This time it was Vismaya. Many Vismayas have left us by now narrating the same tale, shaking our conscience and reducing them to another social post. Interestingly, the stories of these Vismayas are happening not in a backward State, but in the most literate State of the country, Kerala with 96.2% of literacy rate. She was not uneducated nor was she financially deprived, but still what prompted her to succumb to her destiny, is a question that needs an answer. Before we unpack why laws like Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 ; penal provisions such as Sec 304B and 498A in the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and the Domestic Violence Act , 2005 failed to save those lives, we need to closely look at why tragedies like Vismayas are so frequently happening here.
Vismaya, like any other girl of her age, nodded to the choice of her family to get into the institution of marriage, while still continuing her medical course. The very charming Vismaya steps into that “sanctified” or “holy” institution of marriage (as it is usually described) with much hopes and expectations, at the same time indoctrinated with a notion that from now the matrimonial house is your world, anything beyond that is unchaste! Obediently she followed the doctrine, “adjusted” in all possible ways to fit in to the stereotype Indian daughter-in-law (yes! daughter just in law), assuming domestic violence to be normal and presuming every sufferings within the domestic life to be common until the day of her demise.
Now, it’s time to speak out how this indoctrination, i.e normalizing suffering which has been propagating from centuries made our daughters victims pushing to such anti-climax. Here what is happening is that they fail to recognize themselves as victims and the perpetrators fails to see them as offenders, leaving no room for remorse. In this backdrop, where it is yet to be recognized as a crime come a few beneficial laws as mentioned earlier supposedly as saviors. For decades now, we kept curing this menace of domestic violence in every form with legal tools and social measures, but still the alarming increase in dowry death cases coupled with the declining conviction rates proves we have utterly failed. So why did the existing laws failed to play its role, needs an analysis.
First and foremost reason for this decreasing conviction rate is the lack of evidence to prove the case. With the sole purpose to “Save Marriage”, we fail to collect crucial evidences like oral and documentary evidence of unlawful demands, original bills of purchase of valuables given, proof of injury through Medico-Legal Certificate from doctor, audio/video recordings of abuses etc. Along with this, the delay in lodging FIR, shoddy investigation as domestic violence cases getting least priority, prolonged criminal proceedings in courts and the socio-economic vulnerability of women litigants add to the misery, making justice far. So by the time she realizes she is a victim, it goes too late and the offender gets the benefit of reasonable doubt.
Today the outcry we hear around this issue is indeed a good sign, but we must make sure it does not reduce to mere discussions. What we need is emancipation of not just victim, but of the society at large so that the laws are not just paper tigers. Her transition from victim to survivor is a shared responsibility of all stakeholders. Firstly, the State should make sure she is economically empowered through proper education and employment opportunities; at educational institutions, faculties should play the role of counselors too so as to make sure they are emotionally strengthened; lawyers and judges should ensure gender justice is speedy and effectual; socially active groups should enable platforms for legal awareness and most importantly the media especially social medias should propagate the right information awakening the society that our daughters too have dreams and ambitions to fulfill. With this collective effort, the change in mindset from “SAVE MARRIAGES” to “SAVE LIVES” can definitely come up to ensure our Vismayas can live, laugh and lead a life of their choice.
(The author is an advocate and former assistant public prosecutor, Govt of NCT of Delhi)