New Delhi: The issue of gender-based violence in India has been creeping up the policy agenda over the past couple of years. And with substantial data, it proves one thing: rampant domestic violence against women in India is a reality.
Every third women, since the age of 15, has faced domestic violence of various forms in the country, reported the National Family Health Survey (NHFS-4) released by the Union health ministry. Thus, incubating a new round of debate about the cultural underpinnings to domestic violence.
According to the survey, 27 per cent of women have experienced physical violence since the age 15 in India. This experience of physical violence among women is more common in rural areas than among women in urban areas. Domestic violence cases, where women reported physical abuse in rural and urban areas, were at 29 per cent and 23 percent, respectively.
The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 (PWDVA), provides a definition of domestic violence that is comprehensive and includes all forms of physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, and economic violence, and covers both actual acts of such violence and threats of violence. In addition, the PWDVA recognizes marital rape and covers harassment in the form of unlawful dowry demands as a form of abuse.
The Perpetrator At Home
Most of the times perpetrators of this violence have been the husbands. 31 per cent of married women have experienced physical, sexual, or emotional violence by their spouses. The most common type of spousal violence is physical violence (27%), followed by emotional violence (13%).
The survey reported that among married women who have experienced physical violence since the age of 15, 83 per cent reported their present husbands as perpetrators of the violence. However, for women who are not married, the experience of physical violence stems from the most common perpetrators, which includes mothers or step-mothers (56%), fathers or step-fathers (33%), sisters or brothers (27%), and teachers (15%).
However, the most worrying part of the spousal-violence is that almost every third married women, who has experienced spousal violence, reported experiencing physical injuries, including eight per cent who have had eye injuries, sprains, dislocations, or burns and six per cent who have had deep wounds, broken bones, broken teeth, or any other serious injury. Yet, only 14 per cent of women who experienced this violence sought help to stop it.
But the helplessness of stopping the violence being inflicted on them isn’t the only worrying factor. Women in India, surprisingly, are supportive of domestic violence.
Data from the survey shows women in India between the ages of 40 to 49 were most supportive of domestic violence, with 54.8% in agreement. The percentage justifying abuse is marginally lesser among younger women. 47.7% of girls between the age of 15 and 19 agreed with violence by husbands.
This marginal difference in attitudes of women towards domestic violence is also visible in urban and rural areas. While 54.4% of rural women surveyed across the country agreed with domestic abuse, only 46.8% of urban women supported such violence.
Sexual Violence: The Elephant In The Room
Sexual rights are a serious concern for Indian women. Validating this concern, six per cent of women in India and reported to having experienced sexual violence in their lifetime.
Among married women who were victims of sexual violence, over 83% reported their present husband and 9% report a former husband as the perpetrators. The form of sexual violence most commonly reported by women was that their husband used physical force to have sexual intercourse when they did not want to (5.4%). About 4% reported that their husband forced them with threats or in other ways to perform sexual acts they did not want to, and 3% reported that their husband forced them to perform other sexual acts they did not want to.
Husbands and wives being out of the purview of rape laws enables men to ‘prey’ on women in the security of her home. These statistics give a clear indication of the kind of sexual harassment and violence young girls and women face in India.
The scenario for unmarried women is no different. The survey report highlighted that most common perpetrators of sexual violence on unmarried women were other relatives (27%), followed by a current or former boyfriend (18%), their own friend or acquaintance (17%) and a family friend (11%).
“Sexual violence is most often committed by individuals with whom women have an intimate relationship. Physical violence and sexual violence may not occur in isolation; rather, women may experience a combination of different types of violence,” the survey report said.
Ironically, India is one of the 36 countries where marital rape, the act of sexual intercourse with one's spouse without the spouse's consent, is still not a criminal offence.
Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) considers forced sex in marriage as a crime only when the wife is below age 15. Marital rape victims have to take recourse to the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 (PWDVA) for relief. The PWDVA, which came into force in 2006, outlaws marital rape. However, it offers only a civil remedy for the offence.
The Way Ahead
Human Rights Watch (HRW) in its November 2017 report found out that sexual harassment victims in India face significant barriers to obtaining justice and critical support services. The report, Everyone Blames Me’: Barriers to Justice and Support Services for Sexual Assault Survivors in India, found that women and girls who survive rape and other sexual violence often suffer humiliation at police stations and hospitals.
Under Indian law, police officers who fail to register a complaint of sexual assault face up to two years in prison. However, Human Rights Watch found that police did not always file a First Information Report (FIR), the first step to initiating a police investigation, especially if the victim was from an economically or socially marginalized community.
Most of the domestic violence, sexual violence, and marital rape cases in India are also never reported. Going by the pure numbers, these cases are grossly under-reported when comparing the National Family Health Survey and the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data.
Lack of trained counsellors who can help domestic abuse victims and little access to legal aid also adds to the misery of these victims.
Education Makes A Difference
Irrespective of all the abuse meted to women at their homes, there still is a silver lining.
The main distinguishing factor in acceptance of domestic violence is education, much more than income, or even age. The report stated that experience of domestic violence, including physical and sexual violence decreases sharply with schooling and education.
By schooling, the percentage of women who report physical violence declined from 38 per cent among women with no schooling to 16 per cent among women with 12 or more years of formal education.
Similarly, experience of sexual violence decreases sharply with schooling from eight per cent among women with no schooling to three per cent among women with 12 or more years of schooling.
Education does, however, not automatically translate in a lower incidence of domestic violence.