As the United Nations and member countries observed the annual “International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women”, yesterday, 25th November I was reminded of the following disturbing real story of domestic violence, one of the many manifestations of violence against women.
There was this lady and her three young daughters working in our home doing all domestic chores including cooking. She was thin and looked famished. This family used to work in half a dozen homes and two of the younger girls were also attending a government school. A number of recovering addicts used to visit me and our discussions were on the problem of alcohol and drugs. The elder girl was very observant and realized that I had something to do with the problem. One day she came to my room and burst out crying. “Aap mere Papa ko bachaiye!” [You please save my father]. I tried to console her and asked what was wrong with her father. She said that her father never did any work and drank the whole day and night; he snatched all that the four of them earned and beat up his wife. I asked her to bring her father to meet me; but the man refused.
Some days later, the lady came rushing to our home and said that she needed urgent help from me. After beating her her husband had picked up a large knife to kill her and chased her when she ran out to the narrow bylanes of the slum. Neighbours tried to stop him and as he was in a violent mood, someone called the police and the cops picked him up and took him away to the police station and later put him behind bars. She wanted me to arrange a lawyer to get him released from jail. I refused and told her to let him be in jail for a few days. She responded, “Woh mera pati hai; pati tho Parameshwar hota hai”![he is my husband, he is God to me!].
This true story is not an isolated one. In fact a majority of women like this lady are silent victims of domestic violence which is rampant in Delhi slums and elsewhere. This may give an impression that domestic violence is prevalent only among the marginalized slum dwellers. The reality is far from this. Middle class and upper middle class homes too have plenty of such cases. The only difference is that women in such homes are now not silent but file cases against their husbands and in-laws under the provisions of the Protection of Women From Domestic Violence [PWDV] Act 2005 and once the FIRs are filed, the media picks up such stories. On the other hand, the victims of innumerable cases of domestic violence among the poorer sections of the society silently suffer with the refrain “Pati tho Parameshwar hai!”. Unless there are deaths or grave injuries to the victims, media would dismiss such stories as routine.
The provisions of the Act are too stringent for men to indulge in domestic violence. For the limited purpose of this column only a small portion of what constitutes the offences of domestic violence as enumerated in chapter2.3 [a] of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 is reproduced here:“Harms or injures or endangers the health, safety, life, limb or wellbeing, whether mental or physical, of the aggrieved person or tends to do so and includes causing physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal or emotional abuse and economic abuse.”Similarly “sexual abuse “has been explained as “any conduct of a sexual nature that abuses, humiliates, degrades or otherwise violates the dignity of a woman.”
Web portal indiatoday.in/m reported in May this year, stories about domestic violence involving young women professionals in Delhi and adds that till April15 this year 987 cases have been registered by Delhi Police against husbands and in-laws under Section 498[cruelty towards partner in marriage and 406 [criminal breach of trust] of the Indian Penal Code [IPC]. In 2018, 3416 such cases were registered by the Delhi Police. Having associated with legal literacy classes by my close associate Suneel Vatsyayan in Delhi slums [one such session in the shanty towns of Jahangirpuri, stands out in my memory] I have reasons to believe that a majority of the reported cases involve the educated gentry. Such legal literacy classes have empowered a few women to go against their husbands and not to be silent victims. The India Today story on domestic violence had quoted “shocking revelations”. What is said in a United Nations study that “home is the most dangerous place for a woman” speaks volumes about the gravity of the problem of domestic violence.
The main villain in the real story narrated in the beginning of this column is actually alcohol. Most of the cases about domestic violence I have come across during the last few decades of field work are because of the alcohol problem of the husband. We have realized that the combination of poverty and alcohol is a deadly one. Most of the daily wage earners squander their earnings on illicit brews and once drunk indulge in violence at their homes and also snatch away whatever money their wives earn. There has been an interesting WHO study on “Harm to Others from Drinking” and one would flag the issue of domestic violence as the serious harm caused to women whose husbands are irresponsible drinkers.
Last year in April when certain terrible instances of rapes were reported from Jammu and Uttar Pradesh, the United Nations Resident Coordinator in India, Yuri Afanasiev, issued a statement strongly condemning the gang rape and murder of an eight year old girl in Kathua and a 17 year old girl in Unnao.
The UN condemnation emphasizes how the international community is concerned about violence against women in our country. We have deterrent laws introduced by the Justice J.S. Verma Committee following the horrible Nirbhaya case of December 16, 2012 that shocked the collective conscience of the nation. The Committee recommended amendments to Criminal Law so as to provide for quicker trial and enhanced punishment for criminals accused of committing sexual assault against women. Following this, in 2013 the Parliament enacted “the Criminal Law [ Amendment ] Act,2013” which provides for amendment of Indian Penal Code, Indian Evidence Act and Code of Criminal Procedure,1973 on laws related to sexual offences. There is also the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences [Amendment] Act, 2019 [POCSO Act] with more stringent punishment. In 2013 Justice Usha Mehra Commission set up to suggest measures to improve women’s safety had recommended in its report that there is need for establishment of a ”one stop centre” at a notified hospital to help victims of sexual assault and ensure speedy punishments to culprits. The scheme for 36 such one stop centres [one in every state/ Union Territory] was initiated in 2015 and in May 2016, many of them were operational and such centers are envisaged all across the country in every district.
Yet another gender based violence against women in India is female foeticide which prevents the girl child from being born by destroying the female foetus being aborted. The female child is considered an economic burden on the family and 117 million girls demographically go “missing” due to sex selective abortions as claimed by the United Nations Population Fund. The skewed gender ratio In India is the fourth in the rank of such ratio with 112 males to 100 females according to CIA Fact book 2016.
A Lancet study said gender bias kills 2 lakh girls every year in India and the numbers are particularly higher in northern states of UP, Bihar, MP and Rajasthan. The reasons for this obviously are patriarchal institutions, misogyny, lack of literacy and employability of girls and the obnoxious dowry system in a male dominated society.
The problem of violence against women is extremely grave and the WHO has published many facts which are shocking.“Intimate partner violence and sexual violence is a major public health problem and a violation of women’s human rights”. Global estimates published by WHO indicate that “about one in three [35%]of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non partner sexual violence in their lifetime. Globally, as many as 38%of murders of women are committed by a male intimate partner.”
WHO has also given some of the major reasons for violence by men- “Men are more likely to perpetrate violence if they have low education, a history of child maltreatment, exposure to domestic violence against their mothers, harmful use of alcohol, unequal gender norms including attitudes, accepting of violence, and a sense of entitlement over women”.
Domestic violence befalls mostly women, but men too are victims. ”More than 830,000 men fall victims to domestic violence every year, which means every 37.8 seconds, somewhere in America a man is battered, according to the National Violence Against women Survey”.[www.webmed.com] Nearer home in Haryana, a study revealed that “52.4% of men experienced violence at the hands of their wives/ intimate partner at least once in their lifetime.”[www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
The facts and views expressed in the article are those of the writer.