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Gender Neutrality in Domestic Violence Laws of India: The Neglected Male Side

Authored by Aarya Dubey (Intern), a 3rd-year law student at Maharashtra National Law University, Aurangabad


Domestic Violence Against Men
Representational Image

Introduction

The Indian Constitution, under Article 14 indicates that all persons are to be treated equally in the eyes of the law, without any discrimination based on caste, race, religion, place of birth or sex. It also guarantees to every person, regardless of gender, the fundamental right of protection to life and personal liberty, under Article 21, the ambit of which has been widened, as and when needed, by the Supreme Court (henceforth, SC) in a plethora of cases. The phrase ‘right to life and personal liberty’ encompasses various aspects, including but not limited to the right to livelihood, the right to free and healthy environment, the right to a safe and secure work environment, the right to a fair trial, and the right to privacy, as expounded by the SC at various instances.


Further, the Apex Court in the landmark judgement of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India held that “the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 is not limited to mere animal existence but includes the right to live with dignity.” However, despite this, the gender specificity of legislation such as those pertinent to sexual harassment, voyeurism, stalking, rape, cruelty, and domestic violence, has remained a sensitive issue leading to extensive debates and discussions for a long time. While the offences against women have been acknowledged and given due attention by the law-making institutions, the existence of deeply rooted patriarchy till date has hindered the recognition of males as victims, by society as well as the criminal justice system. 


Domestic Violence is a pattern of abusive behaviour by one person towards another, both sharing or having shared a domestic relationship with each-other. It can take many forms-- physical, emotional, sexual, economic, psychological or technological, and can manifest itself by way of physical harm, verbal abuses, intimidation, sexual coercion, or restriction of financial resources. 


While it is true that even in a progressive society of 21st century, where no limit seems unreachable to man, women are still suffering within the four walls of the so-called-haven by none other than their own family members, it is equally true that even men are not immune to offences of domestic violence or abuse. Despite the availability of statistics and data regarding the latter, no law, till date, has been in its favour. 


This article focuses on domestic violence against men, and the infringement of their fundamental rights, as guaranteed by the Constitution. It seeks to bring to light the existing lacuna in the existing domestic violence laws, which are currently women centric, advocating to make them gender-neutral, not just from the perspective of the perpetrator, but of the victim as well. 


Domestic Violence Against Men: An Insight into the Figures and Statistics

In India, where the Legislature and the Judiciary are making several commendable attempts towards attaining gender equality, and bridge any gaps between sex-based discrimination, what is indeed surprising is the neglect and indifference towards male victims of heinous offences such as sexual assault and domestic violence, to name a few. However, while there is still a patriarchal notion existing in society that men cannot be the victims of such offences, but only women, the figures have altogether a different tale to tell, a different reality to take us to. 


Domestic Violence Against Men: The Scenario Worldwide

The issue of domestic violence against men is not only endemic to one or more countries but is prevalent worldwide. While the data (2022-2023) provided by the Office for National Statistics, the United Kingdom’s largest independent producer of official Statistics, reveals that one in 3 victims of domestic abuse is a male, as per the survey carried out by the Mankind Initiative, a British organization focusing on the male victims of domestic abuse, 25% of the cases recorded by the police involve a male victim. In Bhutan, 69 out of 788 reported cases in 2023 involved male victims reaching out for assistance, and the numbers are only increasing with each passing year. The United States of America (henceforth, the USA), leading the world in almost every aspect, is not behind when it comes to the rate of domestic abuse (also known as Intimate Partner Violence or IPV) as well. Relying on the statistics (2016-2017) provided by the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, nearly 44% of all the men in the US have been victims of IPV at least once in their lifetime. While 1 in 13 men reported sexual violence, 2 in 5 reported physical violence, and 1 in 20 reported being stalked by their intimate partner. 


Having remained the happiest country for 7 consecutive years, Finland, a Nordic country, shares the same grim fate. As per a survey conducted over a period of 10 years (2012-2022), in 2022 alone, a staggering total of 11, 819 cases of domestic violence were reported. While a majority of them were women, 3, 669 were males, constituting approximately 31% of the total victims, which although much less in comparison to female victims, is a concerning figure in itself. These surveys and research are being carried out across several countries, and the data revealed by them is indeed enough testament to validate that domestic violence can happen to anyone, irrespective of sex, race, age or nationality.  


Domestic Violence Against Men- The Indian Scenario

Denial of anything does not necessarily imply its absence or non-existence. However certainly one may call global warming a mere myth or farce, there is unequivocal evidence that the Earth is warming at an unprecedented rate, not seen in the past 10, 1000 years. It seems that when humans are not willing to accept something as truth, they prefer ignorance to confrontation. 


In India, despite the data present on domestic violence against men, people are still under an impression that such offences are gender-specific with only women being the sufferers. In a study funded by the Indian Council of Medical Research, and conducted over a period of 1 year in Rohtak, Delhi, it was found that out of a sample size of 1000 males, 515 were subjected to violence by their own spouse. While the majority (49.6%) of them experienced emotional violence, physical violence (0.6%) and sexual violence (0.4%) were also reported by them. Further, as per the National Health Family Survey conducted in 2005-2006, approximately 60 lakh women have been the perpetrators of physical violence against their husbands without any provocation. However, men are more likely to face violence by the relatives and family members of their wife than the wife herself, and when such violence is taken into consideration, it accounts to an abysmal 3 crore cases of domestic violence against men in India.  


It is disheartening and heart-wrenching that although the Preamble, which was held to be considered part of the Constitution in Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala, provides for Justice and Equality, the male members of the society has long been discriminated against merely based on their sex, and denied access to justice. While domestic violence against women is criminalised and the Protection of Women From Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (henceforth, PWDVA) enacted henceforth, no such legislation exists for men. 


The Gender Specific Domestic Violence Laws vis-à-vis the Constitution 

It is settled beyond doubt that domestic violence has nothing to do with the sex of the victim. While it is unequivocally true that the majority of the casualties are women, the fact that men also are victims of the same cannot be denied in its entirety. It is indeed discriminatory on the part of men that despite them sharing a similar fate as the women victims, there exists a legal rift, with the laws only treating them as perpetrators while turning a blind eye to those cases where the victim is a man. 


Equality to All, Discrimination Against None 

Article 14 of the Constitution provides the right to equality to every person, whether citizen or not. Further, Article 15(1) prohibits any form of discrimination against any citizen based on religion, race, caste, sex, birthplace, or any of them. A society where women and men are regarded as equal partners is like a well-balanced chariot, moving steadily towards progress and prosperity. At various instances, the SC has taken important steps in eradicating the deeply ingrained roots of patriarchy in Indian society, with a view to adhere to gender equality, which is not only imperative in the progress of any country but was also the vision of the makers of the Constitution. While in Vishaka & Ors v. State Of Rajasthan, the Apex Court, citing the violation of gender-equality, laid down a detailed set of guidelines to tackle the menace of sexual harassment against women at workplaces, in Joseph Shine v. Union of India, adultery was decriminalised citing violation of Article 14 as one of the grounds. 


It must not be forgotten that discrimination is the antithesis of equality and recognition of equality in its truest sense will foster the dignity of every individual. However, the lack of acknowledgement of domestic violence against males has impacted the ability of victims to recognize their own victimization. It is true that both, the incorporation of Section 498 A in the IPC, and the enactment of PWDVA, were indeed much needed for a society where women were treated as mere chattels, and were often subjected to violence by their own husbands and family. Nevertheless, the increasing number of cases of violence against men now demands a gender-neutral stance. 


Although the State, under Article 15(3) can make any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, it ought to make reasonable classification to save such legislation from the vice of discriminatory and arbitrariness. Social, revenue and economic considerations are certainly permissible parameters in classifying a particular group. Thus, a valid classification is nothing but a valid discrimination. The non-acknowledgement of males as the victims in laws pertaining to domestic abuse clearly fails the test of Article 14. Although there exists an intelligible differentia, which is sexual orientation, they are not based on any rational nexus backed by any legitimate state purpose. The objective of such legislation should be to primarily protect the fundamental rights of the individual who not only suffers physical and mental trauma at the hands of the perpetrator but also loses self-dignity in his/her own eyes. 


It is only sad that despite the Preamble of the Constitution embodying the principles of Equality and Social Justice, the State is focusing too much on women's justice, while leaving the male victims with no legal mechanism to approach the courts of Justice. 


Domestic Violence Laws and Article 21: The Overlooked Violations

While the domestic violence laws recognize violence against a woman, which no doubt is not only a crime against such woman, but indeed a crime against humanity, and a blot on the justice delivery system, it is unfortunate that there is no legislation till date which recognizes domestic violence against a man. Although such gender-specific laws ensure women their right to dignity, bodily privacy, integrity and autonomy, men are deprived of these rights, which themselves are gender-neutral, and guaranteed to every person by the Constitution. In fact, beyond being fundamental in nature, these are basic human rights, and are also protected under Articles 1, 2, 7 & 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, of which India is also a signatory.  


There is undoubtedly a huge difference between the figures of male and female victims, however, it should be kept in mind that Indian society is essentially a patriarchal one where men are expected to behave and perceive emotions in a preconceived manner, deviating from which invites ridicule and social ostracization from other community members. Not only does this lead to issues of gender inequality, but men themselves also suffer the negative effects including Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, depression and anxiety. Even if any victim attempts to break through the shackles of stereotypes and patriarchalism, he is only left dejected and hopeless due to the absence of any such law in the country.   


Enjoyment of a quality life by the people has been upheld as the “essence of the guaranteed right under Article 21 of the Constitution,”  and not even recognizing that males could be the victims of domestic violence, is a clear violation of the aforementioned fundamental right. While the countries such as the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia, Sweden and Norway have already opted for the gender-neutral approach, it is high time that India, where the data on domestic violence against men is quite high in comparison to other countries, also acknowledges the violation of fundamental rights of men and pave way for the gender-neutral legislations. 


Conclusion

While not many surveys and studies are conducted on domestic violence against men, the data available is enough to accept its prevalence in society. However, it is only acknowledged to some extent when a high-profile case arises. One such example is when the world-renowned Hollywood actor, Johnny Depp presented evidence of domestic abuse by his ex-wife during their defamation trial. Sadly, such incidents are often taken as merely isolated events, with the popular notion still denying the involvement of a male victim. 


As society progresses, the needs and demands of people also change, and so should the law. It shouldn’t be forgotten that the law is made for the people to ensure that they enjoy their life without any unwarranted hindrance, to ensure that their rights shall not be infringed by others, including the State (except in accordance with due procedure of law), to ensure that Justice shall prevail in the society- and society, does not constitute only one sex. 


While challenges with respect to gender neutrality of domestic violence provisions exist, one cannot turn a blind eye to those victims who are genuinely at the receiving end, and seek legal assistance. It is essential to debunk the cultural beliefs and prejudices that today’s society holds against men and views them only as aggressors to almost any crime, let alone domestic violence. It is time that the legislature and the judiciary, both identify the existing lacunae in the provisions pertaining to domestic violence, and stride harmoniously towards achieving social justice and gender equality, not merely on paper, but in reality as well.

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