Violence against Women

Violence Against Women

Newsletter March 1984

EACH morning we open our newspapers to find one or two women, “burnt while cooking food" or “heating milk". These incidents have been popularly referred to as “dowry deaths". These burnings are an extreme form of violence.

Women are subjected to in our society. In no other country in the world have women been known to be burnt to death for having brought “insufficient dowry". In Delhi, such incidents have assumed alarming proportions. Are these accidents? Suicides? or murders? According to the .Anti-dowry Cell set up by the Police Commissioner, Delhi:

690 women have died of burns in 1983 of whom 270 were between 18-25 years of age of which 23 were alleged “dowry burnings".

Such cases are registered by the police under Sections (U/S); 309 IPC (Indian Penal Code) Attempted suicide, did not die.

174 CrPC (Criminal Procedure Code) - Inquest procedure for unnatural deaths.

306 IPC-Aiding and abetting suicide.

302 IPC—Murder.

Table 1 Number and nature of cases 1979-1983 May

These don’t specify whether the police suspects any foul play or not and also whether investigations are in progress or not. We have to assume that if police do not suspect foul play then no investigations are in progress. Of the 109 cases analysed there were 72 alleged accidents while cooking or lighting stoves. The question arises as to why in some cases, where domestic quarrels were taking place, no investigation was in progress and further why in some very suspicious - looking cases, the police do not suspect foul play. In 99 out of 109 cases no foul play was suspected.

Marital status of victims

78 per cent of the women (85 out of 109) were married and 22 percent were single, including a couple of children. None of the women were widowed. The average age of eighty married women (age information available) was 26 years. If we leave out 7 women over the age of 40 years, the average age for 73 married women was 23.5 years. From our sample a glaring fact is revealed; that young and married women tend to die by burning at a greater rate than older and unmarried women.

Post-Mortems

Post-mortems are reported to have been carried out in 83 out of 109 cases. Out of the 24 cases where no post-mortems are reported to have been carried out, in 4 cases it is not clear why and in 20, the post-mortem was waived on request by the family, usually a male relative such as the husband, father or brother. It is important to point out that there is obviously a conflict under pressure? When most women do not speak up against their husbands, and in-laws inspite of intense tortures. Would a women lying on her death bed have the strength to do so? Would she respond differently in the presence of a supportive or independent agent? Only last week a bereaved mother informed us that her burnt daughter corroborated her husband’s statement of events at first, but subsequently informed her mother that her husband in a drunken state had burnt her and threatened not to take her to hospital till she agreed to state that she had met with an accident.

Alleged cause of death

alleged murder: 3

alleged suicide: 34

alleged accident: 72

Total: 109

Twenty two out of the 34 women reportedly committed suicide as they were having serious domestic problems, such as being battered, alcoholic husbands, dowry and in- law problems and childlessness. Though these women had good reasons to wish they were dead, the reverse is also possible. Namely, it is just as reasonable to suspect that those very problems and quarrels could culminate in murder.

Everyday Violence

While murder is the ultimate step in physical violence against women, this is not the only form which is increasing. Within the four walls of the home women continue to be subjected to taunts, jeers, abusive language and the occasional slap and beating. And there are no witnesses ·to this process of degradation which in many instances leads to suicides.

In Saheli, women daily recall the mental and physical torture they are being subjected to. Eighteen year old Meera lives in a resettlement colony and works in a drug factory, she recalled, “I was married at 16. On the first day my husband told me, he liked another woman, but he had sex with me and after one month locked me out of the house. For two years now I am living with my mother. They used to taunt me everyday and beat me if I spoke up. Now my husband troubles me daily. I don’t want to go back but my mother is worried".

Radha comes from a south Indian middle class family living in Delhi. She is educated and has been working as an executive for several years. From the time of marriage, her husband has never shown her any affection. To begin with, he treated her with indifference. However after a couple of months, he started demanding all her salary (Rs. 1600 a month). He would not give her any spending money, not even for drinking a cup of tea. On the slightest pretext he would lock her up in the house and taunt her that she would be dismissed from her job for absenteeism. Radha continues to live with her husband because she feels her sister’s chances of marriage will be jeopardised if she secures a divorce.

Sudha was married in Dec. 80. She became pregnant and was due to deliver her first child. Sudha lived with her in-laws, a family of 8 people. She was made to do all the housework, washing, cooking, cleaning for the entire family even in her advanced state of pregnancy, she had no right to employ a domestic help. She had to hear a thousand reprimands that her work was inadequate. To punish her, her in-laws would deprive her of food, the worst humiliation for any human being. When she delivered her child, she was expected to bring gifts in cash and kind for the in-laws. The most penniless, powerless person in the household, the Bahu, must provide for their “needs’ in order to buy her happiness.

We could go on and on. But we cannot generalise that such incidents happen within the first few years of marriage, nor are they all related to `"dowry demands". An alcoholic husband will force his wife to part with household money to buy his drinks, or not give her enough. A working woman will hand over her entire pay packet to her husband or mother-in—law and will ask for travel and lunch allowance. A husband will sell his wife’s jewellery for developing his business, depriving her of her savings and security.

The problem is not confined to dowry "given in consideration of` marriage", within one, Five or ten years of matrimony. Perhaps it is time to rediline the problem, in the context ofthe all pervasive violence against women.!