Some years ago, a group of us, moms, bloggers, professionals, writers, creators, entrepreneurs, got together and started a wonderful initiative called Violence Against Women Awareness Month. For the entire month of November, for four consecutive years, we spoke about violence against women, putting out statistics, survivor stories, Twitter chats, Facebook posts, all in a bid to discuss the elephant in the room.

The statistics, as we researched them, were shocking. According to the National Family Health Survey (NHFS-4) released by the Union Health Ministry, every third woman, aged 15 and above has faced domestic violence across the country, in various forms. The survey stated that domestic violence cases with women reporting physical abuse in rural areas were at 29 per cent and in urban areas at 23 per cent respectively. Not much of a difference.

perfect marriage

The violence that gets the attention and gets spoken about, we realised, is the violence that happens in the streets, the visible violence, the violence women are subjected to by strangers. A violence they face as they negotiate public spaces in their everyday journeys to school, college, the workspace. The other, and the more insidious form of violence, is the one that often doesn’t get spoken about because it is violence that is never mentioned. This is the violence that happens in the house.

The other, and the more insidious form of violence, is the one that often doesn’t get spoken about because it is violence that is never mentioned. This is the violence that happens in the house.

According to the recently released UN Global study on homicide: Gender-related killing of women and girls 2018, the home is the most likely place for a woman to be killed.

This is a chilling fact.

According to the NHFS-4 report, 31 per cent of married women have experienced physical, sexual or emotional violence from their spouses, of these the most common is physical violence which stands at 27 per cent. One-third married women have experienced violence from their spouses, with physical injuries, which include eye injuries, burns, deep wounds, broken bones and worse. Of these only 14 per cent of the women will seek help.

This is violence that is camouflaged by dark glasses, scarves and concealer over bruises in a certain segment of society, by a pallu drawn across the face in another. It was a fall in the bathroom, a fall down the stairs, tripping over on the pavement, the women say when asked. Doctors spot the signs and administer the treatment required, not commenting on the explanation offered. This is violence that everyone around is witness to, but not a single person steps in to intervene and stop—and thus, by this complicit silence, giving it a tacit acceptance. Men beat up the women in their lives. Sometimes, they even kill them.

This is violence that is camouflaged by dark glasses, scarves and concealer over bruises in a certain segment of society, by a pallu drawn across the face in another.

To quote from the report, “A total of 87,000 women were intentionally killed in 2017. More than half of them (58 per cent) ̶ 50,000 ̶ were killed by intimate partners or family members, meaning that 137 women across the world are killed by a member of their own family every day. More than a third (30,000) of the women intentionally killed in 2017 were killed by their current or former intimate partner ̶ someone they would normally expect to trust. Based on revised data, the estimated number of women killed by intimate partners or family members in 2012 was 48,000 (47 per cent of all female homicide victims). The annual number of female deaths worldwide resulting from intimate partner/family-related homicide therefore seems be on the increase. The largest number (20,000) of all women killed worldwide by intimate partners or family members in 2017 was in Asia, followed by Africa (19,000), the Americas (8,000) Europe (3,000) and Oceania (300).”

In India, dowry-related deaths account for around 40 to 50 per cent of all female homicide according to the National Crime Record Bureau.

According to the UN Report, “Only one out of every five homicides at global level is perpetrated by an intimate partner or family member, yet women and girls make up the vast majority of those deaths. Victim/perpetrator disaggregations reveal a large disparity in the shares attributable to male and female victims of homicides committed by intimate partners or family members: 36 per cent male versus 64 per cent female victims. Women also bear the greatest burden in terms of intimate partner violence. The disparity between the shares of male and female victims of homicide perpetrated exclusively by an intimate partner is substantially larger than of victims of homicide perpetrated by intimate partners or family members: roughly 82 per cent female victims versus 18 per cent male victims.”

What is it that makes women so immensely vulnerable to intimate partner violence of this level that it could be fatal, and how can women be safe in their own homes? The research found that most of these acts of femicide aren’t normally spontaneous or random acts, but more often than not, these are pre-planned acts of murder. While jealousy and suspicion are major factors in some of these across the world, in a country like India, the primary factors are socio-cultural. Dowry deaths and honour killings top the list. One act of domestic violence is reported every five minutes in India, according to Dasra. To quote from Dasra’s website, “50-70 per cent of women in India face some form of domestic violence, whereas only 2 per cent of victims approach the police. 57 per cent of boys and 53 per cent of girls aged 15-19 believe that wife-beating is acceptable. 75 per cent of Indian women who have reported domestic violence have attempted suicide.”

The research found that most of these acts of femicide aren’t normally spontaneous or random acts, but more often than not, these are pre-planned acts of murder.

What allows this to continue on the horrific scale that it does? It is our own reluctance as people to step in and call out unacceptable behaviour when we see it. How often do we hear screams and refuse to step out and ring the doorbell of a neighbour to check if the woman is okay? How often do we, as a community, step in to counsel an abusive husband to lay off the physical violence with his wife? No one intervenes, no one steps in. A woman, once she is married, is more often than not completely alone. Her family will rarely step in and reassure her that she can walk out of the marriage and come home to them, where she will be safe.

A woman, once she is married, is more often than not completely alone. Her family will rarely step in and reassure her that she can walk out of the marriage and come home to them, where she will be safe.

Women are often sent back into abusive marriages with the exhortation to ‘adjust’ where the only adjustment possible is to give in to the ever escalating demands from the husband and his family. While we do have the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA) passed in 2005 to help women in a situation of Domestic Violence, a powerful public service campaign called “Bell Bajao,” which exhorted neighbours to go across and ring a doorbell when they could hear a woman in distress, resulted in an increase in women reporting domestic violence. But yet people do not intervene enough. “Stay out of it. Mia biwi ka jhaagda hai, why should we step in,” they say. The woman is isolated, at the mercy of her spouse. The violence escalates. The blood, is not just on the hands of the man who beats her or kills her, the blame is equally on the people around who didn’t step in to stop it, or just to let the man know that he was being watched, that he was not free to physically assault his wife, even if it was within the four walls of his own home.

It is only when we, as a people, step up and intervene, call out what we can see, socially boycott homes and the men who physically abuse the women in their lives, and empower the women to speak up about the abuse they face that things could change. The omerta around domestic violence must go, and with it, perhaps, we could make homes just that little bit safer for the women who must live in them.

Kiran Manral is Ideas Editor at SheThePeople.TV. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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