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What is Domestic Violence? What are its types, causes, and effects?

When one talks of domestic violence laws in India, two major legislations appear: Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 and Section 498-A of the Penal Code. In this blog, we shall discuss what comprises Domestic Violence, what its causes are, and its impact along with the necessary legal provisions.
Written by:
Swati Shalini
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What is Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence is a pervasive issue globally, and India is no exception. It operates as a systematic method to assert control and dominance within the confines of a household, often resulting in fear, trauma, and physical or emotional harm to the victims. The motivations behind domestic violence can vary widely, from maintaining power structures within relationships to fulfilling personal desires at the expense of others. In the Indian context, domestic violence primarily targets women perpetrated by their husbands or male family members. It's important to acknowledge that domestic violence can impact anyone, regardless of gender, age, or sexual orientation. When one talks about domestic violence, it is a systematic method to instill fear and subservience in an individual in a domestic setting like a household. The intent behind this violence can range from the compulsion to maintain the power structure of an individual over the other or to instil/coerce another individual for self-gratification purposes. Domestic Violence in India typically means violence suffered by an individual at the hands of their biological relatives but specifically covers the violence suffered by women from the male members or relatives in her family.


Domestic violence has been defined by the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005. Prior to the Domestic Violence Act, the law governing cases of domestic violence in India were governed by Section 498-A of the IPC. There are two shortcomings of Section 498-A. First being the absence of any provision providing relief or compensation for the victim under this provision. Secondly, section 498-A was applicable only to married women. To overcome these defects the domestic violence Act, 2005 was enacted by the Centre. The reliefs provided by the Domestic Violence Act include shelter, medical facilities, protection order, compensation order, etc.

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What amounts to Domestic Violence against women?

According to the domestic violence Act, Domestic Violence means harming or injuring a woman in a domestic relationship. It includes physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, and economic abuse within its ambit. The abuse under the Domestic Violence Act includes not only actual abuse but also the threat of abuse. Any harassment resulting from unlawful dowry demands to the woman or her relatives is also covered by the definition under the Domestic Violence Act. The Domestic Violence Act primarily protects wives or female live-in partners from domestic violence at the hands of the husband or male live-in partner including his relatives. Section 2(a) of the DOMESTIC violence Act(1) defines “aggrieved person” as any woman who is, or has been, in a domestic relationship with the perpetrator and who alleges to have been subjected to any act of domestic violence. The Domestic Violence Act not only covers those women who are or have been in a relationship with the abuser but it also covers those women who have lived together in a shared household and are related by consanguinity, marriage or through a relationship in the nature of marriage or adoption including mothers, sisters or widows.



Legal Framework:

The legal framework addressing domestic violence in India has evolved. Before the enactment of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act in 2005, matters related to domestic violence were primarily governed by Section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code. However, this section had limitations, particularly in providing relief and compensation to unmarried women. Recognizing these shortcomings, the Domestic Violence Act was introduced to offer victims a more comprehensive set of remedies. This includes provisions for shelter, medical aid, protective orders, and compensation, thus aiming to provide holistic support to survivors of domestic violence.

Definition of Domestic Violence:

The definition of domestic violence under the Domestic Violence Act is broad and inclusive. It encompasses various forms of abuse, including physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, and economic. Physical abuse involves any act that causes bodily harm or poses a threat to life, while sexual abuse encompasses non-consensual sexual acts and marital rape. Verbal and emotional abuse target a victim's self-esteem and mental well-being, often through threats, insults, or manipulation. Economic abuse, on the other hand, involves controlling or withholding financial resources, thereby exerting control over the victim's economic autonomy.

Types of Domestic Violence against women

The types of domestic violence against women range from physical, sexual, verbal and emotional abuse to economic abuse.

  • Physical Abuse: This is perhaps the most visible form of domestic violence, often leaving physical scars and injuries. It includes acts such as hitting, punching, kicking, or using weapons to inflict harm. Victims of physical abuse may suffer from long-term health consequences, both physical and psychological.

    Sexual Violence: Sexual violence within the context of domestic abuse can take various forms, including rape, sexual assault, coercion, and harassment. Marital rape, in particular, remains a contentious issue, as it often goes unreported due to societal taboos and legal ambiguities. Victims of sexual violence may experience trauma, shame, and a sense of violation.

    Verbal and Emotional Abuse: Verbal and emotional abuse can be just as damaging as physical violence, if not more so. This form of abuse attacks a victim's self-worth and psychological well-being through insults, threats, manipulation, and gaslighting. Over time, it can erode a victim's confidence, leaving them feeling isolated and powerless.

    Economic Abuse: Economic abuse is a subtle yet potent form of control, often overlooked in discussions about domestic violence. It involves controlling access to financial resources, employment opportunities, or assets, thereby trapping the victim in a cycle of dependency. Economic abuse can make it difficult for victims to leave abusive relationships or rebuild their lives independently.  

Causes of Domestic Violence in India

Domestic violence in India is a complex issue with multifaceted causes rooted in societal, historical, religious, and cultural factors. Societal factors such as gender inequality, poverty, and lack of education contribute to power imbalances within relationships, enabling perpetrators to exert control over their victims. Historical patriarchal structures have perpetuated the notion of male superiority and dominance, reinforcing gender-based violence. Religious beliefs and cultural norms may also play a role in justifying or perpetuating abusive behaviour, such as dowry-related violence.

  • Sociological/Behavioral Factors: The sociological, behavioral and cultural factors include factors like anger issues/aggressive attitude, poverty/economic hardship, difference in status, controlling/dominating nature, drug addiction, upbringing and psychological instability (bipolarism, depression, stress, etc.) among others. Neglect of conjugal responsibilities due to extra-marital affairs or lack of trust also contributes to domestic violence.

  • Historical Factors: Historical factors can be traced back to the inherent evil of patriarchy and superiority complex that has prevailed for centuries among men.

  • Religious Factors: A subtle form of domination on women, if not direct and glaring, reflects in the religious sanctifications. This also contributes to perpetration of domestic violence against women.

  • Cultural Factors: Cultural Factors leading to domestic violence include the desire for a male child. This obsession resulting from the lack of awareness and inherent male superiority leads to perpetration of domestic violence against women.This is not an exhaustive list of factors and the motivations or triggers behind domestic violence may vary.

  • Dowry: Dowry is a form of socio-cultural factor. But, it becomes important to separately mention it because of the rampant domestic violence cases resulting from illegal demand of dowry. This was realised by the Parliament also because dowry- related domestic violence has been made a separate head in the scope of abuse resulting in domestic violence under the Domestic Violence Act.

Who should I report a Domestic Violence case to?

Reporting a domestic violence case requires careful consideration of available resources and support services. In India, victims or witnesses of domestic violence can reach out to various authorities and organizations for assistance. Local police stations play a crucial role in responding to emergencies and initiating legal proceedings against the abuser. Additionally, protection officers appointed by the court can guide and support victims seeking protection orders and other forms of relief under the law. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and women's shelters also offer a range of services, including counselling, legal aid, and temporary shelter, to survivors of domestic violence. Ultimately, the choice of whom to report a domestic violence case depends on the individual's circumstances and preferences. Still, it's essential to seek help from trusted and reliable sources that prioritize the safety and well-being of the victim.

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What sets out Domestic Violence from other forms of violence?

Domestic violence is distinct from other forms of violence due to its specific characteristics and dynamics. Unlike random acts of violence perpetrated by strangers, domestic violence occurs within the context of intimate relationships, typically between family members or partners. This close relationship between the perpetrator and the victim creates unique power dynamics and vulnerabilities that the abuser exploits. Domestic violence is often characterized by a pattern of control, coercion, and manipulation rather than isolated incidents of physical aggression. Moreover, domestic violence tends to escalate over time, becoming more frequent and severe as the abuser seeks to maintain dominance and control over the victim. Additionally, domestic violence often occurs behind closed doors, making it harder to detect and address, and victims may feel trapped or unable to seek help due to fear, shame, or dependence on the abuser.

Does verbal abuse amount to Domestic Violence?

When people hear about domestic violence, they usually tend to limit it to physical violence- especially in the sense of what remains visible. The idea of verbal abuse doesn’t often come up. This leads to the normalization of the impact of verbal abuse. However, domestic violence usually starts with a verbal form of abuse before becoming a full-blown pattern of violence. Section 3 of the Domestic Violence Act includes verbal violence as a form of domestic violence. This makes verbal abuse a legally recognizable mode of perpetrating domestic violence against women. Verbal Abuse affects one’s sense of self-worth and spirit leading to self-doubt. Any attack on self-worth further results in psychological trauma and depression.

Can a man lodge a case for Domestic Violence?

The Domestic Violence Act, 2005 makes no provision for men to lodge cases of domestic violence against women owing largely to the fact that The Domestic Violence Act is primarily welfare legislation. Although, an aggrieved man can file for Divorce/Judicial Separation on the ground of Cruelty, i.e., Section 13(1)(ia) of the Hindu Marriage Act(2).

While domestic violence is commonly perceived as violence against women, it's essential to recognize that men can also be victims of domestic abuse. Although the prevalence of male victims is lower compared to female victims, it is nonetheless a significant issue that warrants attention. Men who experience domestic violence may face unique challenges in seeking help, including societal stereotypes that downplay or deny their experiences. However, the legal framework in India, particularly the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, is gender-neutral and extends protection to all individuals, regardless of gender. Therefore, men who are victims of domestic violence have the legal right to lodge a case and seek redress through the appropriate legal channels

What acts constitute violence against men?

Violence against men is not considered serious because of its different manifestation. In most cases of violence against men, more mental, verbal, and emotional violence occurs as compared to physical violence. The impact of violence against men is less apparent and is less likely to come to the attention of others. In some cases, humiliating a man emotionally can be more devastating than physical abuse. Unkind and cruel words hurt in different ways and linger in different ways. In most cases, men are more deeply affected by emotional abuse than physical abuse.

Consequences of Domestic Violence against women

The consequences of domestic violence against women are profound and far-reaching, affecting every aspect of their lives. Physically, victims may suffer from injuries ranging from bruises and broken bones to more severe conditions such as traumatic brain injuries or internal organ damage. These physical injuries often require medical attention and can result in long-term disabilities or chronic health problems. Moreover, the psychological impact of domestic violence can be equally devastating. Victims may experience symptoms of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and low self-esteem. They may also struggle with feelings of shame, guilt, and worthlessness, leading to social withdrawal and isolation. In severe cases, domestic violence can even result in suicidal thoughts or attempts.

Beyond the individual level, domestic violence also has broader social and economic consequences. Women who experience domestic violence may face barriers to employment, education, and financial independence, perpetuating cycles of poverty and dependence. Additionally, children who witness domestic violence in their homes are at increased risk of developmental delays, behavioural problems, and future involvement in violent relationships. The ripple effects of domestic violence extend to communities as well, contributing to a culture of fear, mistrust, and social instability.

  • Short Term Consequences: The short-term physical effects of violence can include minor injuries or serious conditions. They can include bruises, cuts, broken bones, or injuries to organs and other parts inside the body. Some physical injuries are difficult or impossible to see without scans, x-rays, or other tests done by a doctor or nurse. The long-emotional and verbal abuse might affect the woman’s mood and children’s mood in their day to day activities & might also reduce the efficiency

  • Long-term Consequences: Violence against women, including sexual or physical violence, is linked to many long-term health problems. Long-term mental health effects of violence against women can include Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Depression or Anxiety. This can further lead to the problem of substance abuse and drug addiction. Sexual violence can result in irreparable injury to sexual violence and a loss of self-worth


Who can help you?

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In conclusion, domestic violence in India is a pervasive and complex issue that requires a multifaceted approach to address. While legal frameworks such as the Domestic Violence Act provide some level of protection and support to survivors, there is still much work to be done in terms of prevention, awareness, and changing societal attitudes towards gender-based violence. By addressing the root causes of domestic violence, including gender inequality, economic dependence, and cultural norms, we can create a society where all individuals are treated with dignity, respect, and equality, free from the threat of violence in their own homes.


External Links:

[1] Section 2(a) of the Domestic Violence Act - In this Act, the "aggrieved person" means any woman who is, or has been, in a domestic relationship with the respondent and who alleges to have been subjected to any act of domestic violence by the respondent. [2] Section 13(1)(ia) of The Hindu Marriage Act - States that any marriage solemnized, whether before or after the commencement of the Act, may, on a petition presented by either the husband or the wife, be dissolved by a decree of divorce on the ground that the other party.