Log Kya Kahenge –
„What would people say“
Social scientist Pankhuri tells us about domestic violence in India, the effects of the Corona pandemic on the current situation and possibilities to escape violence.
Capital: New Delhi
Languages: more than 447 spoken languages; Hindi and English are the official languages
Population: approx. 1.33 billion
Did you know?
To restore the economy prime minister Modi is continuing to scale back Corona measures – even though infection rates are rising sharply. On 1st of September, he announced the fourth stage of corona loosening: Public and private events will be allowed to take place again if they have fewer than 100 participants.
Restrictions on travel and goods traffic between the individual states will be lifted. With the general return to normal life, the economy should recover – but the recovery will take time. In addition, various indicators show that the recovery is slowly coming to a halt after the end of the lockdown. The government lacks the financial means for a comprehensive new economic stimulus package. Tax revenues collapsed by a third in the second quarter. According to several rating agencies, the deficit in the current fiscal year is likely to be around seven percent, roughly twice as high as planned, due to the Corona crisis. But the pandemic is not the only reason: India was already struggling with weak growth before the virus outbreak5.
For this reason, we talked to Pankhuri*, a social scientist from New Delhi. Both, during her studies and in the course of her later professional experience, she dealt with the topic of mental health, especially of children, adolescents and young adults. Against the background of personal experiences as well as her academic career, she sees the domestic and family space in India as a frequent scene of violence. This includes not only more obvious forms such as sexual, physical and verbal, but especially emotional and psychological violence. The reason for this is that the latter are normalised in Indian culture and that there is a general lack of awareness of this form of violence.
*Name has been changed
What is to blame is patriarchy, regressive societal beliefs and corruption
Even at a young age, children learn that violence and verbal insults are legitimate means of education and discipline. „People still normalise violence amongst males as ‘boys will be boys’“. Women, who usually move into the house of the man’s family after marriage, are given the impression that they have yet to learn and adapt to their way of life. The woman’s body itself is defined as „sacred“ or „godlike“ and – according to this classification – is exclusively available to the husband. Pankhuri points out, that this assumption can of course change from family to family and from region to region. „But the prevalent belief is still that when women do not wear dupattas then it is considered shameful by other family members – especially if she is married“.
Duppatas are scarves worn over clothing to cover the chest.
Pankhuri also blames corruption in the country for the continuing high number of cases of domestic violence. Politicians and police officers are part of society and thus reflect its views. Moreover, cases from the past show that every accusation of domestic violence, rape and even murder can be cleared up by political influence and money. Also, the Indian legal situation often makes it difficult for victims of domestic violence to bring cases to court: Rape within marriage is not punished as a crime. Similarly, the payment of dowry is officially prohibited, but is still a common practice today. „There are numerous cases of domestic violence where spouses and the in-laws torture brides and their families for dowry“ Pankhuri reports.
Education and economic stability is not a universal solution
But who are the victims of domestic violence? Does gender, age, religion, caste, nationality or origin have an influence on the risk of becoming a victim?
Yes, says our interview partner. Most victims are women. This again shows the influence that socialisation in India has on social ideas about gender roles. „Females from a young age are taught to be modest, submissive and tolerant whereas male children are taught to be more hypermasculine and dominating“. According to Pankhuri, religion also plays a role – patriarchal ideologies are particularly strongly anchored in Islam and Hinduism. This is also evident in family planning: although determining the sex of a child before birth is prohibited in India, it is still common practice. Women who cannot bear a boy often have to suffer abuses from their families. Similarly, patriarchal ideas are more widespread in rural than in urban areas – women and girls are married at a younger age on average and finish their schooling earlier. The rate of violence against women is also higher in these areas. Moreover, the caste system in India is still strongly linked to social beliefs and hierarchies: „History shows that lower caste women, especially dalit women – one of the lowest castes – have been treated like servants and objects for sexual exploitation by upper caste men“. Nevertheless, Pankhuri emphasises: „Education and economic stability have not proven to be very helpful in reducing domestic violence. That is because the mindset of the society has not evolved“.
The caste system in India
The caste system in India
The caste system is a widespread phenomenon in particularly India of hierarchical classification and demarcation of social groups. The system is based on religious ideas, primarily originating from Hinduism. Among other things, it structures the division of labour and marriage within society. The social boundaries between the castes were also tightened by the colonial period and the British domination strategy of „divide and rule“. Since the Indian constitution of 1950, discrimination on the basis of caste membership has been prohibited – yet the caste system still finds its way into latent social structures and everyday life in India today.
"Log Kya Kahenge" - What would people say
Trapped in their own four walls
Ways out of violence
The Indian government has recognised the problem of domestic violence and passed the Domestic Violence Act in 2006. More and more non-governmental organisations, celebrities and also filmmakers are taking up the issue.
Bollywood film tip from the interviewee: „Pink“ and „Thappad“ (English ’slap‘)
Social awareness has also increased, especially among young Indian women. Nevertheless, there is still a long way to go: „I have numerous friends who are feminists and activists for domestic violence issues but are somehow blinded or complacent to the same issues in their houses as they are trained to believe that they are powerless in these situations and take responsibility for the anger and violence of the abuse on themselves“. Also, certain structures within the family often do not allow to openly address the violence: „These things are considered as Ghar ke andar ki baatein, which means talks that are not supposed to escape the boundary of the four walls of one’s house“. In most cases, the police are not seen as help: „I know of cases where victims have called the police for protection but the abuser has turned the blame onto the victim stating that they threatened or attempted harm and in response to that the abuser attacked as an act of self-preservation”. In addition, the police are often insufficiently trained in this field and react insensitively or inappropriately to calls for help from those affected. „Hence, the problems and reports get dismissed at the earlier stages itself. Most people will encourage women not to fall into the process of law and divorce for small incidents like slapping and verbal abuse and just adjust as divorces and court cases can turn ugly and take years to get resolved, especially if there is lack of evidence“.
Opportunities for people seeking help
For this reason, there are special helplines and so-called „SHE teams“ – a subdivision of the police force – which are the first points of contact in cases of domestic violence and can offer support. According to Pankhuri’s assessment, however, the responsiveness of these teams is often rather questionable: „The only thing I can suggest on a personal level, is to get psychological counselling, inform a trusted adult who can give you financial support and shelter in a bad situation and prepare an escape plan for immediate safety. One can take support of social media platforms to alert their friends and family and identify a local guardian for immediate safety“.
It remains to be hoped that social activism as well as attempts by the state to regulate domestic violence through legislation and awareness campaigns in India and around the world can gradually curb domestic violence not only during the Corona period. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that there is still a long way to go.
Within the context of the interview, Pankhuri has produced a video with information about and current cases of violence against women in India, which you can watch here:
Video: Summary of news reports on domestic violence in India
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