Domestic violence is a reality in many families around the world. Since I come from a relatively secure environment I am nothing short of appalled by the fact of domestic violence. I used to think that this was a problem mainly in developing regions and among uneducated people but stood corrected once I became sensitive to ground realities. According to the global estimates published by the World Health Organization, 1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime. Domestic violence isn’t something that happens merely in purely and if I may add, harshly, patriarchal structures, but also in so called progressive cultures. It is as much of a problem in America as it is in India, although the levels and kinds of interventions may differ. Domestic violence is a sad occurrence for it reveals the lack of respect and honour given to women not only in society at large but within the boundaries of their own homes!
The National Crime Records Bureau reveal that a crime against a woman is committed every three minutes; a woman is raped every 29 minutes; a dowry death occurs every 77 minutes, and one case of cruelty committed by either the husband or relative of the husband occurs every nine minutes. This occurs despite the fact that women in India are legally protected from domestic abuse under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005. The Act provides a definition of domestic violence that is comprehensive and includes all forms of physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, and economic violence, and covers both actual acts of such violence as well as threats of violence. Despite having such systems in place, domestic violence still continues to carry on its demonic existence within families.
In the case of domestic violence, the victim is usually the woman who is perceived to be subservient to her male counterpart. According to the National Family Health Survey – 4 (2016) conducted by the Union health ministry, every third woman, since the age of 15, has faced domestic violence in various forms. The survey reveals that 27 percent of women have experienced physical violence since the age of 15 in India. These are pretty disturbing figures. It doesn’t matter that such cases are more common in rural areas than in urban ones. The cause of concern here is that something as demeaning and barbaric as this is even occurring in our country. India’s listing according to a report by Thomson Reuters, as the “fourth most dangerous country” in the world for women doesn’t help our cause. No country is without its flaws but for a country that worships women deities… it doesn’t speak very well about us.
When we think of domestic violence, we are prone to think that husbands are the primary perpetrators. While this is true to a certain extent it is not the only offender. 31 percent of married women, according to the survey, have experienced physical, sexual, or emotional violence from their spouses. While married women are prone to receive trouble mostly from their husbands besides other family members like in-laws, unmarried women have also reported physical violence mostly from their mothers or step-mothers (56%), fathers or step-fathers (33%), sisters or brothers (27%), and teachers (15%).
As if this wasn’t enough to sour the mood, the surveyors discovered a chilling fact: Women in India are supportive of domestic violence! Yes, you read that right. Data shows that women between the ages of 40-49 were most supportive of domestic violence, with 54.8% in agreement. The percentage justifying abuse is surprisingly only marginally lesser among younger women. 47.7% of girls between the age of 15-19 agreed with domestic violence. 54.4% of rural women agreed with domestic abuse while 46.8% of urban women supported it.
Take a minute. Go over the numbers again and think about what they have to say. The Indian family is definitely not a healthy place. Nearly 50% of families are marred by domestic abuse be it from husbands, parents, in-laws, siblings, children or other relatives. This brought home to me the grave situation our country’s women are in. For most of my life, domestic violence was something I read about in the newspaper or watched on television. But after listening to a colleague who shared her experience of domestic abuse, I couldn’t ignore its ugly existence any more.
This got me thinking: How can we prevent domestic abuse from taking place? Education has a pivotal role to play in alleviating this somber situation. The main distinguishing factor in acceptance of domestic violence is education, much more than income, or even age. The report stated that instances of domestic violence, including physical and sexual violence decreases sharply with schooling and education. Cases of physical or even sexual violence are significantly lesser among educated people than among un-educated ones. But this alone is not enough.
A legal framework is set up to tackle issues of domestic violence but often such issues don’t make it to the court or even to the police because of the culture of conservatism and shame that is attached to them. However, women need to be made aware that there is the strong arm of the law behind them. Numerous NGO’s are working around the clock to ensure that women’s rights are met and their grievances heard. Domestic abuse is a blot on any society’s character and concerted efforts must be made to erase it all together. The way ahead is tough and the battle has already begun. But have the soldiers prepared for the war? The side-effects of domestic abuse as well as those of external interventions are numerous and threaten the overall fabric of the family and society but justice must be done. How and by whom are important and urgent questions but if each one can take the bold step to prevent and/or address abuse appropriately, they would be playing no small in restoring the integrity of society’s character.