Guest Post by Pallavi Mohan
“Darlings”, a new Netflix movie, takes a dark yet comic lens on domestic abuse. Set in a Mumbai chawl, it is the story of an alcoholic husband who frequently gets drunk and beats up his wife for big and small, real and imagined incidents. Despite receiving support from her mother, neighbours and the local police cop, the wife doesn’t leave her husband. Today’s post is not a discussion of the movie but a discussion of some of the important points of law that the movie raises. For a more detailed understanding of domestic violence, please refer to the Nyaaya explainer here.
The movie shows that a friend of the abused wife complains to the police on her behalf. Is that possible?
A survivor can file a complaint, under Section 498A of the IPC, against her husband in any police station. But if she does not do so, there is no restriction on any other person filing the complaint on her behalf. This point was clarified by the Supreme Court in a 2019 judgement (Rashmi Chopra v. State of UP). The Court held that the provision does not contemplate that only a domestic violence survivor can file a complaint under Section 498A for cruelty by her husband or his relative. A relative or friend can also file the complaint on behalf of the survivor.
In the movie, the local police cop who receives the complaint is helpful and urges the survivor to file a complaint against her husband. Is the situation similar in real life?
In the past, survivors of domestic violence found it difficult to approach police stations manned only by male police officers to file their complaints. This is why the concept of Mahila Thanas (Women’s Police Stations) was introduced. It is believed that female police personnel posted at such stations are more gender-sensitive and women would be more comfortable approaching them. India’s first women-only police station was opened in Kerala in 1973. As of January 1, 2021 up, there were 551 urban and 145 rural Mahila Thanas and a total of 10,165 Women Help Desks set up in existing police stations in India. So, any woman who is facing the problem of domestic abuse can approach a Mahila Thana in her district or any other district (since Mahila Thanas can register cases of crimes against women, irrespective of the location where the incident took place) to file a complaint against an abusive husband.
In the movie, the survivor’s mother and friends often urge her to leave her abusive husband and the marital home. What are the options available to women who do not have such support from their parents and friends?
The Ministry of Women and Child Development provides several options for women facing domestic abuse to find alternative living arrangements when they are not supported by their parents and friends. These include:
- One Stop Centres, also known as Sakhi Centres, that provide medical aid, police help, legal aid/case management, psychosocial counselling and temporary support services to abused women. The purpose of these One Stop Centres is to help those women who have no access to either police or medical facilities or cannot visit a police station in times of distress.
- Short Stay Homes, under the Swadhar Greh scheme, for women and girls rendered homeless because of family discord, crime, violence, mental stress, social ostracism, etc.
- Working women hostels that provide safe and conveniently located accommodation for working women, with daycare facilities for their children.
- A 24X7 phone helpline (7827-170-170 or 112) set up by the National Commission for Women that victims of domestic abuse can use for immediate help.
For district-wise information on resources to help survivors of domestic violence in Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru, please see our Spotlight.