Violence against women, both inside homes and in the public space, needs to be treated with the seriousness it deserves…

Violence against women is no laughing matter. Yet, in Andhra Pradesh, the state Minor Irrigation Minister, Mr. T. G. Venkatesh seems to think it is something that can be treated as a joke. According to a front page news item in the Deccan Herald (September 25, 2011) headlined: “Cashing thrashing: Pati, Patni and ten thousand”, Mr. Venkatesh is reported to be offering a new scheme that he thinks will deal with abusive husbands.

“Beat your drunken husband if he touches you. The government will pay you a Rs. 1,000 reward. The more you beat him, the better as you can get up to Rs. 10,000”, he is reported to have told a women's meeting in Kurnool. The Minister apparently advised women to beat up their drunken and/or abusive husbands on the street so that everyone can see what they are doing. “Once you do this and you get rewarded, your husband will stop harassing you”, he reportedly stated. And went on to say that the scheme could be called “Pati, Patni and Rs. 10,000 scheme”. How simple life would be if we could remove alcoholism and domestic violence by beating up drunken men and stop murders by enforcing capital punishment!

Complex phenomenon

Dealing with violence against women is not such a simple matter. For one, most of the violence takes place within the home. Second, given the way women are socialised, the majority accepts domestic violence as an essential part of the deal of being married.

Yet, even though so few report it, the highest number of crimes categorised by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) as ‘ crimes against women' is under the head, ‘cruelty by husbands and relatives'. In 2009, out of 2,03,804 recorded ‘crimes against women', 89,546 were those of ‘cruelty by husbands and relatives'. And incidentally, Andhra Pradesh topped the list of states accounting for 12.5 per cent of the total crimes against women in the country (NCRB 2009) followed by West Bengal.

So perhaps Mr. Venkatesh thought, given his state's leading position in this category, he needed to devise a scheme to deal with violence against women. But his solution, if indeed the idea is a serious one and not a joke, mocks at the seriousness of the issue. The women at the receiving end of domestic violence are rarely if ever in a position to fight back. There is a strong body of evidence and documentation over the years in India that shows that even educated women bear the daily humiliation and physical violence rather than go public with it, or report it to the police. Many of them blame themselves. Others fear that they will be left destitute, a fate they believe is worse than suffering the violence.

Vital support

Of course women should resist and fight back. And the Domestic Violence Act enacted in 2005 is an important step to help them to do that. But before they can pick up the courage to do so, they need support, including places like shelter homes if they have no option but to physically get away from their abuser and report the violence. Unless such backing is available, there is little likelihood of an abused woman risking more violence by fighting back.

The section in the NCRB on crimes against women does not include rape, which is categorised separately under ‘violent crimes'. We know this is one crime that is grossly under-reported. Yet the growth in the incidence of rape in the NCRB data is stark. It seems to double every decade between 1971 and 1991. Between 2001 and 2009 the incidence grew from 16,075 reported cases to 21,397. And although 94.2 per cent of these reported cases were charge-sheeted, there were only 26.9 per cent convictions. This is obviously a major reason why women do not persist with rape cases, even after having overcome the hesitation to report them, and often withdraw the case when they realize how long it will take and how difficult it is to get a conviction.

In this connection, a small study by the Centre for Social Research (CSR) on rape cases in Delhi brings out another important aspect of crimes against women. The CSR study looked at 58 FIRs on rape filed between 2009 and 2011. The study deflated several popular hypotheses about rape. For instance, when there is a hue and cry about the rising incidence of rape, police officials are quick to advise women not to venture out after dark. It is assumed that women only get raped at night. Yet the CSR study data shows that seven rapes had occurred between 6 am and 12 noon, 17 between 12 and 6 pm and 14 between 6 pm and 12 midnight. In other words, more rapes took place in the daytime than either early in the morning or late in the evening.

Damning facts

Linked to this theory about a dangerous public space is the belief that women are ‘secure' in their homes. Yet, nine of the 58 incidents studied took place in the victim's home. And the majority of the rapes were by men known to the women. In fact, out of the 58 cases studied, 51 of the accused were relatives, neighbours, friends, teachers or acquaintances. Worse still, the majority of the victims were under 20 years old and of them 22 per cent were less than 10 years old. Thus, women are as unsafe in their homes as outside; they are as likely to be raped by men they know as by strangers and the age of a woman, even if she is a small child, is no bar to being raped.

Violence against women is a bad joke, not something we can laugh about.

Email the writer: sharma.kalpana@yahoo.com