What kind of mindset makes us men believe that we have a right to hit a woman?
If one section of society were to start beating up and assaulting another section of society, the police would declare it a riot, the Rapid Action Force would be brought in, and the state machinery would swing into action to take appropriate steps to bring an end to the violence and protect those who need help. Thereafter the state might even set up refugee camps, etc. to rehabilitate those affected. Well, when we set out to do our research on domestic violence, this is precisely what we found. One section of society was physically beating up and assaulting another, there seemed to be a civil war like situation out there, only there was no Rapid Action Force to stop the violence. Two separate studies, one by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, and another by the Planning Commission, showed that anywhere between 40 per cent-80 per cent of women in India are victims of domestic violence. Let's take a conservative middle figure of say 50 per cent. That's a huge percentage of women! And I'm afraid these figures don't speak very well of us men.
What kind of thinking makes us behave this badly? What kind of mindset makes us men believe that we have a right to hit a woman? And why do so many women accept this beating for years on end? Once again, it's good old patriarchy at work. It is alarming to discover how many different problems arise out of this strange animal called ‘patriarchal thinking'. In our two-year research work on the issues we chose for Satyamev Jayate, this is one factor that has repeatedly come up as the villain of the piece. And, as Kamla Bhasin, our expert on this particular issue, pointed out, women are as much a part of this thinking, products of the same society as they are.
Patriarchal thinking… men are superior to women! … men are the bosses! … they will decide what is good for their women… men will control women’s lives as they please and as they deem fit! And so we have female foeticide, female infanticide, the girl child is not fed properly, her health is not a priority, she is not sent to school, or less importance is placed on her education, instead she is taught to do housework. And while all this is happening, she is often beaten! This thinking also results in child marriages, dowry, discrimination against widows, and of course unequal share in property, that is, if there's any share at all. Leave alone empowering our women, we are specifically disempowering them and have been doing so for millennia.
Let us examine some of the excuses that men put forth for assaulting the women folk in their family:
“I am very short tempered”; “there’s a lot of stress and problems in my life so it comes out like this.” So how come you don’t hit your boss? Why only your wife? Well you don't hit your boss because if you do, your boss will take appropriate action against you. Are the women listening?
“I get violent with my wife because I love her so much”; “my love for her comes out in this passionate and violent way, it’s because I care for and love my wife.” Well in that case, there should be an equal amount of beating coming from the women folk.
“My wife asked for it.” Well she also asked for a diamond necklace, and guess what you are asking for?
There really does seem to be a civil war out there. Brothers hitting sisters, fathers hitting daughters, husbands hitting wives and in some cases, even sons hitting mothers. Our experts have explained how once domestic violence starts it gets worse with every encounter and never stops until the victim stops it! The woman has to say NO!
India has a fairly strong Domestic Violence Act and it is important for all women to be familiar with what the law says. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act specifically states that the woman has the right to reside in what is called the shared household. Often a common fear among women is of being thrown out of home. This Act protects EVERY woman in this matter. No woman — wife, mother, daughter or sister — can be thrown out of the house, even if the property is not in her name and is owned by some other member of the family. The Act also states that every State needs to create shelter homes for women who prefer not to stay in the shared household. And, that the State Government needs to provide any woman fighting for these rights with a protection officer who acts as a liaison or bridge between her and the courts. So, a woman does not need to spend money on legal fees in order to avail of her rights under this act.
Historically, as men have been a part of this problem, it is high time we men become a part of the solution. Men have to be proactive in putting an end to this illness in society. And, look at it this way: do you want to be a man who is feared and hated by your wife or other female members of your home? Or do you want to be loved, adored and respected? Do you want your children to run away from you or run towards you when you get home? Do you want to be a home maker or a home breaker?
By the way, what is the opposite of patriarchal thinking?
Jai Hind. Satyamev Jayate.
(Aamir Khan is an actor. His column will be published in The Hindu every Monday.)