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In Karnataka, Domestic Violence Act can't be used against women

B.S. Ramesh

BANGALORE: It is not often that the legal interpretation of an important act goes unnoticed.

When the Delhi High Court rendered a judgment last month on the Domestic Violence Act saying that a woman could make use of the provisions of the Act to prosecute other women, it received widespread coverage. Not many people are aware that the Karnataka High Court had taken a contradictory stand about the Act.

In its judgment of December 18, 2009, the Karnataka High Court has held that women could not be prosecuted under the Act and that it could be used only against men.

When the Act was first introduced in Karnataka in 2007, advocates used many of its provisions to get justice for both men and women clients. A man invoked the provisions of the Act for getting certain concessions from his estranged wife.

Thus, the Act meant for getting justice for women, was being used as a weapon against them, albeit legally. This continued till 2009 when the Karnataka High Court held that it could not be used against women and that the Act was meant solely for women.

Landmark judgment

It was Justice Subash B, Adi who delivered this landmark judgment and to this day, the interpreted provisions had remained unchallenged, thus becoming a part of the law in the State.

Senior advocate Pramila Nesargi says she has handled scores of cases where men have filed cases of domestic violence against their wives or women relatives till the judgment was delivered.

She says the Domestic Violence Act was now being regularly used by women along with other acts such as Dowry Harassment Act to get justice. Pointing to the case of Prachi Singh, she says this Act has helped her client ensure that her husband, a kin of President Pratiba Patil, stayed away from her.

Another victim of domestic violence and dowry harassment, Priya Kurien had a more sordid tale to tell. What had compounded Priya's misery was the long and often bureaucratic manner in which her case was being conducted.

She had been in and out of courts for years and the cases were yet to come to a logical end.

The cases of Prachi Singh and Priya are not an exception but the rule.

Even though cases filed under this Act have to be heard and disposed of within a stipulated time, it is not being done so and legal experts blame the loopholes in the existing procedure for such delays. They say there is a need to make the Act more stringent. State Public Prosecutor H.S. Chandramouli says there are more than 300 cases of Domestic Violence filed in the High Court. He says there are more than 1,000 such cases pending in lower courts in Bangalore alone.

Mr. Chandramouli says one of the reasons for the low conviction under the Act is that it has been taken from the West and replicated without giving a local touch.

Legal experts say almost all cases of marital discord, including domestic violence, child custody and dowry harassment, can be disposed of expeditiously only if the Karnataka High Court makes it mandatory for all courts to adopt and implement the case flow management rules.

Under these rules, all cases have to be heard and disposed of by courts within a specified time frame.

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