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BEYOND THE VEIL Some marital dreams die young
BEYOND THE VEIL Some marital dreams die young

Domestic abuse of women occurs everywhere and victims could be caught between two different systems of justice

Sometime ago, independent researchers from India collaborated with the Washington-based International Center for Research on Women in a cross-cultural study. The exercise was to look at the problem of domestic brutality in India, Egypt, Chile and the Philippines. They concluded: Abuse of women is a truly international ‘sport’. Higher levels of education do not hamper participants. Now, how would you react to the information that one single day (November 25), has been chosen as International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women? A joke, unlikely to make you laugh. But a circular from the American Consulate Library tells us that such designations “provide an opportunity to highlight the U.S. government’s efforts to combat this problem around the world.” As part of its efforts, the U.S. Consulate in Chennai recently organised a lecture/discussion on ‘Elimination of Violence against Women: Legal Options in India and the United States’. A small group of lawyers, judges, police officers and activists — around 120 in all - showed up at the Judicial Academy. Those who should have been there — parents and girls who accept proposals from grooms, specially “phoren” ones, without a background and character check were sadly absent.

The topic itself makes enormous sense. The first step to “elimination” is to know “how”, legally. And clubbing “India and the U.S.” is deeply significant. For every girl who enjoys the relative-free life in the land of green bucks, there are ten who’re caught in a mesh of abuse in a strange land with little hope of redress. Stories of girls with stars in their eyes following the husband on a dependent visa, and once off the plane, finding that the honey has drained off the moon to reveal a hard surface of abuse – verbal, physical and emotional – are common.Dr. Shamita Das Dasgupta, co-founder of Manavi in New Jersey and Adjunct Professor at the New York University Law School said, “We thought the Indian community was problem-free till we realised that the truth was hidden in the concept of shame, family honour. Fierce faith that we should present a “clean” face to the host community, and as a modern minority in the U.S., our conduct should look unimpeachable kept us silent.”

Can courts help?

“Cultural beliefs strongly impact how courts address the issue of marriage,” said Geetha Ramaseshan, Advocate and Special Public Prosecutor, Madras High Court. “Trans-national concerns of violence and social practices like dowry may not be understood abroad.” In a different forum, the U.S. Consul-General, David Hopper said, “The U.S. Consulate-General is determined to do whatever we can to eliminate violence against women. We have identified the visa application process as one opportunity. Because of language and other barriers, some women victims don’t know where to turn for help. In fact, help is available in every part of the U.S. for victims of domestic abuse and violence.”

Let’s hope for the best.

GEETA PADMANABHAN

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