Opinion » Comment

Updated: May 22, 2013 01:17 IST

Four walls and the cry for help

  • Vani S. Kulkarni
  • Manoj K. Pandey
  • Raghav Gaiha
Comment (14)   ·   print   ·   T  T  

Every hour 25 women fall victim to crimes; 11 suffer cruelty by husbands and other relatives; three are raped; and there is one dowry death.

Horrific crimes against women have, in fact, continued unabated. What is worse is that there has been an acceleration of such crimes in recent years, with the annual rate rising from 5.9 per cent in 2006 to 7.8 per cent during 2006-2011. Cases of domestic violence against women by their husbands and other relatives comprised over 43 per cent of all crimes against women in 2011. Domestic violence also accelerated, with the annual rate rising from 8.25 per cent in 2006 to 11.41 per cent between 2006-2011 despite a landmark legislation in 2006 declaring “wife-beating” a crime (National Crime Bureau Report).

Violence is rooted in dowry issues — women are beaten, threatened, burned and even killed to extract gifts of money, jewellery and consumer durables (e.g. a television set, fridge) from their families. Such cruelty is not confined to cases around dowry, however. Negligence of domestic duties, poorly prepared food and going out alone without permission, a sign of independence, are often dealt with just as cruelly.


Our analysis, based on the India Human Development Survey 2004-05, throws new light on the perceptions of patterns of domestic violence as well as some correlates. Since perceptions may not accurately reflect actual cases of domestic violence, the margins of error are difficult to assess. By contrast, actual cases are likely to be underestimates for fear of provoking further violence. Therefore, neither the National Crime Bureau nor the National Family Health Survey data on actual cases can be taken at face value. Another issue is the overlap between seemingly distinct forms of violence (e.g. marital rape, dowry-related, stemming from neglect of domestic duties). Hence, occurrence of multiple forms of domestic violence is typically more likely (e.g. dowry-related violence and that associated with the neglect of domestic duties) than any specific form alone (e.g. dowry-related). To circumvent this difficulty, we have constructed, for example, categories such as whether dowry-related violence was perceived as occurring with any other form of violence (e.g. associated with going out alone, neglect of domestic duties). This allows us to compare the incidence of a few dominant forms of domestic violence but without an unambiguous and mutually exclusive classification.

Out of the four categories considered, the highest incidence of violence was associated with going out alone without permission (about 39 per cent), followed by neglect of household duties (about 35 per cent), badly cooked meals (about 29.50 per cent), and dowry-related (about 29 per cent).

Political factor

If we classify States by the party in power, i.e., Congress-ruled, BJP-ruled, a coalition of either with other parties, and regional/State parties, the variation in domestic violence reveals a mixed pattern. Dowry-beating was highest in Congress-ruled States, and lowest in regional party-ruled States while violence resulting from going out alone was highest in BJP-ruled States and lowest in regional party-ruled States.

Locational differences are striking. Slums show the highest incidence of all forms of violence, followed by rural and urban areas. Violence associated with neglect of domestic duties was over 44 per cent in slums, over 37 per cent in rural areas and about 27.50 per cent in urban areas. A similar pattern is observed for bad cooking, with the highest violence in slums (over 33 per cent, 32 per cent in rural areas and about 21.50 per cent in urban). Dowry-related violence was also highest in slums (about 33 per cent), followed by rural areas (31.50 per cent) and then urban (22 per cent).

In the metros

A disaggregation into six major metros (Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad) does not corroborate the north-south divide that has been the staple of demographers. Dowry-related violence was highest in Bangalore (48.55 per cent), followed by Chennai (about 33.50 per cent) and lowest in Delhi (about 18 per cent). Violence associated with neglect of household duties follows a slightly different pattern, with the highest incidence in Chennai (53 per cent), followed by Bangalore (over 47 per cent) and lowest in Delhi (about 11 per cent). While Bangalore overtakes Chennai in violence associated with bad cooking (about 47 per cent and over 35 per cent, respectively), Delhi exhibits the lowest incidence (6.20 per cent).

As these are perceptions, associations with economic conditions, household endowments including educational achievements, employment and earnings, and cultural characteristics (whether affiliated to SCs/ STs, OBCs and others) unravel a few key correlates but are not necessarily causal inferences.

At the State level, in all four types of violence, there are strong negative correlations between State GDP per capita and the incidence of such violence. The higher the State GDP per capita, for example, the lower was the incidence of dowry-related violence. A comparison of incidence of this between the lowest and highest (physical) asset groups suggests that dowry-related violence in the latter was 67 per cent of that in the lowest group. Similar findings are obtained for other forms of violence — neglect of domestic duties (72 per cent), bad cooking (66 per cent), and going out alone without permission (67 per cent). So States with larger shares of highest asset group exhibit lower domestic violence. That (relative) affluence has a dampening effect on domestic violence is plausible.


Educational achievements of women make a significant difference too — the higher the proportion of women with 10 years or more of education, the lower is the incidence of violence. Comparison of dowry-beating between this group and another with lower education reveals a large difference — 10 percentage points. Differences in other forms of violence are large too — neglect of domestic duties (9.50 percentage points), and going out alone (16 percentage points). Higher education expands the fallback options for women outside the home and thus lowers domestic violence.

Women’s empowerment is often measured in terms of outside wage employment and earnings relative to those of men. Our analysis confirms these links but in a nuanced way. At low ratios of female wage employment to male wage employment, the incidence of dowry-beating rises slightly but falls thereafter quite sharply. A similar relationship is observed between the ratio of female earnings to male earnings and such violence, pointing to thresholds below which neither ratio lowers domestic violence. Rather, at low values, it rises. So high levels of female employment and earnings are critical to lowering domestic violence against women.

Whether domestic violence is cultural too is examined in terms of variation across SCs/STs, OBCs and Others. As these groups also imply a ranking in terms of economic status, with SCs/STs as the most disadvantaged, OBCs as less disadvantaged and Others as least disadvantaged, any association between domestic violence and these groups is likely to reflect both differences in cultural practices and economic conditions. Subject to this caveat, the higher the proportions of SCs/STs and OBCs, the higher is the frequency of domestic violence in its multiple forms.

In conclusion, while judicial activism has a limited role in curbing domestic violence, expansion of economic opportunities for women, higher education facilities, asset accumulation, and curbing of gender-related discriminatory practices in the labour market hold promise.

(Vani S. Kulkarni is a research associate, Department of Sociology, Yale University; Manoj K. Pandey, a doctoral candidate in Economics, Australian National University, and Raghav Gaiha, a visiting scientist, Department of Global Health and Population, Harvard School of Public Health.)

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A heart hitting paper indeed! The startling statistics yet again bring to the forefront the irony of dualism: extreme humiliation a woman faces on a day to day basis, in an economy that is globally acknowledged in diverse fields. While the authors rightly highlight the role of accumulation (both human and capital), and expanding opportunities, it is not clear why they remain skeptic on judicial activism. Often, women have been discouraged to lodge complaints. Judicial judgment too takes years. Is not justice delayed justice denied? Also, it may be appropriate to analyze the ratio ‘cases reported to cases solved’, since public’s poor faith in the system could result in low reporting. Further, while GDP has been found to correlate inversely with violence against women, few outliers (Punjab with a high female feticide rate) do exist. It certainly comes as no surprise that India fares poorly on the Gender Inequality index with a rank of 132 (out of 187); lower than even Pakistan at 123!

from:  Simrit Kaur
Posted on: May 24, 2013 at 16:46 IST

This article presents an interesting finding that violence against women is more
prevalent in the urban south compared to the urban north. This seems to fly in the
face of conventional wisdom, and so, how would the authors explain this result?

I would also like to know more about the relationship between education and
violence against women? I am not convinced that education in and of itself shields
women from violence? Who are the types of men that are choosing to marry
educated women? And who are the types of women who have attained high levels of
education and are working after marriage? I would like to know more about exactly
how and why education and lower incidence of violence against track together.

Excellent contribution and I look forward to the subsequent research findings by
these authors.

-- Kristin Plys, Yale University and JNU

from:  Kristin Plys
Posted on: May 23, 2013 at 15:36 IST

Looks like India is moving towards another revolution based on human rights. Violence against women in the household the most common event in India and only revolution can change people mindset. Lets hope those days will come soon when India will be violence free.

from:  Vidhan Khare UK
Posted on: May 23, 2013 at 15:27 IST

An eye-opener for UPA-2.The report card should also include these statistics on crime against women. While writers have done very good job in making the article interesting but it does not ends here.Extra marital affair related violence is missing from the list. Also, information on suicidal cases caused due to the torture at home should be included in the article.

from:  Neharika
Posted on: May 23, 2013 at 09:38 IST

Interesting article on women's problem..Despite of the likely under-reporting these figures are eyeopener..The Going out problem has not only to do with Parda Pratha but may also to do with the insecurity of men that they feel about women if they go out..India as a whole need a full proof system to understand those factors suggested in the article and should be dealt with them on a priority basis...

from:  Sushma Australia
Posted on: May 23, 2013 at 09:32 IST

I like the way article is written with descriptive statistics on what is happening inside the Indian houses. This is sad for anyone to know that even if it is perception, the figures are so high. If India has to perform well on world map, it should have to be stricter on this front. I have read somewhere, as long as women are not free a society is not free...Need many more writings on this burning issue..Congratulations to Vani, Manoj and Raghav for their contributions in this regard..

from:  Joseph
Posted on: May 23, 2013 at 09:18 IST

As a woman who come from an Indian traditional family, I like to hear about the analysis on domestic violence. This article has elaborated the issue of women tortured by men very carefully and systematically. But I think the number may be under-reported in North India as compared to South India. Also, condition of muslim women is supposed to be worse that others and it should be looked into. Overall nice one.

from:  Ruhana Begam
Posted on: May 23, 2013 at 09:00 IST

This is a very thorough and well analysed piece on a much debated issue of domestic violence. Ofcourse, there are women who misuse the law against domestic violence-specially section 498a but still male dominated society show cruelty against women. Therefore, it is the right time to work as a society not only against external threats for women but also against crimes behind the four walls. Atleast some mechanism should be there to listen the cry for help. I congratulate writers for this opinion article.

from:  Satyam Kumar Australia
Posted on: May 23, 2013 at 08:50 IST

This gloomy scenario in twenty first century is posing a very sad
scenario.The women of our country are treated with so less respect and
dignity.The advancement of a society is measured by the status of
women, by the empowerment of them, by their independence and
assertiveness.But, our society's picture is entirely different.

When we ponder for a long lasting remedy,then education seems to be
most plausible panacea.Only then,there can be any hope of their
improved lives lest the patriarchal mindset would never let them come
out of the cage and respect them and consider them at par with men.y

from:  Mohit Kumar
Posted on: May 22, 2013 at 21:14 IST

The statistics reveals the domestic violence against women which shows the status of women in our patriarchal society. It’s true that most of the domestic violence case goes Unreporting but still the number crimes against women are sky-scraping. Article rightly said that empowerment of women through education and involving them more in the main steam activities like Employment, politics will curb these incidents. Decreasing trends of household violence mentioned in the articles shows some societal changes due to educational empowerment. The sexual harassment and misbehavior with female associates at workplace which rarely reported is a new discomfort for the women after being educated also. What all we need for the safety and empowerment of women are education, stringent law against these crimes and last but not least by creating safe and protected society for women.

from:  Abhimanyu
Posted on: May 22, 2013 at 15:15 IST

It is also to be carefully noted that,
• Due to the Gender biased laws now days number of false dowry cases & false domestic violence cases are filed.
• Honorable Supreme Court has also observed and mentioned about this.
So, if we exclude the acquittal rate the percentage shown in this article will come down to bare minimum…..
According to this understanding the percentages shown in the article are not representing true victims.....

from:  Sundar
Posted on: May 22, 2013 at 14:00 IST

This article is silent on domestic violence against men (Husbands) by their wife’s
and also very silent on the rampant misuse of dowry laws in India which falsely
adds to the statistics (NCRB). Any suicide by young married women ---
automatically registered as Dowry death and the trial takes 5-10 years to complete.
But this research has been done based on the number of cases filed, so obviously
this is a bad research methodology. No answers regarding twice the number of
suicides by married men than the married women. When all the deaths (Suicides)
by married women becomes dowry death then what about the deaths (suicides) by
married men?... Lot of questions need to be answered. Its hard to get answers for
such question in this era of ant-male sentiments of our people and media.

from:  Kavitha
Posted on: May 22, 2013 at 13:27 IST

The writer has rightly explained the current situation faced by beleaguered women.Writer has not only discussed the problem faced by women but has also suggested the solution which is the most important. We people in society should start this practice from micro level.Most of the cases of violence does not come due to the obstacle of society.We should not not forget the verse of Sanskrit " YATRA NARYASTU POOJYANTE RAMANTE TATRA DEVTA"

from:  Raghavendra Pratap Singh
Posted on: May 22, 2013 at 12:25 IST

Crime against women shows our ugly face of social standard. Its a limit of our silliness, that we are not even capable to treat our own creator equally nor we are capable to hold them in dignified manner in society. Although kulkarn Ji has given important statics and justified them well, but in country like India crime against present every where from top to bottom, from public places to politics. Variety of crimes likes casting couch,eve teasing, sexual harassment are very common even at higher level of profession and it has one more dark side that at higher level they are rarely spotted and they get resolved by variety of methods like by creating mental pressure, lucrative offers and finally imposing reputation of organisation in threat. In all form of crime against women is one similarity that culprit is always men, may some time he takes help from women too but that's again some hidden interest. So the requirement is women's empowerment in all means from health to finance.

from:  Kunwar Mithlesh shaktawat
Posted on: May 22, 2013 at 11:54 IST
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