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Urgent need in India to recognize domestic violence as human rights violation

By IMPRI Team 
An informative and elucidating online panel discussion on “Domestic Violence and Abuse: Challenges and Responses” was an initiative of the Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC), at the IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi held on December 19, 2022. The program included an insightful and enriching discussion delivered by eminent speakers, Advocate Gayatri Sharma, Prof Vijaylakshmi Brara, Dr Tara Nair, Adv Celin Thomas, Dr Keerthi Bollineni, and Anchita Ghatak. Prof Vibhuti Patel chaired the session. The session was opened with introductory and welcoming remarks from Professor Vibhuti Patel and was further moderated by her.
The session was opened by Prof Vibhuti Patel, Visiting Professor at IMPRI and a former Professor at Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, who draws a brief but well-articulate introduction to the maladies of Domestic Violence on women both mentally and physically and its impending aftereffects on the more prominent female community and Gender dynamics on whole. She also spoke about the accessibility of safe space groups of rehabilitation for victims and the lack of sensitivity in rural areas of India. She concludes with the urgent need for recognizing domestic violence as a human rights violation in India’s patriarchal society and officially opens the panel to the audience.
The first speaker, Prof Vijaylakshmi Brara, Professor at Royal Global University, Guwahati was asked to open the discussion from the viewpoint of a sociologist and was asked to provide her valuable insights on the increasing rate of domestic violence and abuse in Indian households by Prof. Patel. To this, she opens with the current epidemic or termed the ‘shadow pandemic’ where there was a stark rise in domestic violence cases in South and South-East Asia as a response to the widespread mental and economic distress upon the men, or as justified by them.
She explains that domestic violence continues to pertain in society and still has the legitimacy to increase due to its sanctity in society, the allowance to beat your wife because you have the right to draw inspiration from ingrained gender roles and power dynamics. As a Sociologist, she feels that the ingrained misogyny has led notions that have alluded even science to prove that women are evolutionarily behind men as intellectual individuals, do not hold the capacity to decipher everyday politics or economics, and it is this disparity that creates a space for men to consider their wives superior and just a figment of their male dominance and ego.
She concludes by briefing the effects on both a victim’s physical and mental health, such trauma induces, and questions whether women’s positions in households will be seen beyond as homemakers and inferiors. Will we always blame power dynamics and economic development as the reason behind abuse that is justified? The first presentation was concluded by Prof Patel providing insights on child sexual abuse and the role of substance abuse and alcohol as important catalysts for domestic abuse and agrees with Prof. Brara on focusing on the physical and mental well-being of the victims along with justice in law.
The second speaker, Dr Keerthi Bollineni, President at Vasavya Mahila Mandali, Vijaywada, was welcomed by Prof Patel and was introduced to her robust work towards women’s rights in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, the first Indian state to introduce gender-responsive budgeting that aims to tackle domestic abuse with its robust community-based social structures and was asked to highlight on her experience working in such an environment with her organization. She started with her personal experience as a survivor of domestic violence and terms it as something that can happen to any woman and no amount of affluence and financial stability can create a loom of protection as she is from an affluent family herself; bringing a new trajectory to the discussion.
Her personal story inspired her journey to be a social activist and fight for the rights of women who are day-in and out facing atrocities in their homes, and having their lives threatened. She explains her work at her organization Vasavya Mahila Mandali and their role in empowering victims and giving them the confidence to effectively seek justice and share their stories when filing police reports, despite negligence and stigma from the authorities. Her organization also works in creating a safe space for rehabilitation and social counselling for all victims through a strong community of victims and individuals who care for gender rights.
The next speaker, Adv Gayatri Sharma, Lawyer and Programme Director, Women Power Connect, New Delhi, was asked to share her views on how one can create behavioural change in society and people towards gender sensitivity and to what extent one must go in terms of advocacy to nurture such societal and individual level changes. She explains the ground-level issues that victims face when availing legal procedures when seeking justice, including gaps in provision and receiving. For instance, protection officers and activists often shy away from providing care without any safety from police officers, and protection from them is not always available, similarly the monetary costs of availing a lawyer and handling legal procedures add as a huge burden on victims. In most cases, practitioners refuse to take cases without enough funding to meet their fees.
She opened up about her experience with the youth when conducting a workshop with them on domestic violence. The candid discussion that followed opened the eyes to violence in the form of incest among many young girls who courageously spoke out. Prof Patel shared her experience in Kolkata where younger generations have been free with speaking out against the violence that has helped a young girl’s mother be saved from the shackles of abuse from her husband. This nature of the younger generations is laudable, in terms of fighting for the POCSO Act or simply speaking out against violence and raising awareness.
Our next speaker, Anchita Ghatak, Co-founder at Parichiti: Making Women Visible, Kolkata, whose organization solely focuses on working with female domestic workers and would work with victims and their families. She explains the importance the PWDVA Act has made in the lives of the victims and has helped make her work easier when lodging complaints and seeking protection and justice. She speaks about the Shraddha Walker murder case and its pivot to violence and murder even in relationships separate from marriage, pushing young people and couples at threats.
The taboo towards live-in relationships pushes victims to a helpless situation, where they not only tackle the stigma of being women but as for engaging in situationships that are not acceptable in Indian society. Her work has led her to work in many open communities that have shown distressed images of men abusing women rightfully and the mother, in turn, beating up her children as a way to release the anger and frustration, causing a chain that is inescapable and continues in the next generations. She concludes with an invoking thought to all practitioners in various disciplines to research more on domestic violence and work their way in breaking such generational abuse.
The next speaker, Dr Tara Nair, Director (Research and Knowledge) at the Centre for Migration and Labour Solutions, Aajeevika Bureau, talks about her experience in research and academia and the ingrained misogyny that often roadblocks the development of projects that aim to challenge gender disparity. A project to challenge social norms and misogyny, according to her, suffered more major roadblocks than any project she has undertaken, resulting in questioning the issue of institutionalized problems and the difficult role of women in finding solutions. She too brought up the Walker murder case and questioned the media’s credibility in actually showing solutions to the case, rather than just demeaning it as a murder.
The lack of portrayal of sensitive solutions and discussions on rising and threading domestic violence abuse against women, from all walks of life, chooses to clout it as a murder case, a sensational crime story. The role of civil society and civil organizations in creating a safer space for victims is much needed now, more than ever. With rising human rights violations against women, sensitivity is urgently needed to be nurtured. She issues a state to hold responsibility in developing projects aimed to nurture sensitivity, and even private institutions, and corporates to hold equal responsibility in doing the same.
The last speaker, Adv Celin Thomas, Celin Thomas and Associates, Bengaluru, was asked to share her experience as a lawyer and a practitioner of law. She shares her experience with a 19-year-old Nepali migrant worker who decides to not approach legal help for her community and has their own way of approaching justice and legal procedures. She mentions the deviant of the community or the leader from which every family takes suggestions from acts as a misleading figure, shearing them away from justice. She, now 19 is married to a 26-year-old man and her family falsified her age (then 17 to 18) to marry her off in front of the community.
Despite being a self-made woman, working and living comfortably, the abuse she faces in her home is beyond repair. Despite agreeing to a divorce, her husband circulated a morphed picture of her, cyberbullying her and sexually harassing her online. The refusal of sympathy from her family, pushed this woman to seek help from Thomas. Such cases have always inspired her to do better for sometimes domestic violence cases exceed all limits and boundaries, leading to social exile and isolation of the victim due to patriarchy and misogyny.
The session ended with a group discussion between the four eminent speakers of today’s session on the meaning of Feminism, Gender, and Representation and the necessity of Gender-sensitive laws and policies followed by an insightful Q&A round with the participants.
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Acknowledgement: Ishina Das, research intern at IMPRI

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