Suffering Continues Despite Progress All Over
KN Tiwari, Director, Disha Social Organization
I. Introduction Newspapers and periodicals of all hues in India often carry reports about violence against women. These include among others incidents of young brides being burnt for bringing ‘insufficient’ dowry, women dieing in abnormal circumstances, rape on hapless women and molestation of young girls. In some cases there are public protests by women activists and such protests receive media coverage. Deaths of women are extreme outcome of ill treatment, psychological abuse, or physical violence suffered by women. On the other hand domestic violence suffered by women on a regular basis in the form of psychological or physical abuse goes unreported. Very rarely do women themselves file police cases against the ill treatment meted out to them. A few women who escape death end up in shelter homes, but the majority continue to live in marital union and endure abusive behaviour. Attempts to address the issue of violence against women have been lopsided and shortsighted. For example, the Dowry Prohibition Act, which was passed in 1961 and amended in 1984 and 1986, emphasises marital violence in the context of dowry only. While inadequate dowry may be one of the underlying causes of harassment of women, in rural poor households, where dowry is either non-existent or is only a token payment, there are other causes of abusive behaviour. Immediate ‘shortcomings’, negligence or failure in performing duties expected of wives or daughter-in-law also lead to violence. These causes may reflect the deep-rooted gender inequalities that prevail and persist in most regions of India. It is in this backdrop that violence against women and some of the best practices being followed in the country to address the menace are being examined in this paper. The paper begins with profiling of Indian women with respect to a few selected socioeconomic indicators. It delineates vulnerability nexus, which is adverse to poverty reduction and sustainable human development. It talks of dimensions of violence against women, including culturally sanctioned forms of violence. It then goes on to review best practices of combating violence against women. Lastly, it chronicles Disha’s experience in the field and draws certain conclusions.
II. A Profile of Women Women are principal providers of care and support to families. Yet every social indicator shows a fundamental social bias and inequality. The latest Census (2001) data showing six point increase in sex ratio (number of females per 934 932 930 928 926 924
Chart 1: Increase in Sex Ratio 933
1,000 males) between the Census Chart 2: Literacy in Two Census Decades years 1991 and 2001 have come 75.85 under cloud and doubts have been 80 65.38 expressed whether women were 54.16 52.74 60 42.85 under-enumerated in 1991 or they 1991 32.17 40 2001 were over-enumerated in 2001. 20 During the 10 year period between 0 the two Census, considerable Total Male Female progress has been made in the domain of literacy. During the period under review overall literacy increased by 34.46 percentage points – that of males and females by 30.46 and 40.60 percentage points, respectively. Similarly progress has been made with respect to indicators like health and nutrition, female workforce participation, female life expectancy, female infant mortality and maternal infant mortality. India is among the poorest countries of the world. According to the Human Development Report1, India occupies 162nd place in nations’ list of gross national product (GNP). Poverty estimate about India shows that 44.2 per cent population lives below $ 1 a day and 86.2 per cent below $ 2 a day. As a result quality of life in the country is poor. Under five mortality rate per 1,000 was 83 in 1998 and life expectancy at birth in the same year was 64. Public expenditure as percentage...