vows are taken with hopes and dreams of a joyful future together. "Till
death do us part" does not mean "till my child finds me dead
on the kitchen floor". It does not mean "till my soul dies
a little each day".
Mala, a doctor, committed suicide after her husband slapped her before
his friends. Soni, a model and a former beauty queen, was coerced into
`entertaining other men' and locked up in a room without food for several
days. Shalini was regularly beaten up before her helpless daughters
for not cooking good meals.
The incidents are endless and figures show an alarming rise in atrocities
against women in India. Every 26 minutes a woman is molested. Every
34 minutes a rape takes place. Every 42 minutes an incident of sexual
harassment occurs. And every 93 minutes a woman is burnt alive for dowry.
The issue is not only of gender abuse, it is to recognise the right
of every individual to exist as a human being and not live as `subordinate
sex'. Violence against women is the most persuasive human rights violation
in the world today.
Opening the door on the issue is like standing on the edge of a deep
ravine vibrating with collective anguish. Where there should be outrage,
there is denial and largely passive acceptance. A recent survey by the
International Institute of Population Studies showed that 56 per cent
of Indian women believed that wife beating was justified in certain
circumstances like neglecting the house or the children, or going out
of the house without permission. The society is obviously in a state
of denial. Education, emancipation, empowerment are the mantras that
will shake the societal forces out of their stupor.
Men's brutal behaviour stems from their warped understanding of masculinity.
They are taught from the beginning to look upon themselves as the superior
sex. Anchal (26), a teacher in a government school, has filed for divorce
on grounds of physical and mental abuse. She was tortured, left hungry
for days, a prisoner in her own house because her father could not satisfy
her husband's dowry demands. Her husband, a guide, was arrested four
times for illegal extortion from foreign tourists and Anchal's father
provided the bail money each time. Anchal has lived in fear of her son
being kidnapped and the fear of losing her own life as well for the
last three years.
"Manliness" is equated with the need to control in the existing
dictatorial patriarchal system. This has been proved by the cross-border
studies conducted by the International Centre for Research on Women
(ICRW), in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Kerala, emphasising
that domestic violence cuts through caste, class, religion, age and
education. These women are victims of physical, mental, sexual and emotional
abuse regardless of their education and economic status. What about
the many voiceless, illiterate, economically handicapped women? Can
they ever hope for justice?
Twenty per cent of the cases reported in Rajasthan are of working women.
In Kerala, 30 per cent of women complained of physical abuse and 69
per cent of psychological torture. Two out of every five women in abusive
relationships suffer silently because of shame and family honour. The
lack of viable options keeps such women trapped in violent situations.
Nearly one-third of the women experiencing abuse have thought of running
away but the fear of leaving their children behind and having no place
to go restrained them. Social and economic constraints further compound
their sense of isolation. Lack of awareness and how to seek help renders
these women more vulnerable to continuing and escalating abuse. Devyani
Srivastava, who writes on gender issues said, "These women have
been brain-washed into believing that they are responsible for the violence
inflicted on them. They face so much brutality in the court, at the
hands of their families and the police because gender violence i!
s seen as a non-issue — a household affair at best." Domestic
violence can't be stopped, she felt, but the women can seek help. Women
have to refuse to become a mere statistic.
Priya, 48, married for 18 years has borne physical and emotional abuse
by her husband for the most common reason, dowry. She fears her husband
will sexually abuse her 12-year-old daughter. She has caught him trying
to get into a compromising position with the child. No one can fully
understand why the women tolerate the intolerable for so long? Do they
hope things will get better? Or do they feel that they are alone responsible
for domestic bliss; that their husbands are not equally responsible?
Yet, amid the darkness, there is light. Radha (22) was declared insane
by her husband because he loved another woman. Physically battered with
no support, she picked up the threads of her life, working as a teacher
in a private school. After attending a UNICEF Nurses Training Programme,
she works as a nurse and will complete her graduation. With 80 per cent
of husbands believing that the use of force is their birthright, the
tentacles of this menace are too deep and widespread.
For the women who turn to the law, what are the options? Apart from
Section 304(B) IPC, where the death of a woman under unnatural circumstances
is a dowry related death, she cannot take a restraining order against
her abusive mate. The Domestic Violence Against Women (Prevention and
Protection) Act could go a long way in removing insecurities from the
minds of women if its policy is TO STOP DOMESTIC VIOLENCE.
But can any law cause a change in mindset? Men have to be sensitised
into respecting women as individuals in their own right with the freedom
to live on their own terms, earn, be educated and enjoy an existence
without fear. Mothers have to teach their sons the lessons of humanity
and their daughters the lessons of self-worth and assertion. Nobel Laureate
Amartya Sen sees development as an expansion of freedoms ; from want,
hunger, exploitation and political suppression. But then assessment
of freedom should include freedom from fear as well. All other freedoms
lose their meaning unless all individuals are ensured a life without