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.

16 comments:

Indian Home Maker said...

You know who can break this chain? Us mothers. I am a staunch believer of the power that mothers have in changing a whole new generations way of thinking.

The hand that rocks the cradle can truly rock the world.

Surbhi said...

IHM:
I dunno. Its you and I who are aware of our rights and those of our children. What about the women (mothers too) who think its okay to commit and/or bear atrocities because (a) they are women and this is supposed to happen to all women and (b) this has been happening forever so it must be okay. That is what is most dangerous. What do we do about that?

Indian Home Maker said...

Surbhi awareness campaigns like Bell Bajao, on DD.
TV serials make an impact, so serials like Pukar, Udaan ...
To a small degree movies like Delhi-6, Lajja, Astitva ... books and newspapers do not have the same affect, but I guess every bit counts.
But even education without massive awareness campaigns will be of no use... just thinking aloud Surbhi. I know it won't be easy but most women will welcome equality and freedom from violence, freedom from insecurity and bias. So I am sure empowerment will be welcomed.

@lankr1ta said...

Surbhi
This is an excellent job you are doing showcasing these stories. These ases of abuse need to e showcased.

It would also be an excellent idea to acknowledge the sources.

http://members.shaw.ca/pdg/buried-alive.html

http://chora.virtualave.net/pakistan-women.htm

http://www.hindu.com/mag/2003/11/30/stories/2003113000180300.htm

Surbhi said...

IHM:
Sorry if I sound cynical and pessimistic, but the campaigns and serials that you mention hardly have any reach. And even if they do, people are just not bothered. I mean, they'll appreciate and applaud, but never be a part of it themselves. I saw this during the PCC, when some of my friends were very enthusiastic when they heard others participating, but equally reluctant to donate their own pink chaddis. And they're all educated smart people from fairly affluent homes with all luxuries in life.
Tell me, IHM, how many people would watch "Astitva" or "Udaan" as compared to "Vivaah" or "Kyunki..." etc.? The latter has a fan following that far exceeds that of the former. Unfortunately, this is a ground reality we face. I guess we can do our bit and hope that it works.

Surbhi said...

Alankrita:
Thanks a ton. I'm sorry, I should have acknowledged the sources. Thanks for pointing that out as well.

roop said...

you can acknowledge now, Sur. in fact all past three posts. word to word.

i hear ya when you say:
the campaigns and serials that you mention hardly have any reach. And even if they do, people are just not bothered.

aye aye.

Solilo said...

"November 25 is regarded as the International Day against Violence Against Women"

It is sad that there needs to be a day for this.

I think it is for parents to teach girls to stand up against any violence. Earlier when girls complained of abuse and violent nature of husband and in-laws, parents used to insist that she somehow make it work. Now in this day and age, what parents can do is to educate daughters and make them independent. Also make them confident enough to not take any abuse. All our TV shows are so regressive. I think it spoils the whole system.

It won't be any wonder if we get more Kiranjit Ahluwalias who burned her abusive husband in sleep.

Surbhi said...

Roop:
:)

Surbhi said...

Solilo:
If we need to have a day that tells people not to kill their daughters (Daughters' Day), then I think this day is needed too.
The whole issue stems, again, from the fact that (a) daughter is seen as a commodity not as a person and is called 'paraya dhan' or 'sasural ki amaanat' and all such crap, and (b) daughter will go to her husband's home so parents feel detached from her. It is all about changing this basic mentality to one that says - she's our daughter in addition to (not despite) being his wife and their daughter-in-law.

Solilo said...

Surbhi, This whole married off to another family needs to stop.

A girl needn't go to any new family. She and the boy needs to start a new family of their own. Why should girls be forced to serve boys' family?

I am a strong believer of nuclear families.

BTW if you are interested in doing a post for 'No gender inequality' for Women's Day please let us know.

Love reading your thought-provoking posts.

Surbhi said...

Solilo:
Me too - I strongly advocate nuclear families. But my parents think I'll be better off with the guy's parents coz I can't balance home with work and would later need someone to take care of my kid while I work. I simply tink it is a gross intrusion in my privacy to have my husband's parents around, even though it would mean some much-needed support around the house.
Anyway, I'm definitel interested in writing for "No Gender Equality" for Women's Day. Thanks so much for considering me. I'm humbled. :)
Thanks also for all the generous compliments. I feel honoured. :)

Tarun Goel said...

Cut the nose of his own wife!!!
What will he do then cut her fingers, arms?
What is happening here??Have people gone mad or are they getting back to the primitive ages

Surbhi said...

Tarun:
Just go back and read Chapters 1 and 2, then come back and comment on the depth/degree of madness prevalant today. You know, people always manage to find a justification for crimes, most of which are against women. Most of the time, the justification given is simply that she is/was a woman and so deserved it - that is reason enough, apparently. She didn't listen to me, she didn't follow my order, she used her own brain, she tried to live life her way - all of these are reasons to 'teach her a lesson', and this teaching is usually brutal.

Anonymous said...

Hi Surbhi,
What really appals and saddens me is that during Hindu marriage rituals, a man promises to care for and love his wife -- most abusive men come from traditional Hindu households who proudly proclaim their strong Hindu beliefs. I don't mean to imply that other communities do not exist in India, its just that the Hindu community would account for most crimes against women because of sheer numbers. Then again, there is a strong anti-female strain in Hindusim, so maybe, this is not as incongruous as I think it is. After all we are struggling with Manu's legacy thousands of years after that motherfucker had his last hard-on. Pardon the obscene language, but if Manu was alive today, I would have cheerfully strangled him. He has single-handedly done more damage to Hindu women than all other men put together. Savita Kasture's woman was just following Manu's philosophy towards women -- she's your property, you own her.
When will Indian men learn to respect and love women?
Not as long as they are taught that they are superior to women, that's for sure
Preeti

Surbhi said...

Preeti:
Welcome! And thanks aplenty for visiting.
You have said it so well that there is hardly anything to reply or discuss. I agree with every point of yours, and can only say that you and I as women and as current or future mothers can make sure our sons and daughters are raised as equals - and I mean as equals in every sense of the word. That may herald the beginning of change at a larger level - one that stems from a single individual to change the collective mindset of a society. I may sound far-fetched, but I truly believe that one person has the power to bring about change, if and onl if that one person believes in and adapts to that change himself or herself.
Lastly, I wonder if Manu the F***** (don't blame his Mother, darling, she didn't make him like that) was ever capable of a hard-on, considering the deep-rooted frustration he harboured. Whaddya say?