43.4 percent Indian women suffer cruelty by husband and relatives: Report
Geetanjali Minhas | December 24, 2012
While globally one in three women is beaten, coerced into sex or abused by an intimate partner during her lifetime, women aged 15-44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence. Half of all women who die from homicide are killed by their current or former husbands or partners.
In India, while large majority of cases are not reported (rate of incidence of crime against women per lakh was 2.1), nearly two out of five married women experience physical or sexual violence. Only one in four abused women seek help while only 2 percent ask for police help.
As many as 43.4 percent women in India suffered cruelty by husbands and relatives in 2011 followed by molestation (18.8%), kidnapping and abduction (15.6%), rape (10.6%), dowry deaths (3.8%) and sexual harassment (3.7%).
While cases of cruelty by husband and relatives (Sec 498-A, IPC) shot up from 75,930 in 2007 to 99,135 in 2011, those of molestation (Sec 354) went up from 38,734 to 42,968 during the same period. Kidnapping and abduction (Sec 363 to 373) shot up from 20,416 in 2007 to 35,565 in 2011 and dowry deaths increased from 8,093 in 2007 to 8,618 in 2011.
As many as 39% of married women between the ages of 15 and 49 had experienced physical, sexual or emotional violence in their current marriage, while in Mumbai 19.3% women had experienced spousal violence. Domestic violence is the highest among the city’s lower classes, it is pervasive and spans across all socio-economic classes affecting women across race, caste, class, ethnicity, religion and educational backgrounds.
Only 10.4% cases of cruelty by husband and relatives underwent trail by the courts of law in 2011 and conviction was done in mere 8.3% cases. At 16.5%, conviction was the highest for the crime classified as importation of girls and the lowest for indecent representation of women at 4%.
According to the findings of the study, “Domestic Violence as a Women’s Health Issue: Role of Primary Prevention conducted by ORF Mumbai say that violence is an ultimate resource used to derive power within relationships,” while men in authority and powerful positions are known to inflict violence on their spouses those lacking power and authority in their work environment are more likely to resort to violence to achieve power in their relationship.
Experiments during the study reveal that for some women leaving the relationship to face the hostile world outside with minimal finances, no source of income and shelter and keeping herself safe from other men who might take advantage of her vulnerability prevent many women from leaving the husband’s home. The fear of not finding a partner who will not physically harm her prevents a woman from moving on. Battering in a relationship leaves deep emotional and psychological pain shattering her self-esteem and confidence.
Further the findings say that effectiveness of the legal framework in India to stop violence against women is hit by cultural issues, denial of domestic violence and embarrassment of reporting such cases contribute to larger incidents. As many as 70% of females of domestic violence in India believe their physical abuse was justified. For the perpetrator, institutionalized acceptance of violence against women reinforces learned response of acceptance of certain level of battering, provided it is occurring for socially acceptable reasons like punishment.
Field experiments during the study revealed that violent behavior is often justified as being done in the name of teaching woman a lesson. Most battered women said contrary to their expectation that assaults would eventually stop, the battery only increased and in cycles of violence despite apology and remorse on part of the man.
Lacunae in Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA), 2005
Analyzing the landmark PWDVA, aimed at improving the situation of women in India and which includes not just physical but verbal, emotional, sexual and economic abuse allowing women civil and criminal recourse for violation of act in an expansive definition, provides protection to and embraces relationships based on consanguinity, marriage, adoption and cohabitation, it says, “lackluster implementation of PWDVA by the state government and stakeholders has created many gaps”.
The most significant limitation is the civil character of the act – that does not allow criminal punishment for men who engage in domestic violence. Therefore even after the enactment of PWDVA women are left with only anti-cruelty and dowry death provisions of the IPC under which to bring criminal charges for domestic violence. Without giving the woman the right to freedom from violence, it provides only an interim relief by providing protection and other temporary orders designed to give them time to women so they can evaluate their options during which time her right to reside in her home is protected. After this period, the act does not provide any protection to victims.
Further pointing to lapses on part of the government and its poor implementation the report says that as against provisions of Section 11 of PWDVA that provide that “government shall take all measures to ensure that the provisions of the act are given wide publicity through the public media including television, radio and print media at regular intervals”, on ground there is poor awareness because of lack of dissemination of information regarding the act. Gender sensitization training that has to be given to protection officers and magistrates is not carried out as frequently and effectively as it should be.
Recommending Indian litigators, individuals and third parties to use International Human Rights Treaties to which India is a party for filing public interest litigations (PILs) in support of PWDVA and bringing to light existing gaps between the act and ground reality the report advocates use of international treaties for individual litigants after other remedies under PWDVA and IPC have been exhausted.
Though law in India provides for equal rights to own property, traditional beliefs prevent women from owning or inheriting property by families. The study recommends women’s entitlement to property rights by giving them ownership to husband’s property. In addition to enactment of a law providing for joint ownership of property by spouses acquired during marriage as preventive steps for domestic violence, it also suggests implementation of a law to educate women on title and rights of ownership when a woman inherits or otherwise acquires title to property.
Lamenting the fact that Maharashtra does not have separate allocation of budget for PWDVA, it damns the government for utter neglect and lack of funds for shelter homes that are to be provided by the centre to state governments for women in distress for lack of functionality and operation. As of 2011, 117 shelter homes had been notified of their responsibilities by the Maharashtra government.
Navjeevan Sudhar Kendra, a government shelter home in Mankhurd, was termed ‘living hell’ by a Bombay High Court constituted committee recently. Evidence of men breaking into the home and sexually abusing inmates has been corroborated by the committee along with details of unhygienic living conditions, lack of adequate, palatable and nutritious food, open defecation and urination by women due to toilets being locked at night. Sixty-six percent inmates were found severely depressed while a similar number of women displayed suicidal tendencies. One woman committed suicide in March 2012.
Further, it points that though under PWDVA medical facilitators and, medical centres have a responsibility towards victims of domestic violence, most medical facilitators are unaware of their mandated roles and there are no regulatory measures in place to ensure their adherence. “Where in 2011, government hospitals and medical facilities in most states have been notified of their standing as medical facilities in Maharashtra, no notifications have come from the department of public health and the department of women and children has not published for such action to be taken,” it says.
“Though by appointing 3,774 protection officers the state government is leading in other aspect of PWDVA, in effect, people appointed as protection officers including sub-divisional officers, tehsildars, naib tehsildars, block development officers, extension officers, district women and child development officers and counselors at 16 counseling centers are unaware of their responsibilities under the PWDVA. Police officers and magistrates may also possess a similar unfamiliarity with the issue. Despite the Maharashtra government allocating substantial funds for conducting training and capacity building sessions for stakeholders many remain ill equipped to fulfill their capacities under the law.”
Taking note of the fact that despite large no of gaps exist in implementation of the act, the report praises NGOs and MCGM for investigating and attempting to fill these loopholes in multi sectoral collaboration as outlined in PWDVA. (MCGM provides space and resources at the municipal Savitribai Phule Gender Resource Centre (SGPRC) to NGOs for delegation of development and implementation of primary prevention initiatives in addition to hosting and organizing workshops to equip NGOs for same.
Despite mandates of the law for various institutional responses for protection of domestic violence victims, social norms that dictate everyday living reality of women, lack of alternatives, in accessibility to her natal home after marriage and acute knowledge deficit add to her inability to face the world outside four walls of her house despite PWDVA in place.
Asking for an immediate need to address domestic violence pre-emptively, the study by Payal Tiwari and Hannah Stone says, “mentioned trends indicate that current interventions are not preventing new cases. Because of slow implementation, PWDVA has failed to be an effective deterrent.”
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