know your rights as a woman and the laws that protect you against dowry harassment, cruelty, physical abuse and mental and emotional torture.

Domestic violence is more common than it is believed to be. It goes unreported because most women think things will get better if they stay quiet. Then there are some who are afraid of the repercussions and the social stigma. Women remain in bad marriages because they are not financially independent or bold enough to walk out. Some bear the harassment because there are children involved. Many women, sad to say, do not have the support of their birth family or are just too afraid to come out of a bad marriage, because of the dishonor it would cause bring to them.

The reasons are difficult to comprehend, but they are the result of a compounded effect of the way girls are raised and treated in our society. It is time, that women know their rights and learn to raise their voices. Domestic violence is a crime and it needs to stop. Here is a guide that educates you on your rights and the provisions you enjoy under the law. Be informed, so you can act, in case of an emergency.

The laws governing domestic violence

Under section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code, domestic violence is described as a specific criminal offense. A husband or his relatives can be booked under section 498-A for subjecting a married woman to cruelty. Under the given section, the following acts are considered as cruelty and treated as domestic violence –

  • Any willful behavior by the husband and/or his relatives that drives a woman to take her own life (suicide)
  • Any willful act by the husband and/or his relatives that results in the woman causing bodily harm that is a threat to her life, limb or physical and mental well being
  • Harassment of the woman with an intent that she or her family transfer property to the husband or his family
  • Physical, mental and emotional torture if the demands for property, gold, money etc. are not fulfilled by the woman or her family

Under the law, the punishment for domestic violence is imprisonment for up to three years and a cash fine. The complaint against domestic violence can be lodged by the victim or by a relative, on the victim's behalf. Relatives and friends can be the support system that such women need. Know what you can do to help women experiencing domestic violence.

Forms of cruelty recognized by Indian Courts

In the eyes of the law, any or all of the following actions by the husband or his family are treated as cruelty against the woman and are therefore recognized as domestic violence –

  • Repeated denial of food
  • Insistent perverse sexual behavior
  • Throwing the woman out of the house/not allowing her into her matrimonial home
  • Separating the woman from her children, causing her mental trauma
  • Episodes of physical violence
  • Subjecting her to mental torture through taunts, and conduct that demoralizes and puts her down
  • Confining and restricting her movement, so she is not allowed to meet people or step outside
  • Being abusive towards the children in the woman's presence with the intent to torture her mentally
  • Denying being the father of the children, accusing her of extramarital relationships and inflicting tremendous mental tension to her
  • Threats to divorce the woman unless the dowry demands are met

Definition of 'matrimonial home' and a woman's rights with regards to it

What is a 'matrimonial home'? What are a woman's rights in her matrimonial home? The matrimonial home is the house that a woman shares with the man she married. It could be an official accommodation or a rented place. It could be independently owned by the man or his family. So, basically, any house that a man has rights over becomes the woman's matrimonial home. A married woman enjoys the right to live in the matrimonial home, as long as she is married to the man. There are no specific laws defining this, but the courts see it as every woman's right.

However, in the absence of a definite law regarding a woman's right to her matrimonial home, women are advised to not leave their matrimonial home. It is easy to get an order from the court that prevents her from being evicted, but not so easy to obtain an order that allows her the right to return and live in the house.

In case the husband or his family restricts a woman from living in her matrimonial home or tries to evict her from the premises the law allows the woman to approach the Court, to seek an injunction or restraining order that protect her from being evicted. Such an order can be easily obtained, by approaching the Court, through a lawyer.

An injunction is a legal term for a court order that directs individuals either to do something or to not do it. A woman can get an injunction against an estranged husband from stalking her for instance or coming to her workplace or to her new house or contacting her over the phone. An injunction can be obtained against not just the husband, but against anyone, pestering a woman (or anyone for that matter).

What to do in case of harassment for dowry ?

Under Section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code, dowry-related harassment is also covered under domestic violence. As in the case of other provisions under the criminal law, a woman can approach the court and file a dowry harassment case. Section 304-B of the Indian Penal Code deals with dowry-related deaths.

Under this section of the Indian Penal Code, if a woman dies, within seven years of being married, of 'unnatural causes' and if there is a history of harassment of dowry reported against the husband or the in-laws, then that death is considered as a dowry death. In such cases the onus lies on the husband and his family, to prove that the woman's death was not due to dowry harassment. According to the law, in case of a dowry death, the accused can be sentenced to imprisonment for up to seven years.

Filing a dowry death FIR

Parents or siblings of a deceased woman suspected of being killed by her husband or the in-laws because of dowry demands must file the First-Hand Report (FIR) under section 304-B, instead of section 306. The latter is used for cases where there was an abetment to suicide. The family of the deceased woman must invoke section 306 when the woman commits suicide due to constant torture and harassment for dowry.

What does the law say about sex and marital rape ?

Does a woman have the right to refuse sex with her husband? Can she file a complaint against her husband for raping her? Unfortunately, there is no law on marital rape in India. Even if a man indulges in sexual intercourse with his wife, without her consent, the law cannot charge him of rape or prosecute him.

Nonetheless, any perverse demands including unnatural sex are viewed as a form of cruelty and the court can grant a woman a divorce, based on her complaint.

However, if the couple has been judicially separated from each other, the husband cannot have sex with her, without her agreeing, to it. If he forces himself on her he is liable to be prosecuted under section 376-A of the Indian Penal Code. If the consent is taken under any kind of duress such consent would be disregarded.

What are the ways to prevent domestic violence ?

The woman can approach the courts who could then direct the husband to execute a 'bond of good behavior' or a 'bond to keep peace' under sections 106, 107, 108, 109 and 110 to stop the domestic violence.

Alternatively, the husband can make to deposit securities, such as property or money, which will be forfeited if he the man continues to subject his wife to domestic violence.

Criminal and Civil Law and domestic violence

There is a marked distinction between the criminal and civil laws under the Indian legal system. Civil laws are about the rights and obligations of the people and actions needed to guard them. On the other hand, criminal laws have to do with crimes, violations and breaches and their punishment.

In matters pertaining to criminal offenses, it becomes the States responsibility to investigate and examine the crimes and to collect relevant evidence, using the police department. Such cases are then brought to the courts and fought using public prosecutors with the aim that the guilty are punished. Examples of criminal offenses include theft, kidnapping, murder etc. All criminal cases are offenses dealt under the Indian Penal Code.

The procedure for investigation and trial in criminal cases is fairly different from those involved in civil trials. One of the significant differences between the two is that in criminal cases the requisite 'standard of proof' is substantially higher than what is needed in civil cases. The criminal law is intrinsically linked to issues dealing with accusations, evidence and sentence. It is imperative that the accusations and evidence are proven 'beyond reasonable doubt's that an innocent individual is not charged as guilty and sentenced.

In contrast, in civil trials, the courts examine the 'balance of probabilities' before a judgement is passed.

In cases of domestic violence, there can be situations when both criminal and civil laws may apply. For instance, using physical violence on a woman, within a marriage or subjecting her to cruelty, where she is physically, emotionally or mentally traumatized is a civil offense, which gives the woman ground to file for a divorce. But, all they are also criminal offenses as described under the Indian Penal Code, under which the perpetrator can be sentenced to imprisonment. Here the offenders can include the husband, his parents and his siblings etc.

You are precious and your life is precious too. If you are facing domestic abuse, seek help. You don't deserve to be in a bad relationship. You deserve much better.

Domestic Violence Helpline Numbers in India

Get legal advice and psychological counseling at these numbers where volunteers are available 24/7.
Pune – Domestic Violence Helpline
  • 8793088814
  • 8793088815
  • 8793088816

Delhi – Women's Organizations
  • Shakti Shalini - 23317004
  • Saarthak – 26853846/ 26524061
  • Shakti Shalini Women's Shelter - 24373736/ 24373737
  • All India Women's Conference -23389680
  • Joint Women's Programme (with branches in Bengaluru, Kolkata, Chennai) 24619821

Women's Helpline in Bangalore/Bengaluru
  • Vanitha Sahayavani - Toll-Free No: 1091 and 080-22943225

Women's Helpline in Mumbai
  • Toll-free no: 1298


Amendments made to the Indian Penal Code and to the Evidence Act caused the laws dealing with domestic violence and any kind of abuse meted out to a woman, within a marriage, to become very stringent. The laws support women and empower them to stand up against domestic violence. If you or anyone you know is a victim of domestic abuse, don't just sit back and bear it all. Speak up, ask for help.

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