Domestic Violence and Family Lawyers Role in Advocating for Victims’ Rights

By Md. Arif Imam

Published on: February 9, 2024 at 13:35 IST

Domestic violence is a significant issue in India, deeply ingrained in cultural and societal norms. In the face of such adversity, family lawyers play a crucial role in advocating for the rights and well-being of victims. These legal professionals are on the front lines, providing support, guidance, and legal representation to those experiencing domestic abuse.

This article delves into the complexity of domestic violence, its impact, and the legal measures in place to combat it. Key laws like the Protection of Women Against Domestic Violence Act, 2005, the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, and Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code aim to protect victims. Various forms of domestic violence, such as physical, emotional, economic, and sexual abuse, are explored, highlighting the diverse factors contributing to its prevalence. Importantly, this article recognizes that men can also be victims of domestic violence.

In India, a patriarchal or male-dominated societal structure prevails, perpetuating traditional gender roles and norms. Despite India’s patriarchal nature, it’s worth noting that patriarchy itself might not be a term everyone understands immediately. It essentially refers to a social system where men hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege, and control of property. While this structure might not be explicitly recognized by all, its effects are deeply ingrained in societal attitudes and behaviours.

Domestic violence refers to any form of abuse or violence that occurs within a domestic or familial relationship. It encompasses a range of behaviours aimed at exerting power and control over another person, often resulting in physical, emotional, economic, or sexual harm. In India, domestic violence is a pervasive issue that affects individuals across all ages, genders, and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Laws play a crucial role in safeguarding individuals from harm and ensuring their civil liberties are protected. In India, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, commonly known as the Domestic Violence Act, was enacted to provide women with legal protections against domestic abuse. This civil law focuses on providing remedies such as compensation, protection, and the right to reside in a shared home for women who have experienced abuse within their domestic environment.

Several laws that deal with domestic violence

  1. Protection of Women Against Domestic Violence Act, 2005: This legislation, enacted by the Indian Parliament, is designed to protect women from various forms of domestic abuse, including physical, sexual, emotional, and financial abuse. It provides legal recourse for women facing violence from their husbands or other family members. Importantly, the Act extends protection not only to married women but also to those in live-in relationships and other family members, such as mothers and grandparents.
  2. The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961: This law criminalizes the practice of giving or receiving dowry. The Act aims to curb the social evil of dowry by imposing penalties on individuals involved in the exchange of dowry. Offenders can face imprisonment for up to six months or be fined up to 5,000 rupees.
  3. Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC): This provision of the IPC deals with cruelty inflicted upon married women by their husbands or relatives. It specifically addresses harassment for dowry, covering both physical and mental forms of abuse. While marital rape is not explicitly criminalized in India, coerced sexual relations with one’s wife can be considered a form of cruelty under this section. Section 498A encompasses any conduct that endangers a woman’s life, limb, or mental health, including actions that may lead to suicide. The law is broad in scope, aiming to protect women from all forms of mistreatment within marriage and family dynamics.

Forms of domestic violence

Under Section 3 of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, domestic violence is defined to include various forms of abuse:

  1. Physical Abuse: This includes acts of physical violence such as hitting, slapping, punching, kicking, and strangulation. Physical abuse can result in serious injuries, disabilities, and even death.
  2. Emotional Abuse: Emotional abuse involves behaviors aimed at undermining a person’s self-esteem, confidence, and sense of worth. This may include verbal insults, threats, intimidation, and manipulation.
  3. Economic Abuse: Economic abuse occurs when one partner controls the finances and resources, limiting the other’s access to money, employment opportunities, or basic necessities.
  4. Sexual Abuse: Sexual abuse involves non-consensual sexual acts, coercion, or exploitation within a relationship. It can take various forms, including rape, sexual assault, and harassment.[1]

Domestic violence is a complex issue influenced by a myriad of factors, including societal norms, individual behaviour, and systemic inequalities. Understanding the underlying reasons behind domestic violence is crucial for developing effective interventions and support systems for victims.

One of the primary reasons behind domestic violence is the imbalance of power within relationships. In many societies, including India, patriarchal norms and gender inequalities play a significant role in perpetuating domestic violence. The belief in male dominance and female subservience reinforces power differentials, allowing perpetrators to exert control and authority over their partners.

Cultural attitudes that condone violence or justify it as a means of discipline further contribute to the prevalence of domestic abuse. Traditional notions of masculinity often equate strength with aggression, leading some individuals to resort to violence as a means of asserting their dominance and maintaining control over their partners.

Societal Attitudes Towards Gender Roles:

Societal expectations regarding gender roles and behaviour also contribute to the perpetuation of domestic violence. Women are often expected to fulfil traditional roles as caregivers, homemakers, and nurturers, while men are expected to be providers and protectors. These rigid gender roles can restrict individuals’ autonomy and reinforce unequal power dynamics within relationships.

Beyond cultural and societal factors, several individual and contextual factors contribute to instances of domestic violence:

  • Poverty: Economic insecurity and financial stress can exacerbate tensions within relationships and increase the likelihood of conflict and violence. Limited access to resources and employment opportunities can leave individuals feeling trapped in abusive relationships with few means of escape.
  • Substance Abuse: Substance abuse, including alcohol and drug addiction, is often linked to instances of domestic violence. Substance abuse can impair judgment, exacerbate existing conflicts, and lower inhibitions, leading to heightened aggression and violence.
  • Stress and Mental Health Issues: High levels of stress, unresolved trauma, and untreated mental health issues can contribute to the cycle of violence within families. Individuals experiencing chronic stress or struggling with mental health challenges may resort to abusive behaviour as a maladaptive coping mechanism.

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data paints a disturbing picture of the prevalence of crimes against women in India, reflecting a significant increase in reported cases. In 2022 alone, a staggering 4,45,256 cases were registered, indicating nearly 51 FIRs filed every hour. This upward trend is alarming and underscores the urgent need for concerted efforts to address the underlying factors contributing to such violence.

A closer examination of the data reveals the stark reality faced by women across the country. The majority of crimes against women under the Indian Penal Code were categorized as cruelty by the husband or his relatives, accounting for 31.4 percent of cases. This is followed by incidents of kidnapping and abduction (19.2 percent), assault with intent to outrage modesty (18.7 percent), and rape (7.1 percent).[2]

When considering regional disparities, Delhi emerges as the region with the highest rate of crimes against women, with a staggering rate of 144.4 incidents per unit of population, well above the national average of 66.41. In terms of absolute numbers, Uttar Pradesh recorded the highest number of FIRs in cases of crimes against women in 2022, with 65,743 reported cases. Following Uttar Pradesh are states like Maharashtra (45,331), Rajasthan (45,058), West Bengal (34,738), and Madhya Pradesh (32,765).[3]

However, it’s important to recognize that these figures only capture reported cases, and the actual prevalence of domestic violence and crimes against women could be much higher. Many instances of domestic violence go unreported due to various complex factors, including fear of retaliation, societal stigma, cultural barriers, economic dependency, and lack of awareness about legal rights and resources.

The underreporting of domestic violence underscores the urgent need for comprehensive measures to address the root causes and provide greater support to victims. Efforts to combat domestic violence must include raising awareness, improving access to legal and support services, strengthening law enforcement mechanisms, and challenging societal attitudes and norms that perpetuate violence against women.

Domestic violence indeed affects individuals regardless of gender. While it is true that women are disproportionately affected by domestic violence, men can also be victims of such abuse. It’s important to recognize that domestic violence encompasses a range of abusive behaviors, including physical, sexual, emotional, and financial abuse, and it can occur within any type of intimate relationship or family dynamic.

The laws and provisions addressing domestic violence, including those in India such as the Protection of Women Against Domestic Violence Act, 2005, often focus on protecting women due to historical and social contexts. However, these laws do not exclude men from seeking protection and legal recourse if they experience domestic violence. In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the need to address domestic violence against all genders, and efforts are being made to provide support and resources for male victims as well.

In the case of Indra Sarma v. V.K.V. Sarma (2013) was a significant one in the context of domestic violence laws in India. The Supreme Court’s ruling that women could also be respondents under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, was a progressive step.[4] It acknowledged that domestic violence is not confined to one gender and can occur in various forms across different relationships. This ruling expanded the scope of the Act, emphasizing that its purpose is to protect victims of domestic violence, regardless of their gender. It also highlighted the need for laws to evolve in response to the changing dynamics of society.

Victims of domestic violence have inherent rights that are essential for their safety, well-being, and access to justice. These rights are enshrined in various legal statutes and are fundamental to ensuring that victims receive the support and protection they need.

Some of the key rights of victims of domestic violence include:

  1. Right to Safety: Every victim of domestic violence has the right to safety and security, both within their own homes and in the broader community. This includes protection from physical, emotional, sexual, and economic harm perpetrated by their abuser.
  2. Right to Protection Orders: Victims have the right to seek protection orders from the court, which can include restraining orders to prevent the abuser from contacting or approaching them, as well as orders to vacate the shared residence to ensure the victim’s safety.
  3. Right to Legal Recourse: Victims have the right to pursue legal recourse against their abusers and seek justice for the harm they have endured. This includes the right to file complaints, seek redressal through the court system, and hold perpetrators accountable for their actions.
  4. Right to Privacy: Victims have the right to privacy and confidentiality throughout legal proceedings and interactions with law enforcement and support services. This ensures that victims feel safe and empowered to seek assistance without fear of retaliation or exposure.
  5. Right to Access Support Services: Victims have the right to access support services, including shelters, counselling, medical assistance, and legal aid. These services play a crucial role in providing emotional support, safety planning, and practical assistance to victims as they navigate the complexities of leaving an abusive relationship.
  6. Right to Non-Discrimination: Victims have the right to be treated with dignity, respect, and compassion, regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, or socioeconomic status. Non-discrimination ensures that all victims receive equitable access to services and support.
  7. Right to Participation: Victims have the right to participate in legal proceedings and decisions that affect their safety and well-being. This includes the right to be informed about their legal rights, options, and the progress of their case, as well as the opportunity to provide input and feedback.
  8. Right to Empowerment: Victims have the right to be empowered and supported in making informed decisions about their lives and their future. Empowerment involves providing victims with the resources, information, and skills they need to assert their rights, advocate for themselves, and rebuild their lives free from violence.

Addressing the pervasive issue of domestic violence demands a multifaceted approach, and family law advocates play an indispensable role in this endeavour. These professionals serve as pillars of support and empowerment for victims, guiding them through the complexities of the legal system and advocating for their rights. In the context of India’s escalating rates of domestic violence, the role of family law advocates becomes even more critical in navigating the intricate web of legal and societal challenges faced by survivors.

Here’s a closer look at how family law advocates contribute to supporting victims of domestic violence:

  1. Legal Guidance and Empowerment: Family law advocates empower victims by equipping them with a comprehensive understanding of their legal rights and available recourse options. They meticulously explain legal procedures, protective measures, and avenues for seeking support services. By demystifying the legal landscape, advocates enable survivors to make informed decisions about their situation and chart a path towards justice.
  2. Compassionate Emotional Support: Survivors of domestic violence often grapple with profound emotional trauma, fear, and isolation. Family law advocates offer a compassionate and non-judgmental space for victims to express their feelings and experiences. Through active listening and empathetic engagement, advocates help survivors navigate the emotional complexities of their situation, fostering resilience and facilitating healing.
  3. Collaboration and Coordination: Advocates collaborate closely with law enforcement agencies, social service providers, and legal professionals to ensure a coordinated response to instances of domestic violence. They serve as liaisons between different entities, facilitating seamless communication and cooperation to address the diverse needs of survivors. By fostering robust networks of support, advocates bolster the safety and well-being of those affected by domestic violence.
  4. Community Education and Awareness: Advocates spearhead community outreach programs, workshops, and awareness campaigns aimed at dismantling the stigma surrounding domestic violence. They strive to educate individuals about the prevalence, dynamics, and consequences of domestic abuse, fostering a culture of empathy, understanding, and active intervention. By raising awareness, advocates empower survivors to seek help and mobilize community support for prevention efforts.
  5. Legal Representation and Advocacy: In cases where legal action is pursued, family law advocates provide unwavering support to survivors throughout the judicial process. They offer guidance on courtroom etiquette, assist in preparing legal documentation, and advocate for the rights and interests of survivors during hearings. By amplifying the voices of survivors within legal proceedings, advocates strive to ensure that justice is served and perpetrators are held accountable.
  6. Policy Advocacy and Legislative Reform: Family law advocates actively engage in policy advocacy and legislative reform initiatives aimed at enhancing protections for victims of domestic violence. They collaborate with policymakers, legal experts, and advocacy organizations to advocate for the enactment of comprehensive legal frameworks and the implementation of effective enforcement mechanisms. By championing systemic change, advocates work towards creating a more just and equitable society free from the scourge of domestic violence.

Case laws

In the case of S.R. Batra v. Taruna Batra (2007) was a significant one in the context of domestic violence law in India. The Delhi High Court’s ruling underscored the importance of recognizing emotional abuse as a form of domestic violence. The court’s decision expanded the understanding of domestic violence beyond physical abuse, acknowledging that mental cruelty, including verbal abuse, insults, and threats, could also constitute domestic violence under the Domestic Violence Act.

In the landmark case of Lalita Toppo vs. the State of Jharkhand and Anr. (2018), the Supreme Court of India made a pivotal decision regarding the applicability of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005. The case involved a dispute where a live-in partner sought maintenance under the Act after separation from her partner. The Supreme Court ruled that even though the petitioner was not legally married, she was entitled to seek maintenance under the Domestic Violence Act, 2005. This decision significantly broadened the interpretation of domestic violence laws in India, recognizing economic abuse as a form of domestic violence and extending protections to individuals in live-in relationships.[5]

In the case of Inder Raj Malik and Ors. vs Sunita Malik The Court held that the wife was entitled to maintenance under Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, despite the existence of a family settlement. The Court noted that the wife had strained relations with her husband and that the family members had resolved their disputes and distributed the properties amongst themselves.[6]

In conclusion, domestic violence remains a grave social issue that demands urgent attention and concerted action. While significant strides have been made in legal frameworks and awareness efforts, much work remains to be done to eradicate this pervasive problem. It is imperative to continue challenging patriarchal norms, advocating for gender equality, and providing comprehensive support to victims of domestic violence. Family law advocates play a pivotal role in this endeavor, serving as beacons of support and empowerment for survivors. By championing victims’ rights, raising awareness, and advocating for systemic change, we can create a society where domestic violence has no place, and all individuals can live free from fear and oppression.

  1. Domestic Violence Laws In India – Law Corner
  2. Over 4.45 lakh crimes against women in 2022, one every 51 minutes: NCRB – Frontline (
  3. Ibid
  4. Indra Sarma v. V.K.V Sarma . | Supreme Court Of India | Judgment | Law | CaseMine
  5. Landmark Judgements On Protection Of Women From Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (
  6. Top 10 domestic violence cases – iPleaders

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