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“Get the f*** out of this house”. And she prepares to do just that. Because, salvaging her pride means showing him (and herself) that it is not as if she has nowhere else to go, she is not a charity case, she is not dependent on him, etc, etc.
Right? Isn’t that how most of us educated, ‘empowered’ women would react? Rather, the question is, isn’t that how we ‘should’ react? That is, preserve our dignity (whatever we have left) by showing him we need nothing of what is his?
But, what exactly are we proving by leaving our own houses? If we truly believe in equality, why is it that the house we live in is ‘his’? Why is salvaging one’s self-esteem equivalent to forsaking what we still perceive to be his? When will we start believing that that house is as much ours as theirs, as much mine as his.
And that the appropriate response is probably – “YOU get the f*** out of MY house.”
The strongest safeguard that the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 provides is the woman’s ‘Right of Residence’. The Act upholds the woman’s ‘Right to Reside’ in the shared household – come what may. Thanks to women’s rights activists and legal practitioners who worked hard to address the unique, insidious and ‘familial’ nature of domestic violence, the PWDVA recognises that the risk of losing the roof over one’s head or even the threat of being evicted is a violation of a woman’s dignity and also emotional violence of the highest order.
So much so, that no court in the land can ‘direct’ a woman to leave the shared household. It can recommend in the interests of her safety and security or even emotional and mental well-being, but it cannot direct. And this is independent of who owns the house – you retain the right to reside there till the end of your natural life. Even after divorce – unless YOU yourself renounce the right to residence.
If it is a rented accommodation, your right to reside is still guaranteed – non-payment of rent is direct economic violence. The same applies to a house for which EMIs are still being paid – non-payment of EMIs as revenge against bringing the case to court is considered grave economic violence.
But what if staying on puts you and/or your children at risk of life and limb? The law allows the woman to ask for alternative accommodation. Even when the court grants this relief, the woman does NOT lose the right to reside in the shared household. Under no circumstances can the house be disposed off, sold, renounced or encumbered without the knowledge and/or consent of the petitioner. And the law ensures no economic deprivation occurs because of taking legal recourse – the alternative accommodation HAS to be of the same standard, with the same amenities as you are used to.
Yes, this legislation ensures that women without independent means of income do not have put up with violence because they fear being thrown out. But what about women like you or me? Who can go out and buy their own houses if need be?
For us, it reinforces that being a card-carrying member of the women’s rights issues does NOT stop nor even start at professional qualifications or economic independence. It stops and starts at fighting for your rights. It starts and stops at being ready to take on mindsets – both your own and others’. It starts and stops at teaching your children that a penis is not the only guarantee of being able to call a house ‘mine’.
Dignity is not just in walking away – it is in standing our ground. It is in fighting for our right to live in the houses we made homes. It is in exercising our option to walk into an alternative accommodation if we so wish – head held high. Because it is our right as a wife, mother, daughter or sister and, as a survivor of domestic violence. As for aspersions and accusations of being a gold-digger, shelter is a basic right.
I can hear you ask – so what if the law, the courts or even I recognise this right? Who will help me protect this? Will the police? All I can tell you is that in my personal experience, they did. I would not go so far as to write paeans about their understanding of the rights of a woman inside their own heads – and I talk about the lower-ranking officers here – but I did get help and support from my local police station when I needed it. While it may often boil down to the mindset of the Officer-in Charge, there is definite growth in police awareness about this aspect of the PWDVA.
If economic independence failed to protect you from violence – physical, emotional or economic, let your education now empower you to fight. And fight hard. Fear not, you have the law with you.
About the Author: Sukanya Das writes columns and contributes articles for leading magazines and newspapers when she gets time off from playing mom to her 6-year-old son. She gets panic attacks if she finds herself without a book and cannot imagine life without dancing.
Image Source: seanleoryan