Timely intervention can prevent domestic violence deaths

From campaigns to save stray dogs to agitations against power outages, the last decade has undoubtedly seen the steady rise of citizens' activism in the city's neighbourhoods.

These 10 years have also seen 8,205 women treated for burns at the Victoria Hospital, reveals a study by Vimochana. An overwhelming majority were victims of domestic violence. There is no information about how many thousands were treated in private hospitals or about those who did not even make it to hospital.

Two recent deaths

The study also does not take into account women such as 29-year-old Rukmini, beaten to death by her husband on August 5. Her neighbours told the police later they heard her shrieks for help but had stayed away because they did not want to interfere in a “family matter”.

Mamatha, whose husband chopped off her hands on Friday, did not find help from her neighbours either. She died later in hospital.

For an issue that crops up frequently and cuts across the barriers of class, caste and community, there appears to be a strange silence about domestic violence from residents' groups.

Class matters

Vimochana's Shakun says that in the decade taken to compile the burns report, she came across just a handful of cases where neighbours had come to the rescue. Most of these interventions were in lower middleclass neighbourhoods and slums, she says.

Sonia Narang, the city's only woman Deputy Commissioner of Police, agrees with Ms. Shakun. “In upperclass neighbourhoods and apartment complexes, neighbours rarely intervene in cases of domestic violence,” she says.

Vimochana has organised women against domestic violence in the slums of J.J. Nagar and Anandapura. The organisation claims it has managed to make significant gains in these areas. But despite its best efforts, it has not been able to organise educated and well-to-do women in the city's upperclass neighbourhoods.

“They find more value in campaigns against corruption in the upper judiciary than saving a woman being beaten to death right next door,” says Ms. Shakun scathingly.

Moral police

Ms. Narang points out that neighbours are more likely to act as moral police and interfere in matters that are just not their business.

Additional Commissioner of Police Sunil Kumar says the police can do very little to curb domestic violence without the help of citizens. “Dealing with criminal gangs and drug mafias is easier. It is impossible to maintain surveillance on houses and keep track of who is beating his wife,” is how he puts it.

However, he assures that the police-citizen connect programme will soon have a module on domestic violence as well. “But all one needs to do is dial 100.”