The Cycle of Violence: Domestic Women in India

“And so, to the end of history, murder shall breed murder, always in the right and honor and peace, until the gods create a race that can understand.”

-Shaw, 1899

Since the beginning of time, crime and violence have been omnipresent. Right from the Biblical reference of Cain, the son of Adam and Eve, killing his own brother to the various battles and wars fought over the ages. Crime rates in India have seen a steep rise in the past two decades which is a cause for a deep concern. Crime being a social problem is a cause of alarm. For instance, according to the latest report prepared by India’s National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB), a crime has been recorded against women every three minutes in India. Sarkar and Patra note that every 60 minutes, two women are raped in this country. Not only has the frequency of the crimes increased but there is also a rise in their brutality.

The problem of violence is defined in the World Report on Violence and Health (WRVH) as “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community that either result in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation.” Violence is at one level a sign of a struggle to maintain a sense of identity and power. There is penetration of violence in intimate relationships too, domestic violence is a reality that many individuals have to deal with on an everyday basis. Domestic violence can be defined as a pattern of behavior in any relationship wherein a person is physically, emotionally or mentally abused by his/her partner. Domestic violence can also involve psychological, verbal, sexual, or economic abuse.

Reports published by the International Center for Research on Women give insight into the extent of this violence. India ranks 7th on the list of the highest global prevalence of physical intimate partner violence. In India, 62% of married women have experienced domestic violence in the first two years of their marriage. 60% of the Indian women reported three or more episodes of physical or psychological violence in their lifetime. Also, 80% of the Indian men reported engaging in at least 2 of the 4 forms of violence (sexual, physical, emotional and controlling). Worse still,  physical violence in intimate relationships is the most accepted among Indian women. Solotraoff and Panda note that most women who experience domestic violence fear social ostracization and convince themselves that it was justified as a coping mechanism. Most of the times the abuser makes the victim feel as if it’s her fault. The abuse starts off with small ways, like a push or a shove but later on snowballs into a violent behavior after which the victim is too terrified and intimidated.

Domestic violence in India is prevalent in all genders, castes, religions, regions, socioeconomic backgrounds, educational backgrounds, age, ethnicities. The notion that women from low-income groups, rural areas, and illiterate or uneducated women are the only victims of domestic violence is not at all true. Contrary to that, according to a new study, women who are more educated than their husbands, earn more or are the sole breadwinners of the family are at a higher risk of domestic violence than women who are dependent economically on their partners. The author of this study says that this form of violence could be a way for men to reassert their power or maintain social control over their wives to preserve the ‘status quo’ in the relationship. India is a patriarchal society, the man is always regarded as the ‘protector of the household’ and the ‘head of the family’ whereas the woman plays an inferior role. The reversal of these traditional roles might bruise the man’s ego and this results in the assertion of masculinity.

This display of machismo is encouraged in the Indian culture. Patriarchy facilitates toxic masculinity and chauvinist attitude. Thus, it is not surprising to find such a high incidence of violence against women. Skolnick notes that marriage in India is a hierarchical institution defining the wife as the dependent and subordinate of the husband. Marital rape, though recognized by the Domestic Violence Act of 2005, is not a law as once the rapist is the woman’s husband, the act of sex is legitimized as now the man “owns” the woman. The disparity in the gender roles creates certain predispositions which play an important role when two people cohabit. It gives the man a right over his wife even though there is a lack of consent. Violence against women is a systemic manifestation of efforts to maintain the unequal power relations. The assertion of power through violence is a social mechanism to maintain the status quo and confine women to perpetual subordination.

Domestic violence is a problem of pandemic proportions that cuts through religious and regional lines, it is prevalent in all castes and classes and thus needs to be acknowledged and talked about. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 is a new law in addition to the existing Criminal law that empowers courts to grant protection to victims of domestic violence and other relief. It is an encouraging step taken by the government to acknowledge and finally try to curb this crime. Yet, society still perceives women as the weaker sex, restricting women’s access to social mobility. The normalization of domestic violence robs the woman of her right to live life in dignity.

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