Domestic violence: clear, ugly picture

There is now a clearer spotlight on gender-based violence in India with more detailed and credible information from many sources about such violence directed against women. According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4), every third woman above the age of 15 has faced violence of some form or the other. Such violence is not just from the husband but also from other members of the family, though marital violence is more common and extensive. The violence is not just physical but verbal, mental, emotional, sexual, economic and other kinds of harassment. It is more common in rural areas than in urban areas. There is greater discussion of the issue in public forums, and it is presumed that there is greater reporting of violence by victims. But only a fraction of the incidents that actually happen are reported, and only in a small number of cases the perpetrators of violence are punished. 

There are many reasons for this. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, has not been very effective in preventing violence or in punishing those guilty of it. There are varying interpretations even in the judiciary about some aspects of the law, and awareness is low among officers, civil society and women about it. The police are often not helpful but obstructionist, and sometimes even humiliate complainants. There is reluctance to register FIRs, especially if the women are from a socially or economically challenged background. Women do not get help and co-operation in hospitals where they go for treatment of injuries. There are not many trained counsellors to help the victims. Nor do they have easy access to legal aid. Many women are subjected to sexual violence of many forms inside the home, and marital rape is not considered as a crime. The national health survey has reported that women experience not just one form of violence but a combination of different types of them. 

All this points to the need to address the problem of domestic violence more seriously at many levels. The issue is not just legal but has economic, social, and cultural underpinnings. Some women have even been found to be supporting or justifying domestic violence. There is the need to create greater awareness about women’s rights, the existence of the law and how it can be used to enforce the rights. Research has found that the country can also make major economic gains if domestic violence is reduced. The social and personal cost of violence is high. The survey found that education is a shield against violence and underlines the importance of girls’ education. 

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