Domestic Abuse: A Right Granted by Society?

What is domestic abuse? Is it limited to a wife being abused by her husband or in-laws?

Domestic violence is commonly misunderstood as the violence which is prevalent only in a marital relationship. Contrary to this, The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 covers all the females who have been physically, verbally and emotionally, economically, and sexually abused irrespective of their age or relationship they have with the abuser in a shared household. This includes a wife, widow, single woman, daughter, sister, mother and other women living in nature of marriage with the abuser. A complaint can be filed against both males and females[1].

“According to the UNFPA, about 70% of Indian women in the age group of 15-49 face domestic violence. The third round of the Indian National Family Health Survey (NFHS) conducted in 2005-06 recorded that 39.7 per cent of ever-married women aged 15-49 years face some form of domestic violence.”[2] More recently, a study by the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW) reported that 52% of its female respondents in India had faced some form of domestic violence ever in their lives, while 60% of male respondents admitted to having perpetrated violence on women.[3]

As per UNICEF, domestic violence is a result of several complex, interconnected and institutionalized social and cultural factors which are long-established manifestations of unequal power relations between women and men.[4] What makes domestic violence even more grave is that it is perpetrated within the ‘safety’ of homes, by people who are related to women (e.g. intimate partners and/or relatives) who are socialized to endure in silence or even rationalize it.[5] This deep-rooted patriarchal mindset in Indian society is further supported by many retrograde customs like dowry, patrilineal descent, and disinheritance of daughters along with a set idea of duties and conduct of a ‘good woman’.[6]

“In a study in rural Gujarat, women often attributed an outburst of violence against them to proximate causes or precipitating triggers, terming them as “mistakes” women made in running the household. These included delays in preparing meals on time (66%), not cooking meals properly (51%), not caring for the children properly (48%), and economic stress (48%). They also reported that any attempts to resist violence by verbally defending their action further aggravated the violence.”[7]

(Nari Adalat case proceeding. Image Courtesy: Jagori Grameen)

As a service provider under the 2005 Act, Jagori Rural Charitable Trust organizes Nari Adalats (community women’s courts) once every week in Lunj block, Rakkar of Dharmshala block, Shahpur block, and Thural block of the Kangra District. Most of the time, the organization receives more complaints regarding abuse cases in a marital relationship than any other relationship. An aggrieved woman generally approaches the Nari Adalat only when they have been abused multiple times for months or years. In the majority of the cases, the cases are filed against a husband for his aggressive behavior and physical violence. Then, the cases are filed against the in-laws for providing passive support to the alleged abuser. A sense of entitlement and ego amongst the husbands is commonly the core of the problem. Further, despite knowing the mistakes of their son, the family generally completely support his actions and assassinate the character of their daughter-in-law.

(Nari Adalat case proceeding. Image Courtesy: Austin Cope)

In most of the marital cases, the parents of the aggrieved person try to resolve the dispute because they strongly believe that their daughter now belongs to the marital family. This further perpetuates the matter and deeply affects the mental health of the aggrieved person as she is forced to stay with the abuser. This attitude of the parents towards their daughter has led to the death of two females whose cases were ongoing in the Nari Adalat. Only when the parents strongly feel that further violence will lead to the death of their daughter, they agree to take her home. However, there is a ray of hope. Some parents prefer to take care of their daughter and remarry her instead of forcing her to stay with the alleged abuser.

Sometimes, when the aggrieved women are made to feel that they don’t belong to their natal family anymore, they prefer to stay alone with their child, if they have any, instead of divorcing the husband. The predominant inhibiting factor here is the time and money consuming litigation process. They expect the husbands to provide them with proper separate shelter and maintenance.

However, the husbands and the in-laws are completely against providing maintenance and shelter to the woman. They often say, “If she wants to end the marriage, why should we pay for her expenses and even if we have to pay then it is better that she stays with us.” I’ve observed that women are socially defined as inferior; husbands are assumed to “own” their wives and think themselves entitled to dominate them by methods including the use of force.[8]

One of the major problems which contribute to the unfortunate state of these women is the lack of education and lack of work opportunities here. Although levels of wife-beating are unacceptably high in all groups, the women who are not beaten tend to be better educated, to have married somewhat later, and to have more control over economic resources than other women.[9]

Himachal Pradesh is one of the most developed states in the country, yet the women in these hilly areas are suffering a lot. This might not be reflective in the criminal records as most of these cases are either not disclosed and reported by the aggrieved women, or go unreported as certain authorities including the Gram Sabha, Police, Protection Officers, and the Service providers mediate the matter in an authorized or unauthorized manner.

Although the Act allows the service providers to mediate domestic violence, mediating an offence of abuse normalizes the crime and forces the woman to capitulate to the abuser all throughout her life. This part of the Act is reflective of the patriarchal mindset of the society, which feels that it is more important to protect the institution of marriage than to protect the individuals themselves. This makes the institution shallower, and the individuals (women, children, and men) bear the cost. That cost further adds to the misery, which the institution of marriage proudly displays as an accomplishment.

There is an urgent need for taking domestic violence cases seriously and spreading awareness about the law amongst the stakeholders. The law should aim at punishing the perpetrators instead of protecting the institution of marriage through mediation and putting the aggrieved female in a further vulnerable position.

References: 

[1] Hiral P. Harsola v. Kusum Narottamdas Harsora, (2016) 10 SCC 165.

[2]Arpan Tulsyan, Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005: Lessons from a Decade of Implementation, pp.4, Oxfam India, October 2016.

[3] Masculinity, Son Preference & Intimate Partner Violence, by Priya Nanda, Abishek Gautam, Ravi Verma, Sanjay Kumar and Dhanashri Brahme, 2013.

[4]Innocenti Digest, No. 6, June 2000, UNICEF, http://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/pdf/digest6e.pdf

[5] Supra 2.

[6] Ibid, pp. 11-12.

[7] Leela Visaria, Violence against Women in India: Evidence from Rural Gujarat, Gujarat Institute of Development Studies and ICRW, 1999.

[8] Shireen J Jejeebhoy, Rebecca J Cook, State accountability for wife-beating: the Indian challenge, The LANCET, pp. 10, Vol. 349, March 1997.

[9] Ibid.

Ayushi is serving as an American India Foundation (AIF) Clinton Fellow with Jagori Rural Charitable Trust, Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh. For her Fellowship project, she is assessing the implementation of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 with respect to the role played by the Protection officers in the Kangra district and the Himachal Pradesh state government. Ayushi completed her B.Com LL.B. (Hons.) in 2019. She believes that the world would be a happier place to live in if we learned to treat all living beings with humanity and basic dignity, irrespective of our biological and psychological differences, belief systems, and distinct genetic makeup. Through the AIF Clinton Fellowship, she will be working with issues related to female education and child marriage. She wishes to help the women and the LGBTQIA+ in utilizing their innate power and channelizing that energy in breaking societal chains, gaining inner liberty, and happiness. In order to educate herself with the realities, she studied subjects such as law and social transformation, liberty, equality and justice, and completed a credit course on comparative human rights. She interned at the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy and at the Centre for Civil Society under Fellowship91 in New Delhi, and the Alternative Law Forum in Bengaluru. She visited villages in Madhya Pradesh to understand the difficulties faced due to water scarcity. She enjoys writing blogs and research papers and has written on several issues related to drug usage as a criminal justice problem or a health problem, lawyers becoming casualties of their profession, homosexual marriages, sin taxation analyzing the taxes payable by prostitutes in India, and hate speech and freedom of speech and expression. In her free time, she enjoys listening to music, singing, writing poems, and reading books.

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