Coercive Control as an Offense Puppet on a String
The time is ripe for individuals to realize their worth, lest the innocent continue to be crucified in the name of hollow principles, ideals and rotten societal norms...
"Until you realize how easy it is for your mind to be manipulated, you remain the puppet of someone else's game ."1
The foundation of any domestic relationship is based, inter alia, on the principles of trust, Afaith, honesty, compassion, affection, mutual respect, etc. Though physical and psychological availability are necessary for family ties to build and endure, however, it is equally imperative that none of the participants feels encumbered due to the abusive conduct of the other(s). Indian cultural and societal standards often advocate for a certain degree of compromise and accommodation for the sustenance of such relationships. Unfortunately, in a majority of these cases, renouncements are demanded more out of women, in comparison to men. Such disparate expectations perceptibly result in the subjugation of a few members of the family for the happiness of another few. Regrettably, in a majority of such cases, the suppressed is forced to accept his/ her misfortune in the name of the 'so-called societal norms' and under fear of breaking apart the household bonds in case these expectations are not fulfilled. Under such circumstances, therefore, it is easy to comprehend that the oppressed is compelled to endure several years of physical and mental abuse, sometimes culminating only with the expiration of his or her lifespan.
In the year 2015, a new offence namely; 'controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship' was created under Section 76 of the United Kingdom's Serious Crime Act, 2015 ("2015 Act"). This Section provides for penalizing2 a person who repeatedly or continuously engages in the behaviour, which is controlling or coercive, towards another person/victim. It is further envisaged under the said Section that at the time of engagement into such behaviour, the accused/offender and the victim must be personally connected, the behaviour must have a serious effect on the victim and that the accused/offender, must know or ought to know that his/her behaviour will have a serious effect on the victim. As per Section 76(2) of the 2015 Act, the offender and the victim are considered to be personally connected in case the said persons are or have previously been in an intimate personal relationship or live together as members of the same family. Section 76(6) of the said enactment further clarifies that the offender and the victim are considered as members of the same family in case they; are/or have been, married to each other; are/ or have been, civil partners of each other; are relatives; have agreed to marry one another (whether or not the agreement has been terminated); have entered into a civil partnership agreement (whether or not the agreement has been terminated); are both parents of the same child; or; have, or have had, parental responsibility for the same child. Further, as per Section 76(4) of the 2015 Act, a behaviour is said to have a serious effect on the victim in case it causes fear to the victim on at least two occasions to the effect that violence will be used against such victim, or it causes serious alarm or distress to the victim, which has a substantial adverse effect on the victim's usual day-to-day activities. The only exception3 to the same being that the victim in the cases where the person accused of such offence is responsible for the victim for the purposes of Part 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 19334 and that the victim in such cases is under the age of sixteen years.
The object behind the introduction of the said provision can be reasonably deduced to tackle a situation where a victim may not have undergone physical torture, rather, has been subjected to mental abuse and humiliation, which may result into equal adverse effects on the health of such victim. Indian Courts while dealing with the cases of domestic abuse/violence have consistently recognized5 that the cruelty need not always be physical. Rather, mental torture or abnormal behaviour may, as per Courts, may also amount to cruelty or harassment in appropriate cases. Pertinent to note that the provision under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 ("IPC") dealing with cruelty against a woman by her husband or the relative(s) of the husband are provided under Section 498A of the said Code. As per the said provision, "Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine". Under the said provision, 'cruelty' is stipulated as any willful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) of the woman or the harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand. It is well recognized6 that the object of introduction of the said provision under the statute was, inter alia, to curb the menace of dowry and dowry-related deaths and harassment of women in matrimonial homes. Significantly, the provisions of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 ("DV Act") provide statutory protection7 to victims of violence in the domestic sector who had no proprietary rights so that the civil law protection could not be availed by them. As per the provisions of the said enactment, orders in the nature of maintenance, custody, compensation may be passed in favour of an aggrieved person8. Section 3 of the DV Act, inter alia, includes mental harm or injury within the meaning of domestic violence. Pertinently, though, the provisions are women-centric and are not available to men, however, the Hon'ble Supreme Court9 has clarified that these provisions may be invoked against a women perpetrator of domestic violence. As per the Hon'ble Court, "physical abuse, verbal abuse, emotional abuse and economic abuse can all be by women against other women. Even sexual abuse may, in a given fact circumstance, be by one woman on another. Section 3, therefore, in tune with the general object of the Act, seeks to outlaw domestic violence of any kind against a woman, and is gender-neutral."
Indian Law further penalizes abetment to suicide under Section 306 IPC with imprisonment, of either description, for a term which may extend to ten years, along with fine. While dealing with the scope of the provisions of Section 306 IPC, the Hon'ble Supreme Court in Gurcharan Singh v. State of Punjab10 observed, "To constitute abetment, the intention and involvement of the accused to aid or instigate the commission of suicide is imperative. Any severance or absence of any of these constituents would militate against this indictment. The remoteness of the culpable acts or omissions rooted in the intention of the accused to actualize the suicide would fall short as well of the offence of abetment essential to attract the punitive mandate of Section 306 IPC. Contiguity, continuity, culpability and complicity of the indictable acts or omission are the concomitant indices of abetment. Section 306 IPC, thus criminalizes the sustained incitement for suicide." Similarly, abetment of suicide of any person who is under eighteen years of age or delirious or insane or an idiot or in a state of intoxication is punishable with death or imprisonment for life, or imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years, along with fine. At the same time, Section 24 of the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007 penalizes the exposure and abandonment of senior citizen with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three months or fine which may extend to five thousand rupees or with both. Under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, a commission of penetrative sexual assault on a child by any person leading, inter alia, causing the child to become mentally ill as defined under clause (b) of Section 2 of the Mental Health Act, 1987 is defined as the aggravated penetrative sexual assault under Section 5 of the said enactment, punishable in terms of Section 6 thereof.
Clearly, the above provisions under the Indian Law are largely fragmented, primarily (and understandably so) women-centric and seem inadequate to cater to all the situations of coercive control and compulsive behaviours. Especially the Indian penal provisions are not akin to the provisions under the Serious Crimes Act, 2005 of the United Kingdom, which caters to a wide variety of circumstances. Indian Law still seems to be wanting on provisions which penalize mental abuse in cases where the victims of such abuse are children, elderly and other persons related to an abuser due to some of the other family ties. Under such circumstances, it seems quite feasible that appropriate enactment is brought in place so as to prove deterrent on such perpetrators of mental abuse. At the same time, a change is required in the societal attitude by training individuals, be it a girl or a boy, to accept themselves and shun any form of mental or physical abuse, notwithstanding in the name of family. Often the strength of the perpetrator comes from the silence and suffering of the victim. Therefore, the time is ripe for individuals to realize their worth, lest the innocent continue to be crucified in the names of hollow principles, ideals and rotten societal norms. As a timeless saying11 goes, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." Therefore, it is extremely imminent that silence is broken at last and the subdued voices are afforded a platform for expression. It is only when the cumulative voices and the State acknowledge the plight of these victims, no longer would they be forced to dance to the tunes of their abusive puppeteers. not be availed by them. As per