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Victims Of Abuse

By Mita Kapur

08 March, 2005
The Hindu

Wedding 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 fear.











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