Amena Akter Anny was subject to the ultimate form of humiliation when her husband, after beating and verbally abusing her, shaved her head.
This kind of medieval torture is not uncommon in many households where domestic violence often leads to death of the victim.
According to media reports, there were a number of incidents where husbands set fire to their wives' bodies; beat or bullied their wives; and abused them financially (such as taking away the wife's earnings or demanding dowry). Ain O Salish Kendra statistics based on newspaper reports, show that from January to June 2010 shows 193 incidents of domestic violence occurred. In 27 of the cases the women were tortured either by their husbands, or by the in-laws or the victim's own family. The report further reveals that in 28 incidents the women committed suicide.
According to law experts, even the various laws protecting women's rights such as Women and Child Repression Control Act 2000, Acid Crimes Control Act 1980 and Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929 are often not sufficient enough to protect women from the violence they face in their own homes.
A new law called Domestic Violence (Resistance & Protection) Act 2010 which will soon come into force, promises justice to women and due punishment to the perpetrators. Regarding the formulation of a specific and separate law to address domestic violence, advocate Salma Ali justifies the worth of the law, which would be more focused on stopping repression of women.
“There are laws to prevent violence against women and children, but often victims come with complaints that they have been tortured in their own homes by family members (husband or in-laws). Still they do not get justice due to absence of wound marks and so the cases lose merit.”
“The violence that the women usually come across is not necessarily visible always (such as mental torture, threats) and in such cases existing laws often fail to ensure security of the victims and the new law would hopefully meet the victims' particular demand for justice in domestic violence,” she says.
The cabinet has already approved the act and after the gazette notification the law would come into effect. Just not the principles of the law, formulation of necessary rules for the law will soon start for proper implementation, says Salma Ali, who is also the Executive Director of Bangladesh National Women Lawyer's Association (BNWLA), a human rights organisation providing legal service.
People's mindset and patriarchal practices are responsible for domestic violence, observes Salma Ali. Most of the families in the country, especially in the rural areas, do not even consider domestic violence as an offence, and let such crimes go on for generation after generation. Even the main stakeholders (women who remain silent) get habituated to this kind of treatment. Thus a part of enforcing this law entails creating awareness regarding domestic violence and educating people against it, she adds.
According to the law, a victim may complain to the court after facing domestic violence and then the court would direct the state to ensure her security through different mechanisms. The accused (especially the husband) would be brought under a process of counselling and correction to bring an end to the practice of violence, says Salma Ali in brief about the law stressing the 'prevention nature' of the law.
The objective of the law is not to punish people, rather to motivate people against domestic violence. In fact, formulation of the law is not the final destination. The appropriate implementation of the law will make it successful, say experts. The law describes patterns of domestic violence taking place in the society and empowers a woman or witness to complain to the court and realise her right to have shelter and necessary maintenance cost from a husband (as in different cases if a wife complains against husband, the accused stops to bear her expenses or forces her to leave the house).
Again, scopes of abuse of law always remain if the law is making a particular group its beneficiary (in this case women) and there are people who take the opportunity by filing false cases. The Domestic Violence Act also has the provision for punishing people filing false case exploiting this law.
Regarding the possible loopholes that might remain in the law, Nina Goswami, senior deputy director of Ain O Salish Kendra says, there is always a scope to reform and amend laws in response to new demands and requirements; and in the case of this particular law such loopholes might be identified in the implementation phase. Referring to examples from India where the same law has been enforced, she says, the Indian government prepares a yearly report on the challenges of implementation of the law, and on the basis of that report some recommendations are made for the amendment of the law.
Bangladesh Mahila Parishad President Ayesha Khanam also welcomes formulating such a law that would make the family environment safe for a woman and she considers it as another milestone in the movement for establishing human rights and women empowerment. The law hopefully will create an abhorrence for domestic violence so that perpetrators are condemned by society in general.