Violence against women is the most pervasive yet least recognized Human Rights violations in the world. This research article seeks to draw a comparative perspective of gender-based violence in India and Pakistan.
According to Human Rights Watch, gender-based violence occurs as a cause and consequence of gender inequities. It includes a range of violent acts mainly committed by men against women, within the context of the subordinate status of females in society, which it seeks to preserve.
In all societies, to varying degrees, women and girls are subjected to physical, sexual, and psychological abuse that cuts across lines of income, class, and culture. Such violence reflects a pervasive imbalance of power between women and men.
Of all the regions of the world, South Asia is where gender-based violence is most prevalent after Africa (according to data provided by United Nations Women).
Gender-based violence is prevalent across the whole of South Asia, however, the trends and nature of violence vary according to the local contexts of countries. Despite many efforts by state and local activists, the increase in violence suggests that patriarchal roots still have a stronghold on the traditions, culture, and way of life where men are still considered superior and women have no say about their lives.
This is indicative of a male chauvinistic society, which disregards and disparages the status and esteem of a woman.
This bias is so pervasive that neither the government(s) nor the enforcement agencies are spared from it, including the judiciary. Due to this attitude, there exists a huge gap between the formal commitments of governments towards gender-based violence and their actual efforts in that direction.
The above argument is substantiated when violence during the 1947 Partition is studied. Though it’s mostly remembered as the bloodiest transfer of human population in history; the aspect of deliberate violence meted out to women during it never comes to the forefront. Urvashi Butalia’s well-documented book brings out the ugly truth behind this. Lakhs of women were ruthlessly butchered, maimed, raped, poisoned, and killed- all in the name of honor. The bodies of women became sites of conflict and conquest as they were regarded as ‘keepers of family’s honor’. Women were reduced to objects for men to flaunt, control, dominate, and infiltrate, thereby not only diminishing their dignity and self-concept but also reducing their agency as human beings.
Such attitudes and social conditions still exist in both countries that are being compared hereon, despite ‘local/contextual’ differences.
It is a harsh reality that woman in India has been ill-treated for ages in a male-dominated society. She is deprived of her independent identity and is looked upon as a commodity.
Violence against them transgresses boundaries of caste, class, region, or religion and is prevalent everywhere. Thus, women in India undergo systematic violence, which is justified by a strict divide between the private and the public and, male and female. Placed on the wrong side of power and hierarchies, in their homes and workplaces, women, often face the brunt of the violence.
The phenomenon of violence against women arises from patriarchal notions of ownership over women’s bodies, sexuality, labor, reproductive rights, mobility, and level of autonomy. Deep-rooted ideas about male superiority enable men to freely exercise unlimited power over women’s lives and effectively legitimize it too. Violence is thus a tool that men use constantly to control women as a result of highly internalized patriarchal conditioning coupled with legitimacy for coercion to enforce compliance.
Religion, customs, age-old prejudices, etc. have put Indian women in a subservient and exploitable position in many domains of life. Such aspects are often glorified by the mass media through their regressive content in which women are shown in very traditional roles or are heavily sexualized. Low rates of participation in education, lack of economic independence, value biases operating against them, etc., have resulted in the women being dependent on menfolk and other institutions of authority like the family, neighborhood, and society. They are usually ignorant of their rights and even if they are not, they do not have easy access to justice. G.C.Chaturvedi, director, National Rural Health Mission, says: “In India, the worst problem we face is that victims in almost all states don’t feel victimized, both in case of dowry or spousal violence. They feel being beaten up or tortured by their husbands is all right. They have been groomed to believe that.” For e.g. Spousal abuse is so well accepted and normalized in India that a majority of men feel wife-beating is okay. Low levels of education clearly play a major role in this horrifying trend.
To understand the nature of violence against women in India it needs to be understood that women belonging to the vulnerable/marginalized sections of the society are more prone to violence than women from higher class/caste living in urban areas. This leads to ‘vertical violence’, which is based on blatant class and caste inequality and involves material issues of property and labor. Gang rapes by upper caste men for e.g. Badaun rape case of 2014. But this doesn’t mean that lateral violence doesn’t exist, i.e. violence against women from the same class/caste. The recent male mob violence against women in Mangalore and Bengaluru is a case at this point.
As a result, a woman undergoes various kinds of violence throughout her lifetime- female foeticide, female infanticide, discrimination, insult, domestic violence, rape, marital rape, sexual harassment, etc. She is not only robbed of her dignity and pride by the men ‘outside’ but also, may become a victim of cruelty by her ‘saviors’, within the four walls of her own house. However, her trauma does not end here, it may even go up to the extent of forcing her to commit suicide, or she may be burnt to death for various reasons including that of dowry.
GBV is prevalent in India due to the apathetic attitude held not only by the public at large but also by the authorities charged with the duty of protecting them. The general reaction is to blame the victim by saying that she brought the violence upon herself by not performing her duties, for being too assertive, for being out late at night, for being with boys, or simply for being liberated, The Park Street Rape Case is a classical example.
As a result, a woman undergoes a series of victimization, forced to relive her trauma over and over again to the point she convinces herself that it really was her fault. The end results are that:
- Many crimes go unreported
- The conviction rate is abysmally low
- Victims end up being ostracised from society, for bringing shame to the family
- The self-concept and esteem of the woman takes a heavy blow
- Her normal life is completely disrupted
This happens due to:
- The conservative and patriarchal makeup of the law enforcement agencies esp. the police. This often leads to pressures for compromise, non-registering of the case, or pressure on the victim’s family to retract their complaint.
- Weak implementation of laws. This is tragically true of the Dowry Prohibition Law, which is flouted by one and all in the Indian Society, irrespective of their caste, creed, and religion. Even the law enforcing agencies, believe it to be ornamental legislation, not seriously intended for implementation. The offenders do not consider themselves guilty and the victims do not perceive the conduct immoral like in other offenses. The prevailing evil of the dowry system in this part of the world, despite the existing stringent laws (Sec. 498A, 304B Indian Penal Code) to curb the menace, has shown an upward trend.
- The tedious and lengthy nature of the legal-judicial process
- The traditional outlook of lawyers and judges. The statements of the lawyer fighting for the offenders in the December 16-rape case for instance.
- Lack of proper training of the service providers and medical staff.
- Nature of Indian laws. E.g. the definition of rape taken is very narrow and leaves anal penetration and insertion of foreign objects out of its purview, the anti-trafficking law doesn’t take into consideration the choices of victims, law against adultery assumes propriety rights over the wife by the husband, etc.
- Non-committal attitude by the state and ministers. This is clearly evident in their irresponsible statements like ‘boys will be boys’.
All this is indicative of the fundamental bias against women.
Thus, a very strict private v/s public divide has emerged based on mutually exclusive conceptions of masculinity and femininity. There has been no fundamental change in the status of women in Indian society, where they continue to been targeted and unsafe at every step of the turn.
To read Part II, Click Here.
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Image Source: Concern Worldwide US.
Saumya Singh has done Masters in International Relations and Politics from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She is passionate about writing on the condition of womanhood in the subcontinent and probing international issues. She is also an avid reader, debater, and food enthusiast.