Law review

Twelve years since the Domestic Violence Act, how well do protection officers help women in need?

The majority of domestic violence victims prefer to report their cases through a private lawyer instead of a free, state-appointed protection officer.

For the first 14 years of her marriage, Amina (name changed) had a satisfactory life. A teacher from a Mumbai suburb, she earned a decent living at school and cared for her husband and three children at home. But things changed in 2007 when her husband unexpectedly lost his job. As he grew insecure and resentful of his working wife, Amina found herself at the receiving end of increasing emotional and mental abuse. Over the years, he also abused her physically.

In 2010, distraught by her husband’s threats of throwing her and the children out of their house, Amina finally drew up the courage to step out and seek justice. Her first stop was the local police station, where she sought to report the domestic violence. On multiple occasions, the police would note down her complaint, detain her husband for a night and let him go the next morning.

With the help of a friend, Amina then reached out to Majlis, a feminist legal aid organisation in Mumbai. Following the processes of the Domestic Violence Act, the lawyers at Majlis drafted a domestic incident report, or a DIR, recording the specific incidences of violence that Amina had faced. They filed an application in the local magistrate’s court and after numerous ups and downs, in January 2012, the court passed interim orders in Amina’s favour. The order gave Amina and her children the right to live in their home, and directed her husband to pay her Rs 6,000 per month as maintenance for their children.

Under the Domestic Violence Act, a court can appoint a protection officer to enforce its orders. The protection officer is a special post created to serve as a liaison between victims of domestic violence and the system. But when Amina was assigned one such officer, she realised that the process would not be as smooth as the law made it appear.

Amina had to make multiple phone calls to reach the protection officer to secure an appointment. She turned up at the officer’s zonal office on the scheduled day and time, only to wait for over an hour. For Majlis, this was a familiar story. “Given our past experience where victims are made to wait indefinitely, we asked Amina to directly call the DWCD officer [the protection officer’s boss],” said Audrey D’Mello, a lawyer at Majlis.

Calling the District Women and Child Development officer proved effective for Amina, who finally received the protection officer’s help to enforce the court’s orders. Her case is now close to conclusion, but had she not received help from an established social organisation like Majlis, her experience with the protection officer could have been much more unpleasant.

“Protection officers are often missing from office under the guise of field work, and ask women to visit repeatedly,” said D’Mello. “They often lack sensitivity and make victims run from pillar to post.”

According to Majlis, such problems are the reason why the majority of domestic violence victims prefer to report their cases through a private lawyer instead of a free, state-appointed protection officer.

Who are protection officers?

The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act was introduced in 2005 after women’s groups campaigned for nearly two decades for a law that recognises forms of domestic violence beyond dowry harassment. It is a pioneering law because it recognises not just physical violence against women, but also emotional, verbal, sexual and economic violence. It recognises that women can be abused in any kind of domestic relationship, and that they have a right to live a life free from such violence.

The law is also unique because it does not compel women to file criminal cases of domestic violence. Even without a police case, a complaint under the Domestic Violence Act enables a woman to seek protection, maintenance, custody of children, compensation and rights to a “shared household”.

The post of the protection officer is one of the most crucial provisions of the Domestic Violence Act. It is meant to help aggrieved women connect with the courts, the police and various support services. According to the rules prescribed under the Act, state governments must appoint at least one protection officer in the jurisdiction of every judicial magistrate. Protection officers can be members of either government or non-governmental organisations, with at least three years of experience in the social sector, but they must preferably be women.

Approaching a protection officer is not compulsory for any woman trying to file a domestic violence complaint – she has the option of directly approaching a magistrate through a lawyer. However, if a complainant first approaches the police, a court, a hospital, shelter home or non-governmental organisation, these stakeholders are required to put the woman in touch with a protection officer.

The officer’s primary duty is to inform the woman of her rights and prepare a detailed domestic incident report. It is the protection officer’s job to ensure that the woman and her children are not victimised or pressurised during the filing of the domestic incident report, and are connected with medical, shelter home and other support services. If the court orders it, the protection officer is also expected to conduct home visits, write economic status reports and help the woman regain custody of her children or belongings from the abusive home.

While the duties of protection officers are clearly chalked out in the Domestic Violence Act, their functioning on the ground is riddled with problems that often make the experience of reporting violence more harrowing for women.

Different states, different rules

The Domestic Violence Act may have been introduced 12 years ago, but the implementation of its provisions was not taken up uniformly across the country.

In Maharashtra, consistent advocacy by social work organisations like the Tata Institute of Social Sciences has ensured that the government has now appointed as many as 216 permanent, full-time protection officers across the state, with their own zonal offices and assistants. To qualify for the post in Maharashtra, protection officers are required to be graduates who must also clear a special entrance test.

But in many other states, protection officers were not appointed even years after the Act came into force. Today, everything from their qualifications to the nature of their appointments can differ from state to state.

“Sometimes protection officers are law graduates, in some cases they are undergraduate degree holders, sometimes they are experienced social workers,” said a spokesperson from Lawyers Collective, a human rights and legal aid organisation headquartered in Delhi. “The number of POs [protection officers] also depends from state to state. Some have very few POs while other states have too many people given that responsibility.”

According to Jagori, an organisation that offers support services to women, Delhi has a glaring gap between the number of protection officers appointed – one for each of its 11 districts – and the number of domestic violence cases the state has to deal with. “At least 25 DV [domestic violence] cases are heard in Delhi courts every day,” said a Jagori spokesperson who wished to remain anonymous. “Despite this, POs [protection officers] work part-time, not full-time. And they are also given other responsibilities by the Women and Child Development department.”

Under the Domestic Violence Act, protection officers are meant to be full-time workers, but Delhi is not the only state where this rule is flouted. In Chhattisgarh, protection officers are often lawyers hired on a part-time, contractual basis.

Attention divided

This is not the only problem, however. Even if protection officers are full-time government officials, they are rarely allowed to devote their complete attention to cases of domestic violence.

In many states, existing government officials are burdened with the additional charge of being protection officers. “For example in Rajasthan, the CDPO [Child Development Protection Officer] is given the additional responsibility of a PO [protection officer],” said the Lawyers Collective spokesperson.

Other states like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Delhi, West Bengal, Haryana and Tamil Nadu have appointed independent protection officers, whose primary job is supposed to be handling domestic violence cases, but they too are often loaded with secondary responsibilities.

A protection officer in Maharashtra, who did not wish to be identified, did not deny that she and her colleagues perform other government duties outside the purview of the Domestic Violence Act. “We do other government work too, but if there is an emergency domestic violence case that needs immediate attention, of course that will be our priority,” the protection officer said.

For victims of domestic violence, the divided attention of protection officers means that they face undue delays in the process of filing a complaint. “On some occasions, just filling and submitting the main form has taken 60 days,” said D’Mello of Majlis, referring to her experiences with protection officers in Mumbai.

But delays are not the only reason why many women approach private lawyers instead of protection officers to file domestic violence complaints.

A ‘save the family’ attitude

To begin with, most people are not even aware of the existence of protection officers. Since violence is typically regarded as a criminal offence, the first stop for most women is the police station. And the police is either unaware of protection officers themselves, or end up filing a criminal case of cruelty under Section 498A – if they do file a case at all.

“Most people who come to the police station with domestic violence complaints end up wanting to settle their cases off-paper,” said a female police officer at Mumbai’s Bandra police station, under the condition of anonymity. “Women ask us to lock up their husbands for a night, and then go back to them. If we beat the husbands, the women themselves ask us to stop after a while. They are Indian wives after all.”

According to this police officer, the few women who do want to take their cases forward usually don’t want the police to refer them to a protection officer. “I don’t know why, but they trust private lawyers more.”

D’Mello has list of reasons to explain why women are weary of going to protection officers. She said that some protection officers are themselves not clear about the procedures under the law. “They ask for documents when not needed, and don’t interact with necessary stakeholders,” said D’Mello. “The quality of the direct incident reports is often not good enough.”

Besides, not all of them fulfil their role of making home visits or draw up economic status reports properly. They often don’t have information on jobs, vocational courses and other services women may need. “Maharashtra has appointed a large number of POs [protection officers] and spent a lot of money for their infrastructure, but where is the accountability?”

In addition to all these specific problems, there is also the larger attitudinal problem that plagues the Domestic Violence Act. D’Mello describes the Act as a “make the marriage work” law, where the state is often more concerned about preserving the Indian family than the condition of the woman. Protection officers, then, are not exempt from the attitude. “Because of their ‘save the family’ attitude, they don’t always file women’s complaints,” she said.

We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

Behind the garb of wealth and success, white collar criminals are hiding in plain sight

Understanding the forces that motivate leaders to become fraudsters.

Most con artists are very easy to like; the ones that belong to the corporate society, even more so. The Jordan Belforts of the world are confident, sharp and can smooth-talk their way into convincing people to bend at their will. For years, Harshad Mehta, a practiced con-artist, employed all-of-the-above to earn the sobriquet “big bull” on Dalaal Street. In 1992, the stockbroker used the pump and dump technique, explained later, to falsely inflate the Sensex from 1,194 points to 4,467. It was only after the scam that journalist Sucheta Dalal, acting on a tip-off, broke the story exposing how he fraudulently dipped into the banking system to finance a boom that manipulated the stock market.


In her book ‘The confidence game’, Maria Konnikova observes that con artists are expert storytellers - “When a story is plausible, we often assume it’s true.” Harshad Mehta’s story was an endearing rags-to-riches tale in which an insurance agent turned stockbroker flourished based on his skill and knowledge of the market. For years, he gave hope to marketmen that they too could one day live in a 15,000 sq.ft. posh apartment with a swimming pool in upmarket Worli.

One such marketman was Ketan Parekh who took over Dalaal Street after the arrest of Harshad Mehta. Ketan Parekh kept a low profile and broke character only to celebrate milestones such as reaching Rs. 100 crore in net worth, for which he threw a lavish bash with a star-studded guest-list to show off his wealth and connections. Ketan Parekh, a trainee in Harshad Mehta’s company, used the same infamous pump-and-dump scheme to make his riches. In that, he first used false bank documents to buy high stakes in shares that would inflate the stock prices of certain companies. The rise in stock prices lured in other institutional investors, further increasing the price of the stock. Once the price was high, Ketan dumped these stocks making huge profits and causing the stock market to take a tumble since it was propped up on misleading share prices. Ketan Parekh was later implicated in the 2001 securities scam and is serving a 14-years SEBI ban. The tactics employed by Harshad Mehta and Ketan Parekh were similar, in that they found a loophole in the system and took advantage of it to accumulate an obscene amount of wealth.


Call it greed, addiction or smarts, the 1992 and 2001 Securities Scams, for the first time, revealed the magnitude of white collar crimes in India. To fill the gaps exposed through these scams, the Securities Laws Act 1995 widened SEBI’s jurisdiction and allowed it to regulate depositories, FIIs, venture capital funds and credit-rating agencies. SEBI further received greater autonomy to penalise capital market violations with a fine of Rs 10 lakhs.

Despite an empowered regulatory body, the next white-collar crime struck India’s capital market with a massive blow. In a confession letter, Ramalinga Raju, ex-chairman of Satyam Computers convicted of criminal conspiracy and financial fraud, disclosed that Satyam’s balance sheets were cooked up to show an excess of revenues amounting to Rs. 7,000 crore. This accounting fraud allowed the chairman to keep the share prices of the company high. The deception, once revealed to unsuspecting board members and shareholders, made the company’s stock prices crash, with the investors losing as much as Rs. 14,000 crores. The crash of India’s fourth largest software services company is often likened to the bankruptcy of Enron - both companies achieved dizzying heights but collapsed to the ground taking their shareholders with them. Ramalinga Raju wrote in his letter “it was like riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten”, implying that even after the realisation of consequences of the crime, it was impossible for him to rectify it.

It is theorised that white-collar crimes like these are highly rationalised. The motivation for the crime can be linked to the strain theory developed by Robert K Merton who stated that society puts pressure on individuals to achieve socially accepted goals (the importance of money, social status etc.). Not having the means to achieve those goals leads individuals to commit crimes.

Take the case of the executive who spent nine years in McKinsey as managing director and thereafter on the corporate and non-profit boards of Goldman Sachs, Procter & Gamble, American Airlines, and Harvard Business School. Rajat Gupta was a figure of success. Furthermore, his commitment to philanthropy added an additional layer of credibility to his image. He created the American India Foundation which brought in millions of dollars in philanthropic contributions from NRIs to development programs across the country. Rajat Gupta’s descent started during the investigation on Raj Rajaratnam, a Sri-Lankan hedge fund manager accused of insider trading. Convicted for leaking confidential information about Warren Buffet’s sizeable investment plans for Goldman Sachs to Raj Rajaratnam, Rajat Gupta was found guilty of conspiracy and three counts of securities fraud. Safe to say, Mr. Gupta’s philanthropic work did not sway the jury.


The people discussed above have one thing in common - each one of them was well respected and celebrated for their industry prowess and social standing, but got sucked down a path of non-violent crime. The question remains - Why are individuals at successful positions willing to risk it all? The book Why They Do It: Inside the mind of the White-Collar Criminal based on a research by Eugene Soltes reveals a startling insight. Soltes spoke to fifty white collar criminals to understand their motivations behind the crimes. Like most of us, Soltes expected the workings of a calculated and greedy mind behind the crimes, something that could separate them from regular people. However, the results were surprisingly unnerving. According to the research, most of the executives who committed crimes made decisions the way we all do–on the basis of their intuitions and gut feelings. They often didn’t realise the consequences of their action and got caught in the flow of making more money.


The arena of white collar crimes is full of commanding players with large and complex personalities. Billions, starring Damien Lewis and Paul Giamatti, captures the undercurrents of Wall Street and delivers a high-octane ‘ruthless attorney vs wealthy kingpin’ drama. The show looks at the fine line between success and fraud in the stock market. Bobby Axelrod, the hedge fund kingpin, skilfully walks on this fine line like a tightrope walker, making it difficult for Chuck Rhoades, a US attorney, to build a case against him.

If financial drama is your thing, then block your weekend for Billions. You can catch it on Hotstar Premium, a platform that offers a wide collection of popular and Emmy-winning shows such as Game of Thrones, Modern Family and This Is Us, in addition to live sports coverage, and movies. To subscribe, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.