Though Anisa had a positive order under PWDVA, it was not worth the paper it was printed on until we used the provision of S. 31 to enforce the order.
An interesting aspect of this Act is that though it is a civil law, it has criminal consequences. What does this really mean?
At the initial stage, when an aggrieved woman approaches the magistrate for reliefs such as a protection order, an injunction securing her right to reside in the matrimonial home, maintenance, custody of children etc. it is treated as a civil application. However, while granting these reliefs, it also contains a subtle warning to the husband / male relatives to restrain from further acts of violence.
If an interim or final order is violated, section 31 of the Act provides for criminal action such as imprisonment up to one year or rupees twenty thousand fine, or both. At this stage it becomes a cognizable and non-bailable offence. Rule 15 (4) allows the victim to approach a police officer directly if she so chooses. The Act mandates that the officer shall register an FIR under S. 31 and also add any other relevant sections as applicable and proceed in accordance with law. This section is very seldom used by the aggrieved woman.
When Anisa approached Majlis after facing severe domestic violence from her abusive and alcoholic husband and was forced out of her matrimonial home along with her 15 year old daughter, we filed for reliefs under the PWDVA. The courts granted maintenance and residence orders permitting her to reside in the matrimonial home.
Defying this order, her husband rented out the flat to a tenant and restrained Anisa’s entry into the matrimonial home. Each time she attempted to enter the premises, the husband and the tenants throttled her efforts. Her efforts to enter the home with the help of the local mahila mandal were also not successful and Anisa was loosing hope.
At this point Majlis decided to use the innovative S. 31 of the Act and approach the police for violation of the order. It was shocking that after almost 12 years of passing of the Act, the local police were clueless about the procedure of filing an FIR under S. 31 of the PWDVA. They had never done it before. It was a major struggle, approaching senior officers, and repeatedly explaining to them the legal provision. Finally they relented and an FIR under S. 31 was lodged.
This turned out to be the turning point in her case. The stringent provision of S. 31 with the mandate for arrest ensured that in the next two days the tenants vacated the flat and Anisa and her daughter were given peaceful possession.
Though Anisa had a positive order under PWDVA, it was not worth the paper it was printed on, until we used the provisions under S. 31 to enforce the order. Not many women use this provision when respondents refuse to abide by the order of the magistrate. But it is the seriousness of criminal consequences that the Act provides by way of S. 31 which gives it the teeth it needs.
Majlis believes that the only way to make the system work is to engage with it and ensure that women’s rights are protected on the ground. This learning experience will ensure that more women are protected from domestic violence and that orders of magistrates do not remain paper tigers.