By Vaishali Mahlyan, University Institute of Law and Management Studies.

Violence against women in India is an issue which is rooted in the norm of our society.  Male dominating society, law favoring men, inadequate policing and judicial practices deny female victims proper protection and justice. We assume that with increasing participation of women in public life and the amended laws, we have bridged the gap between men and women and provided them with equal status. But the reality is, India still has a long way to go to make Indian women equal citizens in their own country.
United Nations General Assembly Resolution 48/104 of December 20, 1993, states that violence against women is “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”

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According to the UN, between 15 to 76 percent of women are targeted in their lifetime and amongst which most of the violence takes place within intimate relationships, there are 9 to 70 percent of women reporting their husbands or partners as the perpetrator. Across the 28 States of the European Union, a little over one in five women has experienced violence from a partner and in case of India, according to the National Crime Records Bureau of India, the reported incidents of crime against women has increased to 6.4% during 2012, and a crime against a woman is committed every three minutes. In 2012, there were a total of 244,270 reported incidents of crime.

The issue was brought to the forefront after the brutal gang-rape of a 23-year-old woman in Delhi on 16 December, 2012. That incident led to a sudden outrage of anger and frustration amongst the citizens. They demanded for change and security for women. Government took a step which led to the formation of Justice Verma Committee and later Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013. Some of the positive measures in the amendment included recognizing acid attacks, sexual harassment, voyeurism, stalking and trafficking of persons as criminal acts under the amendments to the Indian Penal Code, 1860. Five exclusive fast track courts were set up to deal with cases of sexual violence against women. Additionally, a women’s distress helpline number, 1091 was launched in various Indian cities.

But the question is, whether all these changes are adequate for the protection of women against violence? And how far is our Government able to eradicate this heinous crime? Recently a woman was allegedly beaten to death by her brother-in-law in presence of her son over some property dispute in Rajasthan, she was attacked by kicks, blows, and stick, later the woman was rushed to a private hospital but she succumbed to internal bleeding and injuries, which led to her death.

It is generally considered that the root cause behind this violence against women is illiteracy  resulting in women gender inequality which is visible in many areas, including politics, religion, media, cultural norms, and the workplace. Thus it becomes easier for a man to believe that he has the right to be in charge and to control a woman, even if it requires violence and they believe that women deserve less social power and it is therefore acceptable,  maybe even necessary,  to exert power over them.

This concept of male chauvinism is woven into the fabric of our society to such an extent that many of us who are victimized feel that we are at fault. It is the most under-reported crime worldwide because of the social stigma attached to the nature of the crime. The part which amazes us all is, violence is not restricted only to the lower strata of the society, even elite class, educated people have been seen engaging in this  crime. A wife of party lawmaker and former Delhi minister has filed a complaint against him, accusing him of “domestic violence and mental torture.” So we can not relate this to illiteracy or unawareness of people alone.

I totally agree with people who feel the incorporation of Justice Verma recommendations into the criminal law amendments is not enough to change the fundamentals that drive anti-women discrimination. Stories of harassment, the rape of women including of children as young as five or six years of age  and governmental incompetence or apathy continue to make their way into the front pages of Indian newspapers on a regular basis.

Violence against women should be taken as violation of a woman’s personhood, mental or physical integrity, or freedom of movement through individual acts and societal oppression instead of taking it as a normal crime. The women should be taught “Noticing and acknowledging the sign of an abusive relationship is the first step to ending it”. No one should live in fear of the person they love. If you recognize yourself in descriptions of abuse, reach out. There is help available.

It is correctly said:

You have a chance to save lives! If you don’t take it, you may regret it!”
Widad Akrawi

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