Banu, a woman in mid-twenties, is a victim of dowry harassment. Along with her two daughters, she met the Superintendent of Police (SP) recently and claimed that her husband and his family assaulted her physically demanding dowry. Pointing the stitches above her upper lips, she said, she cannot take it anymore. “Please get back from them whatever jewellery my family gave me until now. I will take care of my daughters”, she pleaded.

Fifty-year-old differently abled woman, Thangam’s case is tragic. She is subjected to physical assaults not just by her husband, but by her son as well. “My marriage was happy only for a few years. Then my husband started abusing me physically and verbally referring to my disability to walk”, beings Thangam.

“In the recent years, he is addicted to alcohol and gives very little money to run the family. Not a single day passes without me being assaulted. To make things worse, my 23 year-old- son has also taken after my husband. He drinks a lot these days and has started assaulting me”, recounts Thangam of her gruesome experience at home everyday.

The numbers of incidents of the crimes against women reported to the police are on the rise, indicates the statistics available with the Madurai District Police.

In 2011, at least 2266 cases of domestic violence and dowry harassment were reported at the five All Woman Police Stations in Madurai district. The number increased to 2516 in 2012 and a total of 792 petitions have been received by the Madurai District Police from women, this year so far, alleging domestic violence and dowry harassment.

The All Woman Police Station in Thirupparankundran has received the highest number of petitions for three consecutive years now. In 2011, the station received 627 petitions and in 2012, 912 petitions were received. The police station has received around 291 petitions from January to March, this year.

According to V. Balakrishnan, the SP of Madurai District, the rise in the number of cases reported implies that the awareness among women on the effective use of the prevention of domestic violence act and the dowry prohibition act has gone up. “It cannot be considered that the number of incidents of domestic violence and dowry harassment has risen. The hesitation in reporting the abuses to the police has almost gone”, Mr Balakrishnan said.

Around 290 women have presented their petitions to Mr Balakrishnan in 2012 and this year, around 173 women have approached him directly for help. Adopting a sensitive approach, the police generally try to resolve the issues through mediation and obtain the consent of the complainants before taking further actions like registering FIRs and arresting the accused.

“Most of the women approach the police when there is very less possibility of reunion. The families opt for compromise in a few cases after mediations or in a few cases warnings to the abusers, and the remaining consent to taking further actions like registering FIRs”, said Mr Balakrishnan.

In most of the cases, the warnings given by the police instil fear in the minds of the families that abuse the women. But in a few cases, where the women are hesitant to approach the police for a second time to take actions against the abusers, it only worsens the situation.

“I did try approaching the police. I wanted them to warn my husband once so that he did not repeat the offence. I refused to register a complaint against him hoping he would change after the warning. But, he got more annoyed and started abusing me further”, said Thangam, who did not approach the police to register a complaint against her husband and her son.

“Unlike in Western countries, women in India do not have the freedom to walk out of a marriage and start life afresh. The situation here demands that women who approach the police station go back to their families”, said D. Geetha, an advocate on why women do not pursue their complaints.

“The lives of the women are dictated by their castes and the class they live. If only women develop self-respect, they could take a definite stand in cases of domestic violence and dowry harassment. Most women go to police stations with a belief that the warnings could instil fear in the minds of their husbands and make things better”, she added.

Ms Geetha also stated that the legal battle the women endure is a long drawn process. “Justice should be swift. Otherwise, they are not just victims of domestic violence but also victims of the system”, she concluded.

But many untold stories remain

Meanwhile, a large number of cases of crime against women go unreported to the police.

28-year-old Taslim (name changed on request) narrated that the abuses began when her husband accused her of not taking care of his mother. “I am married for eight years and I have a five year old son. Everyday my husband assaulted me stating that I did not take proper care of his mother”, she told The Hindu.

“Only recently I discovered that my husband and my mother-in-law have sold the 35-sovereigns of gold my parents gave me for my wedding. My situation is such that I can neither tell my parents nor inform the police, because my father has heart ailments and any shocking news like this could harm him”, Taslim added.

Unfortunately, all that Taslim could do is to seek the aid of her husband’s relatives to arrange for a mediation to settle the dispute. “She is totally helpless. Everyday she talks about committing suicide and I am worried”, said Taslim’s neighbour.

A. Rajini, an advocate says awareness needs to be created among the women in upper middle-class to help them overcome the stigma attached to going against the husband and his family.

“Most women do not prefer to report the incidents of domestic violence fearing that the relationship breaks once the incident is reported. They believe there is no possibility for re-union”, she said.

“They should be made to understand that they are seeking the justice that is lawfully theirs. The Indian mindset implies that women have to tolerate abuses by husband and that prevents them from filing complaints against their husbands and their family members”, she added.

According to the data available with the Madurai City Police, 71 women have reported dowry harassment in 2011 and 62 women have reported dowry harassment in 2012. This year, 29 cases of dowry harassment have been reported.

Five incidents of dowry death were reported in 2011, three in 2012 and none so far this year.

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