| Arjun Singh
New Delhi, Sept. 1: Women’s organisations opposing the controversial Bill against domestic violence have found a strong ally in Congress leader Arjun Singh, who is heading the parliamentary standing committee on the human resources development ministry that is scrutinising the Bill.
Recently, representatives of about 20 organisations from different parts of the country made presentations before the committee to bring to its notice the inadequacies in the Bill, which was mooted to protect women from domestic violence. The final draft, women’s organisations have alleged, is “protecting the family and not the woman”.
“Arjun Singh has assured us that the Bill will not be passed in its present form,” said one of the delegation members. But, sources said, the Centre has sent a point by point defence of its draft, stating that its main purpose was to protect the institution of family. Though the committee’s observations on the Bill are not binding on the government, the panel can make it difficult for the Centre to push through the Bill in its present form.
All controversial Bills are usually sent to parliamentary standing committees, which then summon delegations concerned to thrash out the fractious issues. The Bill on 33 per cent reservation for women in legislatures, too, was sent to a standing committee several years ago. It has still not been passed in Parliament.
Women’s groups opposed to the domestic violence Bill have accused the government of blunting its main purpose — to protect the woman. “Instead, they are trying to protect the family at any cost,” said a representative of Lawyer’s Collective, a voluntary organisation actively involved in drawing up the draft Bill. The National Commission for Women (NCW) had also presented its own draft to the Centre.
After having actively lobbied for a Bill to check domestic violence, its proponents feel cheated by the government, which, they allege, has made a mockery of the issue of domestic violence. “It will be better not to have a Bill on domestic violence rather than have something which goes against the very spirit of the Bill,” said an activist.
Government officials, on the other hand, have argued that they cannot take an “extreme feminist” position and will have to keep in mind the social context in India. The Bill, since its inception, has been in the eye of a storm with sharp differences emerging on the definition of domestic violence itself.
Lawyer’s Collective as well as other women’s organisations wanted the government to include not only physical violence but mental abuse as well. But a strong men’s lobby trashed the Bill, saying it was an intrusion into a person’s private life and that mental abuse should not be clubbed with physical violence.
When the government chalked out the final draft, it attracted further controversy with all women’s organisation and the Lawyer’s Collective attacking the legislation and demanding a complete overhaul of the Bill.
The Centre’s draft Bill has dropped the clause giving a woman the right to residence at her husband’s house. Instead, it has given the husband the right to turn his wife out of the house if she damages his property and made counselling mandatory for both husband and wife.
“If a wife, in anger, damages her husband’s television set, he can turn her out regardless of how badly he has behaved. What is the point of having a Bill where the abused woman is denied her right to residence'” Lawyer’s Collective has asked. On mandatory counselling, the organisations say it should be made compulsory for the husband and optional for the wife.