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Breaking the Silence: Confronting the Hidden Epidemic of Domestic Violence

“I thought that if lokas existed, surely good women would go to a place where men are not allowed so that they could finally free themselves from male demands.”
– Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, The Palace of Illusions

Kolkata was rocked by another case of domestic violence leading to murder a few days ago, when a 22-year-old woman was stabbed multiple times by her ex-husband, first at a cafe in the district of Beck Bagan to Calcutta, then back to the streets. road outside, forcing her to run away screaming for help. According to reports, residents apprehended the attacker and handed him over to the police. The woman was rushed to SSKM Hospital, where she was pronounced dead on arrival. The 29-year-old husband had previously been arrested for domestic violence filed by his wife and was later released on bail.

Another man in Pune hammered iron nails and put a lock on his wife’s genitals after maligning her character.

Domestic violence against married women remains a significant and deeply concerning problem worldwide, encompassing various forms of physical, emotional, sexual and economic violence within intimate relationships. Despite considerable efforts to raise awareness and adopt legislative measures, this violation persists and constitutes a widespread violation of human rights, affecting women of all ages, backgrounds and socio-economic statuses.

In India, one in three women is likely to have been a victim of domestic violence. However, only one in ten women officially report the offense. According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 2019-2021, 29.3% of married Indian women aged 18-49 have experienced domestic or sexual violence, and 3.1% of pregnant women in this group of age have suffered physical violence during their pregnancy. Again, these numbers only reflect cases reported by women.

Domestic violence extends beyond marital or partner relationships, encompassing various family relationships. In India, the legal framework has expanded this definition to include sisters, widows, mothers, single women and any woman living in the same household. Therefore, domestic violence includes both intimate partners and family members. According to section 3 of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005, any act or omission on the part of the respondent that causes harm, injury, threats or abuse, whether physical , sexual, verbal or economic, constitutes domestic violence.

In India, some laws specifically address the safety of married women from their husbands and their families.

Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005: This law aims to protect women from domestic violence, which includes physical, sexual, emotional and financial abuse. It provides explicit definitions of such abuse and extends its protection to women living in couples, as well as family members such as mothers and grandparents, thereby protecting women from male family members.

In the case of Bhartiben Bipinbhai Tamboli v. State of Gujarat (2018), the categories of violence covered by the law have been further clarified.
Sexual violence: Sexual violence involves forcing a woman to engage in unwanted, dangerous or humiliating sexual acts, including name-calling, using objects or weapons during sex, and being forced to have sex by their spouse or intimate partner.

Physical Violence: Physical violence involves the use of force to cause injury or bodily harm. This includes physical attacks, threats, abandonment in dangerous places, intimidation with weapons, forcing one to leave one’s home, harming one’s children and/or the use of force in situations sexual situations.

Emotional Abuse: Emotional abuse involves non-physical abuse that can be as damaging as physical abuse. This includes name calling, accusations, isolation, intimidation, controlling behavior, insults and constant criticism.

Economic violence: Economic violence occurs when a woman is deprived of the financial support necessary for her basic needs and those of her children, prohibited from working, evicted by withholding rent, she is denied financial resources or has restricted access to shared household resources. This also includes the sale or alienation of its assets without consent.

The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961: This penal code prohibits the giving and receiving of dowry. Under the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961, the practice of dowry is prohibited and any person found providing, accepting or demanding dowry may be sentenced to imprisonment for up to up to six months or a fine of up to Rs 5,000.

Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860: This penal law deals with cruelty to women by their husbands or their husbands’ relatives. Dowry harassment, whether physical or mental, by the husband or his family is an offense punishable under Section 498A of the IPC. Although marital rape is not yet criminalized in India, forced sexual intercourse with one’s wife can be considered “cruelty” under this article. Section 498A also includes any deliberate behavior that causes a woman to commit suicide or poses a threat to her life, body or overall health, encompassing both her physical and mental well-being.

The Statesman spoke to a few women who have survived domestic violence at the hands of their husbands and in-laws. They shared their stories of resilience and how they moved forward in their lives. The names of the following people have been changed to protect their identities.

Moneesha speaks
“Growing up as a girl, my education was not considered important. Although I excelled in sports and had the opportunity to represent my school, my parents disapproved of girls participating in games, forcing me to stop. I was forced into marriage to a boy my parents found on a dating site, and problems arose almost immediately. Contact with my parents was very limited and my husband was gone all day and didn’t return until midnight. My mother-in-law constantly complained about my dowry and my husband joined in, demanding expensive items. When I was not pregnant after six months, my mother-in-law declared me sterile and my husband threatened to take a new wife. I wasn’t allowed to leave the house or even make phone calls. Eventually I got pregnant, but conditions got worse. My husband started gambling and drinking, which led to frequent arguments during which he beat me and even kicked me out of the house. I then had a miscarriage. Our housekeeper alerted my father who took me to the hospital. No one from my husband’s family came to see me and I gradually stopped expecting them to. My father was incredibly supportive and when I decided to take criminal action against my husband, he supported me through the difficult process. Now I work in a store and earn enough to support myself and my parents. Marriage is certainly a good thing, but I don’t see myself getting married again in the near future.

Srabani speaks
“At the age of 19, I found myself married to a man 21 years older than me. Tragically, my parents died when I was in my first year of college, leaving me in the care of my uncle and aunt who arranged my marriage within a year. Soon after, I became pregnant, but the joy of impending motherhood was spoiled by my mother-in-law’s constant pressure to have a son. Despite my husband’s absence during the week due to work, his weekend visits were full of insults and sexual violence against me, even during my pregnancy. Feeling trapped and oppressed, I was unhappy carrying my husband’s child. At first, my father-in-law seemed nice, but when I approached him to explain the situation, he asked me to remain silent, citing that “good women” never speak negatively about their husbands and that intimate details should not be discussed externally. the wedding. He even decided to burn my lips with a cigarette he was smoking as punishment. Determined to protect myself, I made the decision to leave my marital home after giving birth to my son and renting an apartment. Despite my husband’s legal custody battles, I emerged victorious. In the first few months, we relied on my savings and the proceeds from the sale of my late mother’s jewelry. Eventually, I landed a job in sales, putting my son in the care of a compassionate neighbor who became like family to us. Today, my son, almost 12 years old, is thriving in his studies at a reputable institution, reflecting the decency and understanding I hoped for. In the meantime, I progressed in my career, grateful to have escaped the cycle of abuse and built a better future for myself and my son.

Sweta speaks
“Our marriage was a marriage of love. He was my partner for three years. A few months after we got married, my husband lost his job and decided to start a business, asking me for money to finance it. Wanting to support him, I gave him part of my savings from my work as a professor. After a few months, he asked for a larger sum, which I did not have. He then insisted that I ask my parents for money. When I refused, the abuse started. He beat me frequently and I hid my bruises with makeup before going to work. Some of the other teachers noticed me and approached me, but I initially denied their allegations of domestic violence. After a year, I couldn’t take it anymore. My body was covered in bruises and reds. I went back to my parents and sent them the divorce papers. Today, I am married to my second husband, who has been incredibly supportive. She is an angel and we are expecting twins soon.

Combating domestic violence requires a multidimensional approach involving legal, social and educational interventions. Additionally, it is imperative to provide accessible resources to survivors, including counseling, legal aid, and safe shelters, for their recovery and empowerment. Continued advocacy, awareness, policy and societal reforms are essential to creating a future where every woman can live without fear of violence in her own home. Ending domestic violence requires a collective effort from all sectors of society, ensuring that survivors’ voices are heard and their rights are respected. Of course, the path is difficult, but with collective effort and unwavering commitment, it is possible to build a safer and fairer society for all.

The author is an attorney and staff reporter at The Statesman.