Violence against women continues to be a major concern in India. In light of the recent case where a women committed suicide and the husband is facing a seven-year jail sentence for touring her, the Supreme Court made many observations. A bench of justices K S Radhakrishnan and Dipak Misra said, “A daughter-in-law is to be treated as a member of the family with warmth and affection and not as a stranger with respectable and ignoble indifference. She should not be treated as a house maid. No impression should be given that she can be thrown out of her matrimonial home at any time.”
Domestic violence or Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is a worldwide phenomenon. However, there’s been an alarming number of cases of domestic violence in India since the last decade. Although most societies look down upon domestic violence, in India it is often endorsed under the disguise of cultural practices, collective norms or religious beliefs. Indian families tend to view marriage as a private affair, much like the law did before the 2005 Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act. Before this law, there was little legal respite for the victims of domestic violence. Even to this day, marital rape is not recognised by the act. In India, domestic violence or IPV manifests in many ways - physical abuse, emotional trauma, sexual violence, honour-killings or dowry deaths.
According to the National Family and Health Survey in 2005, total lifetime prevalence of domestic violence was 33.5% and 8.5% for sexual violence among women aged 15–49. The 2012 National Crime Records Bureau report of India states a reported crime rate of 46 per 100,000, rape rate of 2 per 100,000, dowry homicide rate of 0.7 per 100,000 and the rate of domestic cruelty by husband or his relatives as 5.9 per 100,000. The numbers seem significantly lower when compared to many countries but that can be largely attributed to the problem of under-reporting in India due to the fear of family and the shame and stigma in the society. According the Global Report Card on Adolescents published by UNICEF in 2012, 57% of boys and 53% of girls in India think a husband is justified in hitting or beating his wife. A more recent study in 2015 has also shown that 1 in 10 child deaths under the age of 1 in India can be attributed to domestic violence against the mother during the marriage.
Domestic violence or Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is a worldwide phenomenon. However, there’s been an alarming number of cases of domestic violence in India since the last decade.
The Supreme Court bench further added, “It is a matter of grave concern and shame that brides are burned or otherwise their life-sparks are extinguished by torture, both physical and mental, because of demand of dowry and insatiable greed and sometimes, sans demand of dowry, because of cruelty and harassment meted out to the nascent brides, treating them with total insensitivity, destroying their desire to live and forcing them to commit suicide, a brutal self-humiliation of life.”
Curbing domestic abuse would have major benefits not just for the health of mothers; it would also help in lowering child mortality rates and curb violence within the wider society. Government initiatives aimed at improving gender equality will definitely be helpful in achieving this, but fundamentally, we need to reassess how our society values women in general.
The author is Associate Fellow of HEA and Academic Researcher at Anglia Ruskin University