Law · Public Policy

Domestic Violence: A Human Rights Issue

“Violence against women is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women, which have led to domination over and discrimination against women by men and to the prevention of the full advancement of women…”

In our society, violence is bursting. It is present almost everywhere and nowhere is this eruption more intense than right behind the doors of our homes. Behind closed doors of homes all across our country, people are being tortured, beaten and killed. It is happening in rural areas, towns, cities and in metropolitans as well. It is crossing all social classes, genders, racial lines and age groups. It is becoming a legacy being passed on from one generation to another.[1]

The term used to describe this exploding problem of violence within our homes is Domestic Violence. This violence is towards someone who we are in a relationship with, be it a wife, husband, son, daughter, mother, father, grandparent or any other family member. It can be a male’s or a female’s atrocities towards another male or a female. Anyone can be a victim and a victimizer. This domestic violence has a tendency to explode in various forms such as physical, sexual or emotional.[2] The extent of domestic violence hence extends from physical hurt to emotional and economic blackmail and may be interpreted by courts and lawyers to include and punish marital rape as well. Thus any domestic violence law should ideally put a stop to violence, give protection against future abuse and use punitive measures to combat continued domestic violence.[3]

The magnitude of domestic violence (DV) can be gauged from the fact that it has been documented in different cultures and societies all over the world. There is growing awareness that domestic violence is a global phenomenon and is a serious issue in developing countries as well. Nevertheless, domestic violence shows particular forms and patterns depending on the local context and recognized as an important public health problem. The substantial consequence is deterioration in women’s physical, mental, and reproductive health and ultimately the risk of death from domestic violence committed by a spouse or partner is reported to be high.

Freedom not only from violence but also from the threat of violence is the first indicator of rise in women’s capacity for survival and empowerment. The United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women states in its Preamble that violence against women is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women, which have led to domination over and discrimination against women by men and to the prevention of the full advancement of women, and that violence against women is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men. Violence against women is a universal reality but most of the time it is invisible.

Article 2 of the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, identifies three areas in which violence commonly takes place. They are a) violence occurring within the family b) violence occurring in the general community and c) violence perpetrated or condoned by the state.

One of the reasons for domestic violence being so prevalent is the orthodox and idiotic mindset of the society that women are physically and emotionally weaker than the males. Though women today have proved themselves in almost every field of life affirming that they are no less than men, the reports of violence against them are much larger in number than against men. The possible reasons are many and are diversified over the length and breadth of the country. According to United Nation Population Fund Report, around two-third of married Indian women are victims of domestic violence and as many as 70 per cent of married women in India between the age of 15 and 49 are victims of beating, rape or forced sex. In India, more than 55 percent of the women suffer from domestic violence, especially in the states of Bihar, U.P., M.P. and other northern states.[4]

Women may be affected in a number of ways. They may experience any or all of the following: Loss of opportunity; isolation from family/friends; loss of income or work; homelessness; emotional/psychological effects such as experiences of anxiety, depression or lowered sense of self-worth; poor health; physical injury or ongoing impairment; if they are pregnant they may miscarry or the baby may be stillborn; time of work or study, and long-term impact on financial security and career; death (two women a week are killed by their partners or former partners). Battered women have tendency to remain quiet, agonized and emotionally disturbed after the occurrence of the torment. A psychological set back and trauma because of domestic violence affects women’s productivity in all forms of life. The suicide case of such victimized women is also a deadly consequence and the number of such cases is increasing.[5]

Earlier victims of domestic violence did not lodge complaints, as they feared that such complaints might create a hostile home environment. Very often, women used to endure the violence towards them in silence for fear of repercussions. In spite of the extreme physical and psychological violence meted out on many women, they do not seek divorce, as they feel their trauma and that of their children is too great a price to be paid instead. Thus to a great extent she accepts domestic violence as part of her family life.[6]

Ambit of domestic violence under human rights:     Domestic violence is sadly a reality in Indian society, a truism. In the Indian patriarchal setup, it became an acceptable practice to abuse women. There may be many reasons for the occurrence of domestic violence. From a feminist standpoint, it could be said that the occurrence of domestic violence against women arises out of the patriarchal setup, the stereotyping of gender roles and the distribution of power real or perceived, in society. Following such ideology, men are believed to be stronger than women and more powerful. They control women and their lives and as a result of this power play, they may hurt women with impunity. The role of the woman is to accept her ‘fate’ and the violence employed against her meekly.[7]

Indian society makes domestic violence invisible and leaves it cocooned by feelings of guilt and embarrassment; according to some findings, two of every five women in an abusive relationship in India do not speak up about the abuse they undergo because of shame and family honor. Unfortunately, this attitude which makes domestic violence an invisible factor in India’s social fabric vitiates not only societal responses to the issue but also institutional responses. Even though studies have repeatedly shown that domestic violence is one of the few phenomena which cuts across all the cultural, socio-economic, educational, ethnic and religious barriers which usually divide society, and, absurdly enough, not only seems to increase with a rise in a woman’s education but also prevails among the so-called elite of society.[8]

Domestic violence in India is endemic and widespread predominantly against women. Around 70% of women in India are victims to domestic violence according to Renuka Chowdhury junior minister for women and child development. National Crime Records Bureau reveal that a crime against a women is committed every three minutes, a women is raped every 29 minutes, a dowry death occurs every 77 minutes and one case of cruelty committed by either the husband or relative of the victim.[9]

The position of women in the Indian society has been a very complicated one. In fact, it could not be an exaggeration to say that the recent changes in the status of women in India is not a sign of progress but it is really a recapturing of the position that they held in the early Vedic period.[10]

Gender equity and social development are inseparably interlinked. In addition to the above criteria another important criterion required to be able to create gender equity would be to do away with the fact of violence against women in particular with domestic violence which is widely prevalent in India but which unlike most other forms of violence against women is scarcely acknowledged as being widespread and is hardly ever treated as a crime. Instead, Indian society makes domestic violence invisible. Domestic violence is one of the few phenomena which cut across all the cultural, socio-economic, educational, ethnic and religious barriers. This type of violence not only seems to increase even with rise in women’s education but also prevails among the elite sections of the society. Violence by intimate family members is one of South Asia’s darkest legacies. In a survey on violence against women in India, 94 percent of the cases involved an offender who was a member of the family.[11]

India needs to develop a comprehensive domestic violence policy so that at least, the institutional response to the issue will give the battered women a choice whether or not they choose to remain in relationship with someone who has perpetrated domestic violence and access to aid in the form of health-care, childcare and shelter. The response to recognize that there are many forms of domestic violence–not restricted to life-threatening situations but also including emotional, physical, sexual, psychological and financial abuse–and it consequently should be flexible enough to be able to deal with the whole spectrum of violence,[12] any act which damages or injures or interferes with the use of any limb or faculty of a person, either permanently or even temporarily, would be within the inhibition of Article 21[13] and the right to life included in its ambit the right to live with human dignity[14].

[1] Sanmith Seth, Domestic Violence as a Human Rights Issue, Available at: http://www.legalservicesindia.com/article/print.php?art_id=415

[2] Nandita Saikia, Domestic Violence Handbook. Available at: http://lawmatters.in/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/dv.pdf. Section 3 of Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.

[3] Available at: http://www.lawyerscollective.org/womens-rights-initiative/cedaw.html

[4] Sri Krishna Kumar, Crime Against Women & its Impact on Them. Available at: http://www.legalservicesindia.com/article/article/crime-against-women-&-its-impact-on-them-540-1.html

[5]What are the effects of domestic abuse on women?, Women’s Aid Federation of England. Available at: http://www.womensaid.org.uk/domestic-violence-articles.asp?section=00010001002200410001&itemid=1274

[6] Available at :http://www.un.org/rights/dpi1772e.htm

[7] Harini Sudersan, The Domestic Violence Act : Constitutional Perspective, Available at: http://www.legalserviceindia.com/articles/dmt.htm

[8] Supra n. 2

[9] Youth for Nation, available at:  http://www.yfn.co.in/stop-women-abuse

[10] Supra n. 1

[11] Padmalaya Mahapatra, Domestic violence: issue of violation of human rights of women, Madhya Pradesh Journal of Social Sciences 2008

[12] Raj Bahadur Singh Verma, Towards Empowering Indian Women: Mapping Specifics of Tasks in Crucial Sectors, 2007 Serials Publications, New Delhi

[13] Francis Coralie Mullin v. Union Territory Delhi, Administrator AIR 1978 SC 597.

[14] Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation v. Nawab Khan Gulab Khan1997 (11) SCC 123.

About the Author

Rahul SoniMr. Rahul Soni is working as an Assistant Professor at Raffles University, Rajasthan. He is an Alumni of NLSIU, Bangalore. Social activities, reading and travelling interest him. Currently, he is interning with the Model Governance Foundation.

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