Mira first met him when she was 19. He did have a temper, but it was never towards her - just toward other people who were a threat to him or his family. They had a few scuffles before they were married. After a disagreement, he even broke her window. Not long into their marriage, however, the blows began to be directed at her. The first time he hit her, it was just a slap across her face. Before long, he began to kick and beat her more violently. One night he returned home late, drunk. When Mira asked him where he had been, he jumped up off the sofa and came at her like a madman. He had her by the throat, pushed up against a wall and beat her. She attempted to escape, but fell hard. Two months into her pregnancy, she suffered a miscarriage. “This was the moment I realised I was in for trouble. What could I do? I couldn’t leave him; I had to make my marriage work. I felt despaired and trapped, and the only course of action I could see was to keep appeasing him, and avoid the fighting. After every incident, he swears that it will never happen again.”
It has been six years. Mira continues to conceal carefully-covered bruises, under bright Chinese collars and a not-quite-there smile.
Her story is not as far away from you as you’d like to imagine. Like Mira, an overwhelming 1 in 3 women in India face domestic violence. These are women we know - colleagues who sit at desks beside us, women who sweep our homes daily, our best friend’s mothers’ — even some of us reading this article.
This International Day of the Girl Child - started by the UN in 2011 and celebrated globally to recognize the rights of girls on October 11 every year- it is necessary to highlight the need to empower women and girls, and help to end the violence that they face. The violent gang-rape of Nirbhaya in 2012 has drawn significant attention to violence against women in the public space. But 50% of all crimes against women in India occur in the sanctity of our homes. Domestic violence is the most pervasive and least-recognized human rights violations in the world and it’s time we started talking about it just as voraciously.
This article highlights the issue of domestic violence in India; introduces a game-changing law that aims to protect victims of this violence and empowers you with resources to access safe spaces, support groups, and to better negotiate a violent situation at home for yourself - or for somebody that you know.
I. But First, What Does Domestic Violence Mean To You?
“When I was growing up, there was no such crime as domestic violence, it was called life.”
Not surprisingly, India is home to some of the most inequitable attitudes towards women. UNICEF’s recent ‘Global report card on adolescents 2012’ reveals that in India, a shocking 57% of boys and 53% of girls aged between 15 and 19 believe that wife-beating is acceptable.
“When we talk of domestic violence, somehow the word ‘domestic’ before the word ‘violence’ makes it lose its severity. Yet all of society is affected by the ripple effect that begins behind closed doors”, said Suman Nalva, Additional Deputy Commissioner of Police, Delhi. Domestic violence is pervasive. It is an issue that cuts across caste, class, religion and geography. For far too long, this issue has been callously cast aside as a “ghar ka mamla”(household issue). But with at least 170 million Indian women facing some form of emotional, sexual, financial or physical abuse, domestic violence is more than just a ‘women’s issue’- it is a public health problem of epidemic proportions.
II. What Constitutes Domestic Violence?
Physical ViolenceSexual ViolenceEmotional AbuseControlling BehavioursSlapping, HittingKickingBeatingForced Sexual Intercourse, Other forms of sexual coercionInsults, Constant HumiliationIntimidationThreats of HarmThreatens to take children awayIsolation from Family and Friends, Monitoring MovementsRestricting access to:-financial resources-employment-education-healthcare
Besides the pernicious physical consequences, the impact of domestic violence on the mental health of women is jarring– 75% of Indian women who reported domestic violence have attempted suicide. Yet, over half of these women remain silent about their suffering – exacerbated by a lack of support from family and friends and the fear of intensified violence, loss of her children and overwhelming societal stigma.
It is time, now, to speak up.
III. Know Your Rights…
“It’s very important that we understand how justified, concealed [and] rationalized this deepest form of violence truly is. We’re not going to have a peaceful and democratic society until we have peaceful and democratic families.”
In 2005, India passed a landmark act – The Protection of Women against Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA) A victim-oriented, civil law, the PWDVA recognizes domestic violence by a live-in partner , a spouse, or a member of the family, as a punishable offense. What is unique about this law is that it focuses on empowering the woman, rather than punishing the perpetrator (through imprisonment or fines - which had, in the past deterred women from coming forward, for fear of sending their husband to jail) Under it’s purview, women can now access remedies - protection orders (which are similar to injunctions or restraining orders), residence orders (which are used to prevent a woman from being evicted from a shared household), monetary relief (for medical expenses, loss of earnings, damage to property), and custody orders (which grant a woman temporary custody of her children)
The PWDVA has been heralded a strong law in theory, but as with much of India, its implementation on the ground is extremely poor.
A number of non-profits are plugging these gaps by offering counselling services, legal and medical aid, access to the justice system and protection to women who come forward – days and even years later- for support, refuge and redressal.
IV. …Now Use Them
“I re-started my life at 35 - Traumatized and fearful, I left a violent marriage of 10 years with 2 children, a daughter, then 9 and a son, then 5. My beautiful little daughter had become quiet and withdrawn, and my son had stopped speaking completely.”
It may be harder to step forward and confront domestic violence as a member of an upper-middle class family. The pressure to maintain a “good home” is immense. Irrespective of your class, it is crucial that you know that you are not alone. Speak up to your family, reach out to a friend, and seek help from an organization. It is never too late to break the cycle of violence!
Here is what you can do if you are, or know a victim of domestic violence:
A. Be Aware
For a basic understanding of your rights, Breakthrough is the organization to turn to. It makes effective use of mass media and interactive training to make us more aware of violence against women. Breakthrough’s largest campaign, ‘Bell Bajao’, easily accessible through a simple YouTube search, breaks down the PWDVA, makes it easy to digest. In doing so, it empowers men and women across the board to be more aware of the rights and protections they can avail of.
B. Seek Healthcare
Dilaasa, a crisis centre for women established by the Center for Enquiry into Health and Allied Themes (CEHAT), is a hospital-based crisis intervention department designed to respond to your needs, as a woman facing domestic violence. There are currently two crisis centres at the Bhabha Hospitals in Mumbai, where women are counseled and supported. It also provides you with any medical aid you might need. Women who face extreme restrictions on their mobility by their abuser find it easier to come to Dilaasa on the pretext of a hospital visit.
Another non-profit, SNEHA has established a crisis counselling centre in the Chota Sion Hospital in Mumbai. The centre acts quickly to arrange medical care and temporary shelter for you if necessary, provides you with immediate and long-term counselling, and facilitates interventions at a variety of levels, including with the police and legal services.
C. Seek Police Intervention
The Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) has established its own special cells in police stations. Trained counselors from TISS are present at these special cells, located in 40 police stations across Maharashtra. If your first point of contact after violence is a police station, a TISS counselor will provide you with immediate counseling and other support services. Through this development of a strategic alliance with the police, TISS helps you navigate through a male-dominated law enforcement system, and leverages the gravity and intimidation from being located within a police station, as a deterrent to the perpetrators of violence. TISS has also set up similar cells in Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana and Gujarat.
D. Seek Justice
The justice system in India is intimidating. Majlis helps you navigate your way through this web. Based in Mumbai, Majlis can help you to take your case to court. Made up of all women lawyers, they will represent you in Family, Magistrate, Sessions and High Courts. They will break down the law for you, advise you on your legal rights, and seek to secure maintenance, residences, compensation and protection for you, as your case may be.
“It is time for all of us to assume our responsibility to go beyond condemning this behaviour, to taking concrete steps to end it, to make it sociably unacceptable, to recognize it is not cultural, it is criminal.”- Hillary Clinton
For more information on the issue, and how to confront domestic violence, refer to Dasra’s report on domestic violence in India -http://bit.ly/SWl0Zy
Words: Mriganka Lulla