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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?

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.

Consult: Get help on Domestic Violence Cases from top lawyers

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.

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: Physical abuse is the most prominently visible form of domestic violence against women. It has been defined in the Domestic Violence Act to include any act that causes bodily pain or danger to life, limb or health or development of the victim. Assault, criminal force, and criminal intimidation are forms of physical abuse.

  • Sexual abuse: Sexual abuse against women is in the nature of sexual/reproductive coercion. Generally, marital rape should come within the ambit of sexual abuse. However, marital rape is not outlawed unless the wife is below 15 years of age. According to the Domestic Violence Act, sexual abuse is any abuse of a sexual nature that ‘abuses, humiliates, degrades or otherwise violates the dignity of a woman.’

  • Verbal and emotional abuse: Verbal abuse includes remarks/threats made by the domestic relations during domestic violence against women. Verbal abuse further leads to emotional abuse and in an incredibly common form of domestic violence from the human rights perspective. The combination of verbal and emotional abuse leads to psychological abuse and erodes a woman’s sense of self-worth.

  • Economic abuse: Introducing economic abuse in the categories of abuses under the Domestic Violence Act has been a remarkable step by the government. Economic abuse is generally characterised as a method of depriving or threatening to deprive the victim and her children from the use of financial resources/assets.

Causes of Domestic Violence in India

There is no uniform or single reason that leads to domestic violence. It is a combination of various sociological/behavioral, historical, religious, and cultural factors that lead to perpetration of domestic violence against women.

  • 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?

  • Under the Domestic Violence Act, any woman who is aggrieved or anyone who has been a witness to the act can approach the nearest Police Station, Protection Officer and a Service Provider. The court can appoint a protection officer to enforce its orders. The protection officer is a special post created to serve as a liaison between victims of domestic violence and the system. r One can also file a complaint directly with the magistrate for obtaining orders of reliefs under the Domestic Violence Act. Anyone who provides information about the offence committed to the concerned authorities is absolved of any civil/criminal liability

  • Post the complaint, the court is required to instate a hearing within three days of the complaint being filed

  • If the court finds that the complaint is genuine, the court passes a protection order

  • A complaint can also be filed under Section 498-A of the India Penal Code which recognizes the offence of matrimonial cruelty and prescribes criminal penalty

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What sets out Domestic Violence from other forms of violence?

Formation of a pattern of abuse is the characteristic feature of domestic violence. There remains a constant need and a constant effort to maintain power and control over the other, leading to a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another. In contrast, situational violence occurs when both the partners confront conflict with violence against each other and is specific to a particular situation. Situational violence occurs less frequently than domestic violence. Unlike situational violence, domestic violence happens frequently and has a tendency to result in long-term physical, emotional and psychological harm or even worse, death.

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).

Indian domestic violence laws are silent on the protection required to men from domestic violence. However, the Supreme Court of India has recognized the need for protection to men from acts of domestic violence in Narayan Ganesh Dastane V. Sucheta Narayan Dastane and more recently in Hiral P Harsora vs Kusum Narottamdas Harsora. In the former case, the Apex Court for the first time recognized cruelty against men. Cruelty and violence against men should be recognized by law in clear words for gender-neutral society. Additionally, with the decriminalization of homosexuality in India, it becomes pertinent that the domestic violence advocacy of men’s right for protection from domestic violence gains traction.

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

Domestic Violence against women can cause long term and short term physical and mental harm. The domestic violence against women also affects the children in the family causing long-lasting impressions on a child’s vulnerable memory.

  • 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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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.