Defining Domestic Violence and Women's Autonomy in Law

Geetanjali Gangoli, Gopika Solanki

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This paper explores the complex relationship between Indian feminism and the law and legal systems, as reflected in the recent (2015) Bombay High Court judgment on domestic violence. It is divided into two sections. The first section looks at feminist interventions in marital disputes and domestic violence through grassroots efforts, and outlines the multidimensional and hybrid feminist understandings of domestic violence, discusses change strategies and ethical principles that underpinned their action, and address the enactment of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (PWDVA) as one such strategy against domestic violence. This section also focuses on feminist dilemmas and foregrounds the issue of women’s autonomy in situations of domestic violence. The mainstreaming of feminist legal interventions through the PWDVA has brought new challenges for feminists and the second section discusses this issue by focusing on judicial intervention in deciding the boundary of counselling and mediation practices by protection officers under the PWDVA. We suggest that as seen in the 2015 judgement, while the judiciary has upheld some aspects of feminist practice and disallowed reconciliation in situations of serious physical domestic violence, its over-emphasis on equating physical violence with domestic violence and its protectionist stance has limited women’s autonomy and gone against feminist counselling principles and politics undergirding feminist interventions in situations of domestic violence. We suggest that this judgment can be read as a dialogue within a section of feminist groups in India who endorse feminist political ideals of liberty, individual rights, and equality and seek to institutionalize these within the law. This paper is an analytical and interpretive piece and not an empirical inquiry into legal practice or a survey of case law developments of the PWDVA. It focuses on normative questions of theoretical and policy relevance arising from feminist engagements with law.
Original languageEnglish
Article number3
Pages (from-to)51-80
Number of pages30
JournalSocio-Legal Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 28 Aug 2016


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