Violence against women: A preview from dusk to dawn
On Mother's Day, Forbes magazine published a list of world's most powerful moms, representing influential women, who are politicians, CEO's & billionaires. This list symbolized the growing authority of women in leading nations to managing billions of dollars of an enterprise. However, none of these lists would pacify or empower women, who are still facing the clout of domestic violence in their lives. As per UN WOMEN, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality, "Globally, up to six out of ten women experience physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime and in the US this amounts to USD 4.1 billion in direct medical cost and USD 1.8 billion in productivity loss annually."
India is not untouched by this by this problem and is looked down by world as a society with high level of gender discrimination. A research study on infant mortality by Harvard School of Public Health stated: "The deaths of 1.8 million female infants and children in India over the past 20 years are related to domestic violence against their mothers. The researchers found that husbands' violence against wives increased the risk of death among female children, but not male children."
Violence against women, especially domestic violence, has been a matter of concern for the international community and majority of the nations have a law to curtail this inhumane practice. In the USA, Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA) is used to check domestic violence. Similarly, South Africa has Domestic Violence Act to tackle this issue. In India, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 (PWDVA) is used to protect females from physical, verbal, emotional, economical and sexual abuse by their husbands, live-in partners or relatives.
Historians believe that Indian women enjoyed equal status with men before the Vedic period, but were succumbed to the pressure of male domination as the color of patriarchal society started flaring up. It is also important to note that every time women were subject to domestic violence to a gravest extent in the form of Sati, dowry and child marriage etc, social reformers stood up to fight it. Self-immolation or Sati-pratha was a religious funeral practice that was performed upon husband's death. This practice was later discouraged by some of the Mughal emperors and was later abolished by efforts of Raja Ram Mohan Roy. Similarly, Ishwar Chand Vidhysagar reformed the orthodox Hindu belief system and pushed for Widows Remarriage Act XV, which in particular allowed the child widow to remarry in case her husband's death before consummation of marriage. Likewise, Mahatma Gandhi made uniform efforts to successfully bring Child Marriage Restrain Act 1929 or Sarda act that prevented girl's marriage before the age of 14. Dowry Prohibition Act prohibited the request, payment or acceptance of dowry and had provision of strict punishments and penalties for the defaulters.
Despite the passage of all these historical acts, women continue to be agonized in other physical, psychological, economical and social forms. PWDVA is planned to restrain such practice against women. The opponents of the PWDVA could argue that it motivates women with mala fide intentions to operate against innocent male counterparts like the way IPC 498A of anti-dowry was misused majority of the times. However, it is inappropriate to compare PWDVA with 498A misuse as before the passage of PWDVA, majority of the domestic violence cases were identified as 498A cases and were later quashed given the extremely high prerequisite of this law.
In spite of its usefulness the fruitful results of PWDVA are yet to be seen at grass root level either due to hesitation or lack of awareness amongst the women. The most common experience of DV is faced by woman from low income families, whose husband beats her and lavishly spends her earnings in drinking and gambling. However, most of these cases are not reported as DV. Unlike western world our social structure and lack of financial security could also stop the victims from raising the red flag. Similarly, the act mandates beating, torturing, scolding, repeated abuse, and mental abuse etc as domestic violence. However, a study report submitted to the planning commission surveyed that less than 45% of the females interviewed were aware of their rights.
'Fraternal Polyandry' in Punjab is another severe event that can lead us to believe about continued commodification of women despite the passage of PWDVA. Fraternal Polyandry is a form of marriage in which two or more brothers share a wife. A closer look at Punjab's expenditure on the awareness program of PWDVA in last 2 years revels that despite huge allocation made there was no expenditure done thus explaining the true status of PWDVA in Punjab. Additionally, in state like Karnataka, MP and UP, overburdened Child Welfare Officers are given the added responsibility of Protection Officer (PO), who is a critical liaison between the victim and other stakeholders, i.e the courts, Women & Child Department, Police Department, medical facilities and shelter homes. Finally, many PO's lack a degree in social welfare or related domain, which could hamper them get a holistic view of this problem.
No doubt that PWDVA is an important tool to tackle the problem of domestic violence, for its effective implementation government's efforts have to be multifaceted. At policy level, Central Government should allocate special fund for the implementation of this act. Specific provision should be made for medical facilities, alternate temporary accommodation, sensitization and rigorous training of POs, NGOs, Judges, Public Prosecutors and Police. Furthermore, formation of Domestic Violence Board under ministry of Women & Child Development can be done to ensure dedicated efforts for this cause. Local community should be encouraged to work with government agencies & NGOs to reduce violence against women. In South Africa, government and individual groups run "16 Days of No Violence against Women" from 25th November to 10th December to raise awareness and create a strong network against domestic violence. In US, Domestic Violence Awareness Month is observed every October.
At an implementation level focus can be on extending the purview of medical facilities to counseling by certified behavior health consultant and a compulsory anger management course for the victimizer. Create a free hotline that would guide the victim about various available options and reach out for help. Use the knowledge and network of ASHA workers in coordinating medical care of the victim. Also, use the proactive approach to investigate about the possibility of DV during routine medical checkups. Finally help victim make a transition in life rather than providing them temporary help. For too long we have worshipped the goddess Durga and Lakshmi yet humiliated the wives, mothers and sisters in our houses. Let us at least start respecting them if not worship them.