Domestic Violence, Gender Discrimination

Personal Safety is a fundamental right of life – the right to live without fear of any harm or danger to you and your family, both immediate and extended. No one has the right to harm, abuse or threaten anyone else and a victim has the right to make a formal complaint and seek action against the offender.

“Domestic violence is any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (be it physical or emotional) between adults who are or have been in a relationship together, or between family members, regardless of gender or sexuality. The types of behavior frequently encountered in domestic violence are physical attacks, sexual attacks, psychological abuse, and the destruction of property or pets”.

Domestic Violence and abuse “consists of acts committed in the context of an adult intimate relationship. Domestic violence is purposeful and instrumental behavior directed at achieving compliance from, or control over the abused party”.

It is one of the most under-reported crimes worldwide and occurs across all strata of society. Although statistics and analytical figures point that domestic abuse consists mainly of violence by men against women, it is not restricted to these circumstances. In some cases men too are abused by their partners. However, it is shocking that globally domestic violence accounts for 16% of all violent crimes and 77% of victims are women. It is equally shocking to read that most victims have suffered repeated abuse and continue enduring physical violence for several years before they make a formal complaint. Unfortunately, in most cases, children are at the receiving end of abuse within homes. It is also equally relevant here to note that most women do not report violence or abuse for fear of harassment to their children.

Domestic violence in homes occurs if a spouse is being subjected to abuse by current or former spouse, parent or child. Even if a person is harassed, threatened, stalked, beaten, freedom of movement restrained, or property destroyed; then all these too constitute domestic violence. A victim of domestic violence does not have to be in a marital or other relationship.

Attitudes that are reflected by society contribute greatly to domestic violence. Long held notions that a wife is the “property of a husband and he can do what he likes to keep her in check” have been the cause for delayed action in cases involving domestic violence. Adding to this already aggravating situation is the view that ‘domestic violence’ does not strictly come under the purview of ‘police investigation’. Archaic laws like “the rule of thumb” existed till very recent times.

Till the 1970s, most cases involving domestic violence were settled by mediation by third parties without achieving any desired results. Police response to domestic violence has a pathetic record globally.

Family Law guidelines view such violations seriously and advise victims on the action they need to take and also on what will happen once their application is received. It has also enforced the ‘right of protection to women irrespective of status’ as a constitutional fundamental right.

Several legal cases in the US and Europe have highlighted the plight of victims of domestic violence as well as landmark judgements that have been pronounced. Today, many police agencies adopt mandatory arrest policies enforcing the view that society should view domestic violence as a criminal offence. Only strict action and stringent punishment can provide safety and solace to victims of domestic violence.

In India’s context, it is relevant to sit up and take notice of the increasing number of incidents that are classified as “honour killing” in recent times. Thanks to media exposure, more numbers of incidents are highlighted and the world at large is witness to some gruesome crimes, which are horrifying to say the least. How could family, kith & kin kill another member of the family brutally just to avenge ‘honour’ and ‘status’? What is this mindset? Even the most expert of psychologists may have to delve deep into their knowledge and expertise to come up with plausible explanations and reasoning. For the record, murders are committed of girls who elope with boyfriends; or marry a man of their choice, outside of their own community or caste, against the parents’ wishes; or decide to have a harmless cup of coffee or an ice cream with a classmate of the opposite gender.

Some of these violent crimes are aided and abetted by so-called communal and religious bodies, obviously with backing from some political party that they pledge allegiance to. One such agency took upon itself to “marry off” any two people of the opposite sex who were seen out in the open on Valentine’s Day. Utterly shameless and perverted thinking of the worst kind. Another local administrative body suggests that girls ‘must be’ married off at the age of 15 and boys at the age of 18 to prevent them going ‘astray’ and indulging in shameful activity. A minister went on national television to say that ‘governance cannot trample and set laws that oppose traditional beliefs and mindsets’. What a myopic and absolutely shameful viewpoint!!! Such negative trends will have far reaching consequences on a society’s growth and development. Elsewhere, governments are providing incentives to families to educate girl children because it is not believed without reason, that if you “educate and liberate a woman with knowledge and confidence, you are educating and liberating a family”. Females of any species have that innate ability to strive and overcome obstacles especially when it comes to protecting and providing for the wellbeing of their families. Perhaps nature’s design is not without purpose because every family, even in the poorest of villages across India, that has a literate girl child has seen innumerable benefits being absorbed into their lives in many ways.

Another obvious example of the success of women’s liberation is the micro financing schemes introduced in Third World economies which is ample proof of what women can achieve for themselves, and in turn their families, if they are given the right opportunities and assistance. This success has been a lifeline for millions of families around the globe transforming communities and towns into hives of action and sustenance fuelled by women, cutting across language, regional, religious and communal barriers.

There are huge implications from these positive results and vast lessons for the rest of the world to learn. Hopefully, now that the transformation has arrived, it will evolve to engulf the whole world.

And we may as yet live to see gender biases and discrimination a thing of the past. Long live women power!!