Female relatives and minors can now be prosecuted for harassing a woman in the family as the Supreme Court has widened the country’s domestic violence law by dropping the words “adult male” from its provisions. Earlier, complaints could only be directed towards men over 18. However, the bench said this was restrictive and that women could also be “perpetrators and abettors of domestic violence”.

Justices Kurien Joseph and Rohinton Nariman said “the microscopic difference between male and female, and adult and non-adult” was not real, substantial or even rational. They added that it is not inconceivable that older minors who are 16 or 17 could harass women in the house.

The repercussions of this change are being read in different ways. Some said this effectively means a daughter-in-law can be charged for violence towards her mother-in-law, radically changing a law that opponents said was biased towards the husband as the sole harasser. The bench, on the other hand, said this would protect women’s rights as the law envisioned, as harassment at home was often meted out by female relatives standing in for the husband as they could safely avoid punishment.

The Domestic Violence Act came into force in 2005 and pertains to the harassment of a married woman in her matrimonial home.