The practices and arrangements within a family can create grounds for violence. Although we agree that family processes are important, we think that these explanations downplay the structure of families (nuclear, extended) and thereby the ways in which gender relations are organized. In this paper, domestic violence is explored as an intra-family dynamic that extends beyond the intimate partner relationship and which seeps into court rulings of cases of such violence.
Using archival data from 164 Supreme Court case decisions on domestic violence in India for the period 1995–2011, we examine both the patterns of conviction and the complexities of gender relations within the family by systematically coding the Court’s rulings.
Analysis of court rulings show that mothers-in-law were convicted in 14% cases and the husband was convicted in 41% cases. We call attention to the collective nature of the domestic violence crime in India where mothers-in-law were seldom convicted alone (3% of cases) but were more likely to be convicted along with other members of the family. Two dominant themes we discuss are the gendered nature of familial relations beyond the intimate partner relationship and the pervasiveness of such gendered relationships from the natal home to the marital family making victims of domestic violence isolated and “homeless.”
Future research may benefit from using data in addition to the judgments to consider caste and class differences in the rulings. An intersectionality perspective may add to the understanding of the interpretation of the laws by the courts.
Insights from this paper have important policy implications. As discussed in the paper, the unintended support for violence from the natal family is an indication of their powerlessness and therefore further victimization through the law will not help. It is critical that natal families re-frame their powerlessness which is often derived from their status as families with daughters. Considering that most women in India turn to their natal families first for support when they face violence in their marriages, policy must enable such families to act and utilize the law.
By examining court rulings on cases of domestic violence in India we focus on the power exerted by some women particularly within extended families which is central to understanding gender relations within institutions. These relations are legitimized by the courts in the ways they interpret the law and rule on cases.
We thank the anonymous reviewers and the editors for their insightful comments and suggestions.
Krishnan, P. and Subramaniam, M. (2015), "Gender, Domestic Violence, and Patterns of Conviction: Analysis of India’s Supreme Court Rulings
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