India: Women's empowerment a tragic joke in a land failing to protect women against violence Print E-mail
 Volume 24 - Issue 25 :: December 22, 2007-January 04, 2008

COVER STORY

At the receiving end

India has not been able to make the lives of the majority of its women secure, let alone empower them.


Fear of the unknown

By Lyla Bavadam in Mumbai

Violent crimes against women are on the rise in Maharashtra. Crime in Maharashtra – 2006, the annual report on the State’s safety record by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), says: “It is observed that offences against women during 2006 have increased by 6.96 per cent as compared to the year 2005. Increase of 1,045 cases has been reported at the State level during 2006 as compared to 2005…. The rate of crime against women in Maharashtra (that is, number of crimes against women per lakh of population) was 14.6 during 2006. This rate of crime may not appear alarming at the outset, but it may be mentioned that due to the fear of social stigma most offences against women go unreported.”

The specific types of rising crime against women in the Sate are maternal deaths from violence, crimes against Dalit women and sex selection resulting in female foeticide. In his preface to the crime report, S.P.S. Yadav, Additional Director General of Police, C.I.D., Pune, empathetically says that the “the escalation in cases of molestation (8%), cruelty by husband and his relatives (14%), dowry deaths (14%), [and] sexual harassment (7%) underscores the need for awakening and empowering women in a progressive State like Maharashtra.” It is an unwitting irony that this very same report that calls for empowering women omits maternal deaths by violence and sex selection with a view to killing female foetuses as crimes against women.

Maternal deaths by violence

The definition of maternal mortality does not include violence as a possible cause. ‘Too far, Too little, Too late: A community-based case control study of maternal mortality in rural west Maharashtra, India’ by B.R. Ganantra, K.J. Koyaji and V.N. Rao, says that verbal autopsies from a surveillance study of all maternal deaths in over 400 villages and seven hospitals in three districts of the State revealed that 16 per cent of all deaths during pregnancy were from domestic violence.

Supporting the evidence is an analysis by the Tathapi Trust of Pune, which works on issues of women and violence. Its studies show that burns constituted the highest single cause of death in Maharashtra among women in the reproductive age group (15–34 years), accounting for 20 to 24 per cent of deaths in this age group. Most cases are reported as accidents. According to Tathapi, the rate of death of such “accidents” is much higher than from tuberculosis of the lungs or complications in pregnancy.

Tathapi also notes a disquieting trend in the reasons for violence against women in the past two or three years. For instance, Audrey Fernandes of Tathapi finds there is a strong trend of shakgene – doubting the fidelity of women – that is increasingly leading to domestic violence. A man’s unreasonable suspicion of a woman’s fidelity is definitely a form of control since it automatically demands conformity from her. This, in itself, is a form of violence even if it does not lead to physical violence.

Tathapi’s field experience notes the prevalence of shakgene “across the board in men from Pune to tribal people in Gadchiroli”. And it is not just aimed at women who work outside the house. Audrey Fernandes relates the case of a woman whose husband was so obsessed with her fidelity that he would follow his wife to the community bathroom and wait outside until she came out. When he left for work he would lock her in until he returned.

Tathapi is in the process of analysing fieldwork done on notions of masculinity. In this yet-to-be-published study it delves on ‘What are the stresses men have?’ The largest issue that caused tension related to economic matters but the second largest contributor to stress in men were matters relating to his family – specifically the behaviour of women in his family. For Tathapi, this was a point of concern because if a man did not approve of the way a woman behaved it could be the tipping point for violence.

The Institute of Health Management (IHMP), Pachod, which works at the community level and conducts training and research in women’s health issues, also analyses the reasons for violence against women. The IHMP’s main concern is prevention of domestic violence. It recently published a study on what caused the onset of violence. It conducted 30 rural interviews and 30 urban interviews looking at what provoked the violence, the societal acceptance of violence and the role of the household environment. Two clear patterns emerged from these, and both were linked to gender.

The IHMP dubbed its findings as the chukle concept. In Marathi, chukle means mistake. However, what is being labelled as a mistake in these situations of violence is actually far from the correct meaning of the word. In the way the victims use the word, it almost means: “It is a mistake to be born a woman”. Essentially, it means that the woman has committed the “mistake” of stepping out of her gender boundaries – this could be something as petty as putting less salt in the food or something as practical as refusing intercourse with her husband because she is pregnant (very common since 85 per cent of the interviewees were adolescent girls who got pregnant within their first year of marriage).

“The concept of chukle is a gender construct,” says Dr. Nandita Kapadia-Kundu of the IHMP. “Men don’t have it. But when a woman compromises her gender boundaries and steps out of them, she has committed chukle… and she pays for it with violence.” Society accepts it, the woman accepts it, and the cycle of domestic violence continues.

Interestingly, chukle does not always tip over into violence and the IHMP realised that the factor of household standards played a part in this. If, for instance, the in-laws are sensitive then chukle may not be an issue at all or its boundaries may be wider. Since chukle is a locally understood concept, the IHMP is using it as a catchword in its programme to sensitise local populations about domestic violence.

In the sugar belt

Perhaps the highest form of violence against women is to deny life because of gender. Despite laws and an increase in educational and economic levels, female foeticide is increasing in certain regions. The fact is all the more staggering because the State was the first to pass the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PNDT) Act, 1994.

In 2004, the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics in Pune was commissioned by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to examine the expansion of sonography centres and its consequences. As many as 372 sonography centres were surveyed from August to November 2004 – 69 centres owned by trained doctors or other medical personnel, 275 centres owned by untrained persons and another 28 owned by “not properly trained/qualified persons”. While the intention of the researchers, Sanjeevani Mulye and R. Nagarajan, both readers at the Institute’s Population Research Centre, was not to find out the facts about female foeticide, what emerged from their analysis was exactly these.

There were primarily two findings. The first was that sex determination tests were popular and were being carried out despite the PNDT Act. The easy availability of sonography and the willingness of doctors to misuse the technique encouraged female foeticide and caused a decline in the child sex ratio. The second was that the prosperous sugar belt of western Maharashtra accounted for the highest number of female foeticides in the State.

In Maharashtra, the child sex ratio declined by 29 points, from 946 in 1991 to 917 in 2001. The researchers say “it is not only much lower than the universal sex ratio at birth (943-952), it is also much lower than those for all the four South Indian States (Kerala 963, Andhra Pradesh 964, Karnataka 949 and Tamil Nadu 939) and Madhya Pradesh (931).”

An interesting correlation that emerged from the study is between prosperity and female foeticide. “The prosperous areas of Maharashtra have the worst sex ratios, e.g., Sangli (850), Kolhapur (859), Jalgaon (867), Aurangabad (884), Satara (884), Ahmadnagar (890), Solapur (897), Beed (898), Mumbai (898), Pune (906) and Dhule (907). The sex ratio of children in the entire Pune region is very unfavourable to females (below 900). On the contrary, the backward/tribal districts like Gadchiroli (974), Nandurbar (966), Gondiya (964) and Bhandara (958) have higher sex ratios.”

Further evidence to prove the link comes from the distribution of ultrasound sonography centres across the State. At the start of their study, the researchers found that Maharashtra had 4,345 such centres. These are unevenly distributed over 35 districts. As much as 78 per cent of the centres are located in just 46 per cent of the districts. Just six districts have half (49.8 per cent) of the sonography centres and all these districts are in western Maharashtra. The researchers conclude that this is “a clear indication of a combination of higher aspirations of sonologists and higher capacity to pay on the part of the people. The population share of these six districts in the State is 38 per cent. The point is further proved by the fact that all the districts in the central and eastern region of the State have less percentage of sonography centres than their population share. For example, Gadchiroli district with only five sonography centres has the highest child sex ratio.”

When the findings were presented to the Health Department, it “defended the doctors”, said Mulye. It is inexplicable why the government defended the illegal acts of private medical practitioners.

Audrey Fernandes draws attention to a global level critique led by the U.S. and the Netherlands on what she says is a “dangerous theory towards violence against women in India”. Some of these organisations say that because of female foeticides there is an increase in men who are young, poor and unmarried. They conjecture that these young men have high testosterone levels and this is one of the causes of violence against women. Audrey Fernandes says this argument shifts the focus away from the real reasons why people are killing female foetuses. It also trivialises the problem of violence against women.

Dalit women
Whether it is in the matter of education, literature or community pride, Dalits in Maharashtra are unique. This pattern is followed even when it comes to Dalit women. Totally aware of their rights and of the need to fight for them, Dalit women have a reputation for speaking out... and for paying for it. The most recent examples of this are Surekha and Priyanka Bhotmange, the mother and daughter who were humiliated, taunted, assaulted, raped and ultimately butchered in Khairlanji in 2006. All because they were educated, aspired for a better life and were not in awe of their upper-caste neighbours. A minor problem over access to land was used to kill the women and two male members of their family. The case is in the lower court.

In his preface to the crime report, Yadav writes, “The incidence of Khairlanji portends a worse scenario unless strenuous efforts are made to establish communal harmony.” He confirms that there is “growing crime against the members of Scheduled Castes and this is signified by the rise in murder (40%), dacoity (12%), arson (29%), [and crimes under] Prevention of Atrocities (SCs/STs) Act (35%) and Protection of Civil Rights Act (13%).” The report notes that the percentage variation in 2006 over 2005 of cases filed under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act was 62.07. The added vulnerability of Dalit women makes it a fit case for crimes against them being considered as a separate category in the State crime report. Currently, there is no such provision in the official process to record separately crimes against this especially vulnerable group.

At the national level too, India has a blemished record in preventing injustices to Dalits. A report released in February 2007 by the Centre for Human Rights and Global Justice along with Human Rights Watch said “India had failed to uphold its international legal obligations to ensure the fundamental human rights of Dalits”. The 113-page report, entitled “Hidden Apartheid: caste discrimination against India’s untouchables”, was even more hard-hitting when it came to the plight of Dalit women.

It said, “Additionally, India has failed to address the multiple forms of discrimination faced by Dalit women. Even as compared to Dalit men, Dalit women do not have equal access to employment opportunities or justice mechanisms. They must contend with threats to their personal security, including trafficking and sexual violence. In some States in India, Dalit women are forced into prostitution under the devadasi system and are ultimately auctioned off to urban brothels. This puts them at particular risk of contracting HIV/AIDS.”

India has ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), but according to the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), which monitors states’ compliance with the ICERD, India’s reports do not even mention abuses against Dalits.
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Easy prey

By Sushanta Talukdar in Guwahati

A call from the All Assam Students Union and women’s organisations for an end to violence against women, in Guwahati on November 28 (ANUPAM NATH/AP)
“I promise the above mentioned firm that I will provide my service, wherever the firm engages me, for a minimum period of consecutive 12 months and I will be liable to compensate the firm any losses which may arise out of this.

“I promise the above mentioned firm that if I leave my work before three months or demand anything it will become invalid…..”

This was part of the terms and conditions on a declaration and agreement in Hindi signed by 16-year-old Bina Tanti (real name changed to protect identity) of Paneri in northern Assam’s Darrang district with a placement firm in Delhi (a copy of which is in the possession of Frontline).

The same declaration and agreement also has another part filled by Bina’s father, in which he promised: “I am agreeable to all the terms and conditions. I have full consent in sending my daughter to work with the placement firm. If my daughter does not work for 12 months then the firm will be able to detain her for two months.” A note appended just above his signature as witness says: “If the candidate flees anywhere without coming to office, then the candidate herself will be responsible, not the firm.”

In January 2007, activists of the All Adivasi Students’ Association of Assam (AASAA) in collaboration with the Chirang-based Initiatives for Development, Education and Alternatives (IEDA), a non-governmental organisation (NGO) working against trafficking, rescued Mina and eight other Adivasi boys and girls from a Delhi-bound train at Rangiya station. They were being taken to the national capital with the promise that they would be given jobs as domestic workers. Each of the rescued boys and girls was carrying a copy of the agreement. The AASAA and the IDEA took custody of the youngsters with the help of the police at Rangiya and arranged for their return home.

Indeed, Adivasi and Bodo student bodies have often displayed this kind of vigilance against trafficking of underprivileged women of their communities. On July 25, 2006, the All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU) rescued a batch of 66 poor Bodo girls from a Gujarat-bound train at Kokrajhar railway station. Leaders of ABSU said that the girls were being lured away with promises of employment. They alleged that such girls were physically abused by traffickers and that they ended up in prostitution.

Every year, an average of 250 women and 200 girl children go missing in Assam. The actual number of trafficked women and children might be higher as many cases are not reported, senior officers of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), Assam Police, say. The police think that the women and children are sold into sexual slavery or forced into exploitative employment in States such as Haryana, Punjab, Goa and Bihar and in cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Siliguri. They fear, too, that trafficking of women and children from Assam is going to increase because of factors such as poverty, structural inequalities, unemployment and intricate relations between demand and supply in the sex market and the skewed sex ratios in States such as Punjab and Haryana.

Traffickers find easy prey in camps of internally displaced persons, people uprooted in clashes between Bodos and Adivasis, immigrant settlers of Char or riverine areas and people affected by flood and erosion. Kokrajhar district has a number of such camps. Tribal and non-tribal girls from poor families and from broken homes and widows are easily trapped. Promises of marriage and employment are the two main ploys traffickers use to trap their victims. Some of these women have been rescued and rehabilitated in their places of origin or elsewhere. But many more remain vulnerable.

Tackling the problem of trafficking of women and children, however, remains low on the list of priorities of the Assam Police. Counter-insurgency operations and maintenance of law and order take up most the police force’s attention. Between 2003 and 2006 (up to July), 28 girls were trafficked and sold outside Assam; 20 of them were rescued and 15 cases were registered. However, charge-sheets were filed in only six cases. During this period, 118 cases were registered under the Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act, 1956, in Assam and 333 persons were arrested. However, in such cases the police file cases under Section 8 of the Act which deals with seducing or soliciting for the purpose of prostitution. No effort is made to prosecute brothel owners, pimps who live on the earnings from prostitution and people engaged in trafficking.

In a media workshop in Guwahati, Ravi Kant, executive director of the Delhi-based NGO Shakti Vahini, said trafficking of women from Assam to Punjab and Haryana had been on the rise because of the skewed sex ratio in the two States. In some cases, he said, minor girls in batches of four or five, who had been trafficked from Assam, were openly put up for sale at prices ranging from Rs.10,000 to Rs.30,000 in some panchayats of Haryana. Such girls are known as Paros in Haryana.

Team leader of the Shillong-based Impulse NGO Network (INGON) Hasina Kharbhih said all the eight north-eastern States were highly vulnerable to the trafficking of children and women within the region and the country and also across the international border. She attributed the trend to poverty, exclusion of the poor and vulnerable sections from basic social and economic services, rural-to-urban migration, recurrent natural disasters, weak law enforcement combined with corruption, absence of effective and coordinated policies in addressing migration and human trafficking, and gender discrimination.

Other kinds of violence against women, such as rape and molestation, are also on the rise in Assam and the other States in the region.

“In the north-east of India, women enjoy greater mobility and visibility than women of other communities in the country. Practices such as dowry and bride burning are not very prevalent in the region. This is often cited to portray a picture of equity between men and women in the region and has given rise to the presumption that violence against women is not a major concern in the area. A report on a study conducted by North East Network, which was commissioned by the National Commission for Women (NCW), stated that “violence against women, particularly domestic violence, is on the rise in the north-east.”

The study, conducted in 2004, points to another study conducted by the Law Research Institute, Guwahati, which deals with the problem of domestic violence in Assam. This study covered police stations in the 23 districts in Assam, which reported 10,423 registered cases of violence against women (including rape, dowry, molestation and kidnapping) over 10 years. Between May 2001 and April 2006, as many as 5,094 women were raped and 4,473 were molested in Assam. Of the rape victims, 109 were minors, that is, below 18; 867 of the molestation victims were minors.

The armed conflicts in the northeastern States have taken their toll on women, who find themselves subjected to physical and mental abuse and get caught in killings and clashes. The clashes affect whole communities, but women are the hardest hit, a situation that has got a lot to do with their position in society. In clashes between communities and ethnic groups, violence against women of the enemy community or group is a common tactic. Also, there has been a resurgence of patriarchal values in the region, which has brought new restrictions on the way women move and dress. All this is compounded by the long social, economic and psychological trauma of armed conflict, the NEN study report says.

About rising crimes against women in Meghalaya, the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) says in a report that though Meghalaya has matrilineal societies, violence against women, including rape, attempt to rape and domestic violence, are on the rise. However, most of the cases go unreported. “According to State government’s statistics, 132 rape cases and 39 cases of attempted rape were registered with the police in the State capital Shillong from 2001 to 2005. Out of this, 96 cases were charge-sheeted, while 48 cases were pending investigation. However, only one person was sentenced to two years’ rigorous imprisonment for rape in the last five years,” says the report.

As in most other societies, women and children in Meghalaya get fewer opportunities and are more vulnerable than their male counterparts, said Hasina Kharbhih. She said many women from Meghalaya who got trafficked were sold into prostitution or found themselves forced into hard domestic labour or marriages.

In Tripura, too, various forms of crimes against women are on the rise. In 2002 a total of 537 cases, in 2003 a total of 572 cases, and in 2004 a total of 682 cases of violence against women were registered in the State. Between 1999 and 2005, there were 1,205 cases of crimes against women in Manipur. These included 102 rape cases, 391 kidnapping cases and 174 cases of molestation. In Mizoram, 587 cases of rape and 690 cases of outraging of modesty were reported between 1995 and 2004. Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland were no exceptions.

The rising graph of crimes against women in the region recently prompted a group of development organisations to come together on a common platform called NE Action to Stop Violence, which launched a 15-day campaign to mobilise civil society and improve awareness of violence against women. Hasina Kharbhih has proposed a “Meghalaya model”, which brings together State governments, law-enforcing agencies, the legal fraternity, the media and civil society organisations to check the trafficking of women and children. She said that following a sustained campaign through a series of State-level consultations organised by the INGON all over the region, other States had also shown interest in adopting this model, which the Meghalaya government had already adopted.
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Tip of the iceberg

By Vidya Venkat in Chennai


Baby girls left behind by parents at the cradle centre of the government hospital in Dharmapuri. An October 2, 2007 picture (N. BASHKARAN).

IN Tamil Nadu there seems to be considerable evidence to suggest that women are victims of violence at all stages of their lives, from womb to tomb. From the decline in the juvenile sex ratio (JSR) to the disturbing trends of domestic violence-induced suicides, what emerges is a continuous trend in which women get victimised for various socio-economic and cultural reasons.

To start with, Tamil Nadu has witnessed a steady decline in the JSR (of children aged 0-6) over the decades. K. Nagaraj, Professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies, says that in a “normal” society where discrimination against women does not exist, the juvenile sex ratio is expected to be higher than the sex ratio at birth as female babies have better chances of survival than male babies. Demographers estimate the universal sex ratio at birth (SRB) to be between 943 and 952 girls for every 1,000 boys. So, with female babies having better chances of survival, the JSR would ideally be above 952.

However, in Tamil Nadu the JSR, which was 985 in 1961, plunged to 948 in 1991 and dropped further to 939 in 2001. Experts say this indicates a strong discrimination against women and to sex selective abortion, female infanticide and higher female infant mortality rates. Which means many female babies are not born at all or do not survive long after birth. There is, however, also underreporting of female births, which can skew the results of surveys.

Whereas the JSR has declined sharply in urban centres in the rest of India, in Tamil Nadu such decline is high in rural areas. Ironically, rapid urbanisation and consequent economic prosperity in rural Tamil Nadu, which emerged as the most urbanised State in India in the 2001 Census, has not translated into better opportunities for survival for female babies. What it has done is to improve the access to sex-selective technology by which parents, compelled by various socio-economic factors, can eliminate the girl child.

The JSR in four districts, Salem, Dharmapuri, Madurai and Namakkal, stands below 900, which is lower than the current State average of 939. These are districts that are traditionally notorious for female infanticide. In rural Salem, the JSR increased marginally from 811 in 2001 to 872 in 2006. In rural Dharmapuri, the JSR improved from 860 in 2001 to 890 in 2006. In rural Namakkal, the JSR improved marginally from 877 in 2001 to 887 in 2006. In rural Madurai, the JSR was perched at 901.5 in 2006, only slightly higher than the 901 in 2001.

It is likely that more and more people are choosing sex-selective abortion rather than female infanticide. This trend is reflected in the rural areas of Salem and Namakkal, where the sex ratio at birth has declined sharply over three years, indicating sex-selective abortions. The sex ratio at birth in rural Salem was 902 in 2003 but dropped abysmally to 887 in 2006. In rural Namakkal, the fall was even sharper, from 901 in 2003 to 872 in 2006.

There are also indications that other districts are catching up on the trend. In 2006, the SRB was found to have declined even in those districts that had been better off earlier. For instance, in Perambalur there was a drop from 945 in 2003 to 928 in 2006; in Tuticorin, from 985 in 2003 to 930 in 2006; in Erode, from 949 in 2003 to 927 in 2006.

To arrest female infanticides, the State government introduced the “cradle baby scheme” in 1992, which allowed poor parents to leave unwanted babies at government-run baby reception centres. Now there are plans to introduce the scheme in the rest of the country under the Eleventh Plan.

Interestingly, in Dharmapuri, which has shown some improvement in JSR figures, there has been an increase in the number of babies received at the “cradle points”. In November 2007, the number of babies received at the reception centre of the Dharmapuri District Hospital crossed the “1,000 mark” and 960 of the babies were female. However, it is difficult to draw a conclusion on whether the two phenomena are linked.

Between 2000 and 2007, official data show, 2,589 babies, mostly female, were received at the “cradle points” set up by the government in districts where the scheme was popularised. Between 1992 and 1996, the cradle points received 136 babies. The sharp increase in the number of babies received since the scheme was launched is perceptible. Of the babies received in 2000-07, as many as 404 babies died, which indicates the higher risk of mortality associated with abandoned babies. Between 2000 and 2007, 1,538 babies were given up for adoption.

The logic in support of the “cradle baby scheme” is that it saves the lives of unwanted babies. But P. Phavalam, convener of Campaign against Sex Selective Abortion, says that the scheme makes destitutes of babies born female. These babies are given up for adoption when parents do not return to claim them within a stipulated time. The welfare of the adopted children is not properly monitored, P. Phavalam said.

Crime records

The missing little girls form only a part of the story. Data made available by the State Crime Records Bureau (SCRB) on the period between 2005 and October 2007 and the cases recorded under the various sections of the Indian Penal Code for “crimes against women” (rape, molestation, kidnapping and abduction, dowry death, cruelty by husbands and relatives (torture), sexual harassment, dowry prohibition) show that the safety of girls who survive to reach adulthood is not guaranteed (see table).

The data show an increase in dowry harassment and cruelty by husbands and their relatives. Figures available for registered crimes up to October 2007 show that 2,166 cases under torture, dowry prohibition (IPC 498A) and dowry deaths (IPC 304B) have been registered this year. Cases booked under the same sections in 2006 add up to 1,516. Considering the fact that such incidents happen within the confines of home and, therefore, may never reach official records, what the figures reflect could be just the tip of the iceberg.

A visit to the burns ward of the Government Kilpauk Medical College in Chennai gives a sense of how acute the problem of dowry harassment and other marital abuses could be. Though a large number of admissions to this ward come from within Chennai, the ward also receives cases referred by hospitals from nearby districts such as Vellore and Tiruvallur. Hospital staff say that most burns patients who arrive here are married women between 20 and 40; most would have attempted suicide or their relatives would have tried to kill them.

Invariably, the women and their relatives say that the burns were caused by some “accident” or “stove burst”, the doctors say. So most cases get registered as “accidents”. But many of the women who survive gradually confide to the nurses attending to them about what really happened. “Mostly it would be family problems like sustained torture by the husband or in-laws, extra-marital affairs by husbands, and so on,” said S. Selvarani, a nurse in the hospital.

A doctor at the hospital said that on an average 600 women died in the burns ward in a year. A large number of the victims come from poor working class families. “If you include the number of women who attempt suicide by consuming poison, the figures would be staggering,” he said.

Several fora discussing violence against women in the State have raised the issue of increasing domestic violence being linked to the easy availability of alcohol. At a recently held discussion on the elimination of violence against women organised by the Tamil Nadu Judicial Academy in conjunction with the United States Consulate in Chennai, trade unionist Geetha Ramakrishnan, who mobilises women workers in the unorganised sector, expressed concern over the increase in alcohol-induced male violence within homes. Despite enabling legislation such as the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, women from marginalised sections are unable to gain access to justice, she said.

Citing the instance of a woman who works as a domestic help in north Chennai, she said that when the woman approached the nearest police station to lodge a complaint about her abusive, alcoholic husband, the police officer merely quoted from an old Tamil film song: “Adikara kai thaan anaikkum” (the hands that hit would embrace too). Having “settled” the matter thus, he advised her to return home. This account was not mentioned in newspaper reports of the discussion. That Tamil Nadu saw the first case registered under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, was well publicised. (In 2006, a schoolteacher in Tirunelveli who was beaten with an umbrella by her alcoholic husband complained to the police and the man was arrested under the provisions of the Act.) But for every registered case of violence against women there are several others that remain unacknowledged and unknown.

The SCRB figures also point to increasing incidents of kidnapping and abduction of women. Such women often end up in jobs that are sexually or otherwise exploitative. In April 2007, a girl kidnapped from Chennai was rescued from Puducherry, where she had been forced into prostitution.

Trafficking

The National Crime Records Bureau report “Crime in India-2005” says that Tamil Nadu accounts for 47 per cent of the cases booked under the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act in India. The figures suggest that the State is among the “high supply zones” for sex workers

In recent years, however, concern about the spread of AIDS has brought about state crackdowns on sex workers. Sources in the police said that since 2000 a large number of cases had been booked in the drive against prostitution.

It is, however, important to mention that much of this “crackdown” resulted in a large number of sex workers being convicted under the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act, whereas pimps, brothel owners and traffickers managed to get away. V. Sithannan, Deputy Superintendent of Police and Vigilance Officer, Chennai Corporation, acknowledged this problem in his book Immoral Traffic and Prostitution in India published in 2006. He accepts that most sex workers are victims themselves, not criminals. Sithannan told Frontline that the procurement of women for sexual exploitation from Andhra Pradesh and Kerala was high, while women from Tamil Nadu were trafficked to States such as Maharashtra and Goa. Sithannan warns in his book that India could well be turning into a global transit point for immoral traffickers. Women are the chief victims.