In the effort at establishing institutional mechanisms of Nari Adhikar Kendra or Gender Resource Centre managed by Cluster level federation in Madhya Pradesh, the largest number of issues raised were of domestic violence. The concept of gender was often equated and explained in terms of discrimination and domestic violence. Domestic violence, especially economic violence was not easily discerned and the capacity to earn and have an account was thought of as a great achievement even if they had to depend on the family to have access to and utilise the money they earned.
Similarly, physical to sexual violence especially marital rape was high and women were seeking redressal through Village Organisation Social Action Committee, Cluster Level Federation Social Action Committee or Gender Resource Centre. The women in Petlawad, Jhabua district, Madhya Pradesh who had been facing domestic violence and desertion due to second marriages had decided to fight for property rights to deter second marriages and regain self-esteem.
What Facts And Statistics Say?
The platform established through exclusive women’s institutions had rendered them a voice and a safe space to express their anguish without feeling let down. This has been developed through an intense process of capacity building.
Years after independence, women are still subjected to violence within domestic spheres and public spaces. From Mathura to Nirbhaya to recent barbaric violence against women in Manipur especially in public spaces, alarms half the gender of the regression in society and instils fear of mobility restricting choices in occupation, decision making, questioning right to life and security. Within the domestic sphere, NFHS-5 reports that women aged 15 to 49 years experience 29.3 % of domestic violence. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, as many as 4,28,278 cases of crime against women were registered during 2021—an increase of 15.3 per cent over 2020 (3,71,503 cases).
Most cases of crimes against women under IPC were registered under "cruelty by husband or his relatives" (31.8 per cent) followed by "assault on women with intent to outrage her modesty" (20.8 per cent), "kidnapping and abduction of women" (17.6 per cent) and "rape" (7.4 per cent). Gender-based violence (GBV) or violence against women and girls (VAWG), is a global pandemic that affects 1 in 3 women in their lifetime.
The numbers are staggering; 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence. While globally 7% of women have been sexually assaulted by someone other than a partner and as many as 38% of murders of women are committed by an intimate partner. World Bank in 2019 reported 200 million women have experienced female genital mutilation.
Patriarchy sustains violence
Within patriarchal structures, this is still considered acceptable. Stereotypical notions of patriarchy related to women’s behaviour, roles and responsibilities get subscribed and even slight deviations are not tolerated. Conditioning and grooming to fit into subscribed productive and reproductive roles begin from childhood. Violence can range from physical, sexual, economic, and emotional violence. Violence can be initiated for flimsy reasons like the style of cooking infertility, giving birth to a girl child, inability to perform sexually, etc. Women’s subscriptions to these behaviour roles take a toll on their health. Fear of violence within workspaces also impedes work participation rates. Women mostly work as labourers in their own fields. Fear of violence and unwanted behaviour in workplaces also lead to falling work participation. This serves as a severe barrier to economic progress.
Legal legislation in India has come into vogue following massive protests of the women’s movement. Following the Mathura Rape case in the police station by police personnel, outbursts across the country led to an amendment in the Criminal law second amendment act.
The discussions on ‘consent’ and the need to prove crime leading to trauma and further stigmatisation were initiated. Landmark changes on consent, in-camera proceedings, and shifting the onus of proof onto the accused were incorporated into the law. Domestic Violence Act 2005, despite being Civil law led to the right of residence. Women received protection orders to reside in their own houses and were protected from being thrown out of residence.
Protection Of Children from Sexual Offences Act was a further progressive legislation to protect children from sexual offences. It broadened the definition to include boy children along with girls, raised the age to 18 years, made reporting easier and child-sensitive and onus of proof on the accused.
The protection of women from the Sexual Harassment Act led to the definition of sexual harassment in the workplace and the constitution of internal committees in workplaces like offices and local committees in informal workplaces to be constituted. Despite these legislations, there is fear of reporting due to stigma. Several cases do not lead to punitive action and fail to set precedence.
Ray of hope
The NRLM programme which has led to the formation of self-help groups and federations addresses poverty from a multi-dimensional perspective. The endeavour had been to develop institutional mechanisms within the federation to counter violence. Gender Resource Centre is being set up at the block level and managed by the Cluster level federations and the federations are collectively asserting their agency to demand service delivery from relevant stakeholders like Women and child development, the Police department, legal service authorities, etc.
Convergence in between departments like NRLM with its community institutional architecture, women and child development department, legal services authority, and police need to work together in an institutionalised manner.
Seema Bhaskaran is the lead on gender at Transform Rural India, and the views expressed by the author are their own.