Violence Against Women

The Bible is not silent about rape and violence against women. The accounts of sexual assault against women are heart breaking, even gruesome. But they are not brushed under a rug or hushed up. In fact, of the three accounts describing a woman who was sexually assaulted, each of them precipitated civil war. When Jacob’s daughter, Dinah, was violated by the son of a neighbouring ruler, Shechem, her brothers murdered him, his father, and the all of the men of his city in revenge (Gen. 34). After the Unnamed Concubine was gang-raped and left for dead by men in the tribe of Benjamin, the other tribes went to war against them upon hearing of her injustice (Jgs. 19-21). And after Tamar was raped by her half-brother, Amnon, her brother Absalom killed him, and incited a rebellion against his father, King David (2 Sam. 13). Rape and violence against women was neither covered up nor ignored. Instead, it was answered and avenged. It was such a cultural convulsion that it was answered with outrage and further violence. The cases of rape and violence against women in Scripture tell us something about the cases of rape we are hearing today: These women must be heard and they must be protected.

The Old Testament Law gives us an even greater picture of just how much God takes up the cause of the victim and the vulnerable.

Mamta, 17, from a family of domestic helps wanted training to become a beautician to escape the drudgery of being a domestic help. But her older married brother was making life miserable for her because he could see his golden goose slipping away. For two years she endured her brother’s atrocities. In the meanwhile she joined a beautician’s course on the sly. 

Violence against women comes in various forms. This is just one of them – mental trauma.

In India, a woman who is considered Shakti, the most revered, who wields power is also the most victimized. She is a constant victim of domestic violence, be it physical or mental. A National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reports that every three minutes there is crime committed against a woman, every 60 minutes two women get raped and every six hours, violence is committed against a married woman. This figure may well have increased in the las  t one year. But the bottom line is that violence is a reality that continues to hover over most households in some form or the other.

What is violence against women?

Raising your voice at a woman (wife, mother, daughter, sister) in the family for even something as simple as not giving you a meal on time or forcing her to have sex; beating her; medical negligence; child marriage, dowry harassment; sexual harassment  at work place are some of the few: Any one of these comes under the umbrella of violence.

Wife: She undergoes a complete change of identity ( please read: loss of identity) once she steps into her marital house. From then on she is considered the property of the in-laws. She has been conditioned into thinking that this is her real house. So she is expected to serve the entire family without asserting the indignity she is subjected to in addition to pleasing her husband every night.

Mother: There is no escaping this virtuous role or title. Ironically the mother figure is both worshipped and abused in Indian society. The Goddess or ‘Ma’ is an object of worship in temples but a living ‘Ma’ is the most exploited figure at home. On her lies the onus of bearing a son. She can be ostracized, made to abort, abandoned, beaten, humiliated or forced to keep procreating till she bears an heir. In certain communities she is expected to fast both for the father and son.

Daughter: Is mostly unwanted. Worshipped as ‘kanya’ or virgin in one of the festivals, she is considered a burden on the parents and must rightfully go to ‘her house’ one day. Getting her married is the only goal of the parents. A father who has one or more daughters is on a weaker wicket in the society, the proverbial ‘bechara’ (poor guy). She may or may not get equal privileges and rights as her brother.

Sister: An epitome of patience and many more virtues, hers is the most adjusting role. If she is elder of the siblings, she is expected to mother them and protect them. The more impoverished her family, the greater the call of duty. From the moment she can virtually stand on her own, she can be seen working as a housemaid, sweeping and washing utensils, even in urban/ educated homes if the maid is absent. And if she falls in the younger lot category in the family, there is only one role for her. Succumb.

According to a survey by the United Nation Population Fund, around two-third of  Indian women are victims of domestic violence and as many as 70 per cent of married women in India between the age of 15 and 49 are victims of domestic violence, rape or forced sex. More than 55 percent of the women suffer from domestic violence, especially in the states of Bihar, UP, MP and other northern states. It is alarming to note that Kerala which claims to have 100% literacy in the country has the highest rate of domestic violence cases approximately 75%, of course they are not reported.

Decades of sex determination tests and female foeticide have skewed the sex ratio across the country. Boys in Haryana travel across the country to get a bride. With rising abortions of female foetuses in Odisha and Bengaluru, the skewed sex ratio has obviously moved beyond Haryana, Punjab, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Delhi.

Saying that domestic violence in any form is more prevalent among the uneducated is not really correct because even among the educated families it is easy to see some or the other form of violence being committed against a woman.

An elderly woman being ill-treated by the son and daughter-in-law is also a common sight especially if the woman is financially dependent on the son.

Domestic violence often goes unreported because victims are unaware of the different types of domestic violence. But one can get help. There is the police, the legal recourse and various NGOs are also out there to help domestic violence victims. One just needs to know where to go.

Psychological Abuse

Violence, blackmail, taunts for not bringing enough dowry, confining her to the house or keeping track of her movements, denying permission to socialize are all forms of psychological abuse. At work place the threat of losing the job, no opportunity for growth and career advancement etc. It also includes insulting or harming the woman’s family.

Emotional Abuse

Both psychological and emotional abuse, go hand-in-hand. Being insulting, humiliating or constantly criticizing the victim to destroy her self-esteem comes under the purview of emotional abuse. Ironically both psychological and emotional abuse alone cannot be termed violence unless they are persistent or are accompanied with physical, sexual or financial violence. This is a difficult one to prove yet has the highest impact.

Neglecting a daughter in favour of a son is also mental torture.  

Physical Abuse

Most men do not think twice before slapping, pushing or shoving their wives, daughters to prove a point.  The threat of ‘acid’ on saying ‘No’ is scary but a reality in our lives. Victims generally do not seek medical intervention unless the injuries are severe. 

Sexual Abuse

This is an extension of physical violence because sex is considered the ultimate weapon against a woman. And a husband considers it his birthright to force conjugal rights on his reluctant wife. Sexual abuse also includes unwelcome touches, sexual harassment, etc. be it the house, work place or social setting.

If a man is spurned by a woman the revenge is very simple – rape her. If you want to make it worse – rape her, throw acid on her or mutilate her body.

Financial Abuse

This is one of the least obvious forms of  violence. Most often victims are not financially independent and their only access to money is their partner. So depriving her of money for her basic needs – food, clothes, etc – is the easiest way to keep her in hold. 

Suffering in silence is the norm of most Indian women.  First for the honour of the family and second because more often than not they are not financially independent. In some cases where the woman is financially independent she prefers to keep quiet for the sake of the children.

Last but not the least: The Indian law is prejudiced even when it comes to abortion. Take the case of the 10-year-old rape victim who has not been permitted to abort her foetus by the Supreme Court. Can violence against women be worse than this?

The Flip-side

A recent report in the papers stated how Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi has said that she has been receiving an increasing number of complaints from men alleging false complaints against them. The Minister asked the National Commission for Women (NCW) to “provide a window” to such men. 

The NCW says the move goes against the very guidelines on which the commission is based. The Minister on the other had assured that as the head of the Ministry for Women and Child Development, her concern is “grievances of women first” but “at the same time, misuse of laws created to protect women should also be a matter of concern for us.”

Dr. Shakuntala David

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