Violence against women in India isn’t just a current issue, but rather has deep seated traditional roots in the culture. In order to combat the problem, we must understand its causes.
In India, the problem of violence against women is a result of a long standing power imbalance between men and women. Men have control over access to property and resources. There is also a sexual division of labor in India that results in female exploitation–physically, mentally, and commercially.
Oppression in India
Women in India are subject to all forms of violence. Female infanticide is quite common in Haryana and Punjab because there is a preference for sons because male children carry on the family lineage. The education of sons is also considered much more important. In these two states, the sex ratio is lower than the national average.
Discrimination within the household
Within the household, there exists gender discrimination which determines intra-household distribution of food. Because women and girls are given less food than men, malnutrition among adolescent girls and women is quite prevalent in India.
Lack of opportunity to work
Due to lower educational levels, a woman has a much lower capacity to earn. Women from upper castes are seldom allowed to work outside the home. However, work participation rate among low caste women is better compared to that of upper caste women.
Honor killings are quite common in Haryana and Tamil Nadu when young girls marry somebody outside their caste and clan against her family’s wishes.
Women as property
Dowry is demanded from the husband’s side (in-laws) when younger women get married. Newly married women become subject to verbal and physical abuse. In many cases, young brides are burnt to death by her in-laws if the parents fail to meet the requisite dowry demanded. Women are also viewed in terms of their virginity, as chastity is considered as a great virtue.
In terms of family planning, women have been used as the subjects of experiments. Governments promote contraceptives to lower fertility among women, at the behest of multinational corporations and the corporate sector, without thinking about their consequences. Population control and family planning is considered a way to control women’s sexuality.
Data on violence against women
In a country like India, it is difficult to rely on statistics pertaining to rape cases. The data may show that such crimes being committed may be going up or down. But in reality, women are afraid of even lodging FIRs (First Information Report) in police stations despite being raped or sexually harassed. The judiciary and the legal system are biased in favor of men. Cases of violence against women are under-reported.
According to the latest National Crime Records Bureau 2007, a total of 1,85,312 incidents of crime against women (both under Indian Penal Code-IPC and Special and Local Laws-SLL) were reported in the country during 2007 as compared to 1,64,765 during 2006, thus recording an increase of 12.5% during 2007. These crimes have continuously increased during 2003-2007 with 1,40,601 cases in 2003, 1,54,333 cases in 2004, 1,55,553 in 2005, 1,64,765 cases in 2006 and 1,85,312 cases in 2007.
The total number of sexual harassment cases were 10,950 in 2007. The total number of cases pertaining to cruelty by husband and relatives was 75,930. There were 61 cases of importation of girls. Altogether there were 38,734 cases of molestation in 2007. (See the URL: http://ncrb.nic.in/cii2007/cii-2007/FIGURES_2007.pdf).
The number of rape cases has increased by nearly ten fold from 2487 in 1953 to 20737 in 2007. Young girls also become victims of child abuse at the hands of their closest male relatives, which they are unable to protest.
What can be done
When women protest against their exploitation, many try to silence them. The experience of Bhanwari Devi, the ‘sathin’ from Rajasthan, is a case in point. She was gang-raped for working against child marriage practiced by the upper castes in her village.
According to the NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau) 2008, respect for women seem to be the worst in Andhra Pradesh, which accounted for 83.5 per cent of cases under Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act of total cases across the country. Out of a total 1,200 such cases, Andhra had registered 1,005 incidents in this regard. The NCRB data clearly points to the profile of the average rapist – over 75% were known to the victims. In fact, nearly 10% were relatives. Another disturbing aspect was that about a quarter of the rape victims were minors.
During the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in September 1995, the United Nations Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, said that violence against women is a universal problem that must be universally condemned. The United Nations has termed violence against women as a gross violation of human rights. In India, a survey showed that for each incidence of violence, women lost an average of 7 working days.
Role of media
Media that includes television, radio and newspapers can play a positive role in creating awareness about the pitfalls of violence against women. Mass media’s power should not be undermined by our policy makers.
Associate Fellow, Inclusive Media, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), Delhi