India: Women subjected to unconscionable levels of male violence, both on the street & domestically Print E-mail
 Sunday Magazine ~~ March 8, 2009

THE OTHER HALF

This must stop

BY  KALPANA SHARMA

Despite our claims to progress, the grim reality is that women continue to face violence inside and outside the home.

A distant dream for some: A violence-free home? (AP)

On International Women’s Day, Indian women have every right to call for a halt ­ to violence, to intimidation, to threats, to insults that are so quickly becoming the norm. I had hoped that I would be able to write something celebratory t his year. But there is just too much bad news that overshadows even the positive developments taking place in many corners of India.

The media reported these incidents in brief. They did not merit the attention that the Mangalore pub attack of January 24 elicited. The goons who hit out at these individual women did not take along television crews. But on just one day, February 17, in three different locations in the so-called “international” city of Bangalore, women who were minding their own business and just going about doing what any citizen is entitled to do ­ go to work, walk on the street, take public transport ­ were suddenly pounced upon by men who spat on them, hit them, chased them, hurled insults at them and even tried to pull off their clothes.

Two men on a motorcycle followed one of these women in her car in the afternoon in a crowded part of the city. They spat on her and forced her to stop. She ran into a building to escape them. They followed her and stopped only when she shouted back at them in their own language, Kannada. But as they left, they threatened her saying they had noted her car’s licence plate number.

Four men accosted another woman as she walked on the road at 10 in the morning. They attacked her, accusing her of being part of the Pink Chaddi Campaign by women who challenged the Sri Ram Sene and their Right-wing agenda. She was saved because an army van stopped and two soldiers intervened.

On the same day, a third woman, a young woman filmmaker was attacked. The men chased her to an auto-rickshaw and tried to drag her out. She managed to escape and registered a complaint with the police. And on February 28, a woman journalist on her way home from an assignment was punched on her face as she was getting into an auto-rickshaw. It just happened that on that particular day, these women had worn “western” clothing.

Distressing indifference

What is even more distressing about these incidents is that even though people saw what was happening, no one, except the two soldiers, intervened. They just watched.

What is happening to our society? Why are we breeding a combination of indifference and cowardly violence? How do we bring a halt to this?

Bangalore women are incensed and have launched the Fearless Karnataka campaign to fight against this onslaught from men who are so cowardly that they pick on individual women who are in no position to fight back. But this is a campaign that should be mirrored all over this country. Today it is women in Karnataka who are being targeted. Tomorrow it will be women in any other city or town in this country. While the safety of women in the public space has been a concern in many cities, this new aspect of being deliberately targeted by men who want to inject fear and keep women at home is a new and disturbing development.

The other face of violence is what women face even within the ostensible safety of their homes. Two recent studies have reiterated the extent to which Indian women face domestic violence, a fact already established by two consecutive National Family Health Surveys.

The study by the Indian Institute of Population Studies and the Population Council assembles more evidence that establishes the extent of violence women face in their marital homes. Based on interviews with 8,052 married men and 13,912 married women in the age group of 15 to 29 years in six States ­ Bihar, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu ­ the study notes levels of violence ranging from as high as 30 per cent in Bihar to 18 per cent in Rajasthan.

The study defines physical violence in specific terms, consisting of any of the following: twisting arm, pulling hair, pushing, shaking or throwing something at the woman, punching with fist or something else, kicking, dragging or beating up, attempting to choke or burn on purpose, threatening attack with knife, gun or any other weapon. And sexual violence as forced sex anytime during the course of marriage including the first night.

Continuing evidence
Women registered a lifetime experience ranging from 18 to 30 per cent of physical violence and between a third and half of them spoke of forced sex including on the wedding night. Women usually bear all this in silence. They do not revolt until it is too late ­ when they are grievously injured or even die.

Deaths amongst young women due to fire-related injuries could be six times higher than official estimates. Prachi Sanghavi, Kavi Bhalla and Veena Das, in their study released in the respected international medical journal, The Lancet, have used national hospital registry data for urban areas and a representative survey of causes of death for rural areas to arrive at this conclusion. Looking at fire-related deaths in specific age groups, the researchers estimate that there were 68,000 urban deaths and 95,000 rural deaths caused by fire in 2001, a total of 1.63 lakhs. Of these, 1.06 lakhs, or 65 per cent, were women. And more than half of these were women between 15 and 34 years of age. There could be other explanations for these deaths but the probability that many of these women were injured or died due to dowry harassment or domestic violence is not a far-fetched conclusion.

Studies and data simply confirm what we already know: that despite so-called “progress” on many fronts, women in India continue to be subjected to unconscionable levels of violence – on the street and at home. This has to stop.