It was heartbreaking to see a young vibrant law student succumbing to a destiny which she chose. The investigation is on its way and thereby the trial in court is yet to begin. But before these legal processes take us to a conclusion, we need to introspect as fellow beings, as a society, as a stakeholder why do our sisters take such extreme steps. We need to answer why we miserably failed to save these lives. Who is that unseen villain who plays its role in such tragic cases?
Years of experience in trial court dealing with atrocities against women as a lawyer and as a public prosecutor, I had the occasion to closely read such victims. During such an attempt, I could decipher that most of the time they felt lonely and ignored. Reasons are best known by now and to add on, our system is so impatient to hear such victims pushing them to utter isolation and ostracisation. Squarely this same had happened in the instant case, where a presumably responsible and courteous police officer failed to execute his duty. Interestingly we have the law, the Kerala Police Act 2011, dedicating an entire chapter 5 on the duties and responsibilities of the police officer which mandates in Section 29 (3) that the “The Police Officers shall exhibit special sympathy in their dealings with the victims of crimes and give due consideration to the special needs of women, children, senior citizens and the differently-abled”. The reality is that it is not just the police stations but the tale of going unheard begins from our own homes until she is paralyzed emotionally and physically. In some cases not even then!
One needs to understand that in this long process of attaining justice, it is not just the physical strength and financial resources but mental strength to fight all adversaries that is paramount. In a highly patriarchal set up definitely one should not expect the fight to be neutral. It would be biased and inclined towards the notion that “women should suffer to save the marriage”, “women should tolerate for the betterment of children”, “women should be silent for the sanctity of the family”, and women should be invisible for men to reign”! Here in this backdrop when you chose to fight, the inner strength should escalate to a level making one unshakeable at what the final verdict may come.
Now the question is what efforts are we as stakeholders and fellow beings doing to impart our sisters this mental strength. Though the law is taking all efforts to ensure access to justice through free legal aid and legal awareness, what goes missing is the bridge to connect to these victims personally, in other words, the platforms to impart them the confidence to fight. Though we have counselling centres to reach out to such victims, routine mental health checkups for these intimate partner violence victims go unchecked. Studies reveal that women who have experienced domestic violence or abuse are at a significantly higher risk of experiencing a range of mental health conditions including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and thoughts of suicide. A study conducted in The National Institute of Mental Health (the USA, 2009) indicates that 1 in 4 adults suffer from a mental disorder. Further research from the Institute also indicates that 54% to 84% of battered women suffer from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD); 64% to 77% of battered women suffer from depression, and 38% to 75% of battered women suffer from anxiety. Thereby one needs to understand that it is not just the visible wounds and explicit scars that matter, but also the mental trauma that they undergo. Indeed law has recognized mental abuse as an ingredient of domestic violence, but many a time in the courtroom it goes unproved because of the lack of evidence. At this juncture, the court also fails to give justice to the victims of emotional abuse.
Hence, ignoring the mental health conditions of domestic violence victims are proving so fatal and it needs serious consideration. What is primarily required is social support, which will definitely empower women to speak up her agony. If the requisite social support is ensured women can definitely deal with life stressors and thereby can buffer the negative effects of abuse and come out with hope.
So, let’s not let our Mofiyas leave this early too young!
(The author is an Advocate in High Court of Kerala and Former Assistant Public Prosecutor, Govt of NCT OF Delhi)