Feb 17, 2009
As my tears flowed... (Chapter 3)
This was just another one of those depressing stories we read in the newspapers almost every day. Savita Kasture lives with her three children in Ulhasnagar, a depressing industrial township on the outskirts of Mumbai. Some months back, her husband left home without explanation. Savita was forced to find work and also to borrow money from her neighbours for her survival. Then, one day, without offering any explanation about his disappearance, her husband returned. On learning that Savita had taken up a job - something that he had forbidden her to do - he flew into a rage. While she slept next to him that night, he cut off her nose and then threatened to kill their two children.
This may sound like a scene straight out of those tacky Bollywood films which are churned out by the dozen. Unfortunately, it is the actual experience of a very real and very ordinary woman. It comes as a rude reminder of the extent to which women encounter violence within the ostensibly 'safe' walls of their homes every single day. Women are good at compromise. Victims of domestic violence say that compromise brings peace to the household. But peace at what cost? Victims of domestic violence also say they suffer in silence 'for the sake of the children'. But the children will grow up following the same pattern. Women often say, "We only fought after the children went to sleep, so they don’t know anything." Children always know - sometimes more than adults.
No one speaks of it. Women suffer it in silence. They are schooled to believe that ultimately it is their fault, and their fate. Behind the closed doors of a home, women are abused - physically, emotionally, verbally. But these stories rarely make it to the public domain because the victims themselves will refuse to speak. They will think there is no option but to keep quiet and accept. Marriages are made in heaven, they say. But for millions of married women, it is living hell on earth.
When the police caught Savita's husband and questioned him, he admitted to the crime and said, "My wife disobeyed my instructions and I decided to teach her a lesson." That is the key - 'teach her a lesson'. Men continue to teach women 'lessons' by raping them, beating them, torturing them or simply murdering them - the same women that they are supposed to love and cherish. The awful reality of the growing violence against women worldwide is that half of the women who die from homicides are killed by their current or former husbands or partners. Moreover, nearly one out of every four women in the world experience sexual violence by an intimate partner at least once in their lifetimes.
Every year, November 25 is regarded as the International Day against Violence Against Women. Worldwide, women's groups use the fortnight from that date onwards to put forward evidence about the reality of violence in women's lives and advocate strategies to confront and end this violence. But despite years of such campaigns, the statistics do not present a very encouraging picture. According to UNIFEM and other surveys, in countries ranging from rich to poor, women's experience of violence is almost identical.
In India, the National Crime Records Bureau (2000) reports that there are 480 cases of crimes against women reported every day. Also, there are 45 reported cases of rape and 19 reported cases of dowry deaths every day. The word 'reported' is of much significance here, because these numbers are but the tip of the actual iceberg formed by such violent acts. Statistics reveal that every hour five women face cruelty at home and there are four cases of molestation reported every hour.
Not any more. For, even if Indian society has failed its women on many counts, we can now celebrate the fact that India is one of the few countries around the world that recognises that domestic violence is a violation of the human rights of women. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, which was notified on 25 October 2006, is path breaking in more ways than one. Most significant perhaps is its definition of 'domestic violence' as spelt out in Chapter II of the Act. All forms of abuse - physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, economic - are defined as 'domestic violence' by this law. It offers women victims of such violence civil remedies of a kind not available to them earlier.
Till now, women could use Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code to file a complaint against an abusive spouse. But this did not give the woman the right to, among other things, stay on in her marital home or demand a maintenance if thrown out or seek protection orders from the abusive partner. The law now provides her these civil remedies that are as important as the punishment provided under the law for committing the offence.
Violence-free homes make violence-free communities. They would make a difference to boys as much as to girls. Surely boys who grow up seeing the kind of violence as carried out by Savita's husband could decide the norm in how to treat 'your' woman. Reason being, behind the violence is a mentality of possession, of ownership, of a belief that men know best what is good for women, and that women must silently obey - or face the consequences. Whether it is honour killings, dowry deaths, wife beating or disfiguration, the motivation is identical - a desire to assert power and full control over another person.
As my tears flowed, I realised that the statistical graph of violence against women will continue to climb steadily until we can find a way to crack this belief in male superiority - in the undiluted conviction in millions of men that they were born to rule, to control, to be obeyed.