The Hidden Side Of The Women Protection Bill
Many would see it as a light at the end of a long dark tunnel, and there is no doubt that it shall be seen this way. The Punjab Assembly passed the long awaited Protection of Women Against Violence Bill 2015, and it suffices to state that this will be a landmark Act in the history of our country.
The Bill is panned out the way such a piece of legislation should be. Right away in the definitions it gives out the idea of what it means by ‘violence’. Bearing quite a broad meaning, violence is referred to as:
“Any offence committed against a woman including abetment of an offence, domestic violence, emotional, psychological and verbal abuse, economic abuse, stalking and or a cybercrime.”
Before furthering the problems with the Bill, the positivity it provides must be appreciated. The Bill entails the basic measures needed to provide the requisite protection. The court can issue restraining orders for the defendant, who will not be allowed to communicate with and come within a specified distance of the victim. The defendants shall also wear a GPS tracking bracelet if need be, twenty-four-seven, and the court shall make sure that they do not meddle with any person related to the victim or providing assistance to the victim.
The victims of violence could also be provided with residential assistance. The Bill stresses on protection of residence whereby the victims will never be evicted from their place of residence without consent and the defendant will not be allowed to sell the property. Moreover, they will be, upon consent, provided a shelter and protection, from where the defendant will be restrained and the same shall deliver the victim’s possessions to her. The court will also make sure to provide paid alternative accommodation for the victim, if necessary.
The Bill also entails a section of monetary relief for the victim, where the court may provide any such help to the victim as need may be. This includes but is not limited to any and all expenses, loss of earning and maintenance under family laws and the court shall make sure that such is done within the time period as prescribed by the particular order.
This, prima facie, constitutes sufficient protection which the women need. Over decades, there have been millions of instances of domestic violence and abuse in every nook and corner of the country, majority of which go unnoticed, as the state does not provide with adequate remedies to the aggrieved. The sad culture that still exists in many villages and rural parts of the country is hidden from none of us: the panchayat system; the culture where a woman is shamed for complaining about such an offence in her marriage; where it is always the women’s fault.
Now the Bill does seem to provide the requisite protection to the women, but how does a woman report such an offence? The Bill focuses on creating a network including a committee, various offices, appointing women protection officers and to top it all, a toll free number for complaints. This seems as a very coherent plan for the modern day woman in the city, who could, on the slightest of abuse or violence by her spouse, dial the toll free number from her personal cellphone. But what about the woman living in her village, who is not allowed to leave the house, and has zero means of communication with the outer world, more importantly having no access to a telephone? How will she dial a toll free number and make the complaint?
The Bill seems to sort out all the problems of women, but only if it was introduced in a first world country like the United States of America or the United Kingdom. In Pakistan, which is still pretty much far from acquiring first world status, a Bill of this stature does not seem to resolve the issues. Majority of the women who face violence in our country do not have access to the means which are required to file a complaint or at least let someone know about the violence she is facing. Our government has yet again failed to remember the fact that this country has special needs and requirements which are needed to be addressed. The story of the metro buses and trains and signal free roads continue as a Bill that purports to provide protection to the women of our country but yet fails to do so.
Another problem arising out of the Bill, that with time will be quite apparent, will be the clause describing the ‘penalty for filing false complaint’. This, upon the very first read, gives me a vibe of the blasphemy law; a law which is more abused than used. The particular clause of the Bill states as follows:
“A person, who gives false information about the commission of violence which that person knows or has reason to believe to be false, shall be liable to punishment of imprisonment for a term which may extend to three months or fine which may extend to one hundred thousand rupees but which shall not be less than fifty thousand rupees or both.”
The way procedure works in our country is a bitter reality and there is no shortage of means to blatantly bring up false charges against a person who themselves require justice. This particular clause sets up a legal way to do the same. By finding some loophole in the victim’s complaint and a forgery of evidence, the defendants can easily use the Bill against the very victims themselves. The Bill is, sadly, itself providing its anti-thesis. Once a number of complaints turn out to be false and the state ends up punishing the victim or the alleged victim, there could be a countrywide fear of such happening to any or every woman who remotely faces such violence and thinks of seeking protection under the Bill.
The Bill is yet to be constituted into an Act and become officially applicable within the jurisdiction of Punjab. It has already created an uproar in the society and over social media. It is being celebrated by the men, women and the youth of our country and there is no denying the fact that it should be. However, it may not provide the protection our women want and need – the protection the Bill prima facie purports to provide. The ‘penalty for filing false complaint’ clause should in no way be made part of the official Act. Moreover, the legislation should focus on the women who do not have the means to report or complain against such violence, due to whatever reason that may be, because those women are the majority women of our country, and they majorly face domestic violence and abuse and need remedies and protection the most.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any organization with which he might be associated.