The National Family and Health Surveys have been compiling a mass of data on fertility, infant and child mortality, the practice of family planning, maternal and child health, reproductive health, nutrition, anaemia, utilization and quality of health and family planning services, in India, through representative household surveys since 1992. Some questions in these surveys, on health of women in the household, lead to descriptions of household violence against women. A study of a comparison of household violence against women,( http://www.ideasforindia.in/Article.aspx?article_id=105#sthash.VDcmCKoB.dpuf), from the National Family and Health Survey-3 and the corresponding crime reported in the relevant period’s annual compilation of the National Crime Records Bureau(NCRB), shows that there is a wide disparity in crime measured in household survey data and crime recorded in police stations. This study has discovered an under reporting of serious assaults to married women in their households, being in the range of 14-28% and the under reporting of less severe assaults to be in the range of 41-58%. It also says, ‘If the police records were the weathervane for gender equity, then West Bengal and Kerala would be considered some of the worst states to be a woman while Bihar, UP and Odisha would look like good places.’
These figures disturb me. The extent of under reporting in both-the severe as well as less severe physical assaults-on married women in their marital homes means two things: 1. That women victims are not reporting many of these crimes to police because their cultural socialization tells them to expect and tolerate abuse in their marital homes, and 2. That police stations officers are not trained to overcome their own cultural socialization bias of tolerance to such abuse, to sensitively handle these complaints and ensure enforcement of a law promulgated to punish a widely prevalent social evil.
What is the way forward on this problem? The solution starts with internalizing the fact that this is a social crime and not merely a crime of passion or crime for profit. The inhuman practices of dowry, preference for male children and following from that, the lower status of women in households all across India, result in street as well as household crimes against women. The current sole focus in public debates, on police reluctance in registering these offences and investigating them, could therefore be unsatisfactory as far as changing the social mindset on this social problem, goes. Since the police training has not made fundamental changes to the policeman’s thinking about this issue , from the way the Indian society at large thinks, the police actions are reluctant and even where actions are taken, they do not appear to have much effect on the size of the victimization numbers. A more comprehensive training in police training schools, on dealing with women complainants, will certainly influence positively, the attitude of policemen at their workplaces. But it can only be a partial and insufficient solution to the concerns on this issue.
What could be more effective is for women to act collaboratively against abuse. This could involve bringing women together as a support group, locally, to collaborate on raising a ‘heard’ voice against household violence. Such support groups can also raise awareness amongst women locally, for reporting the crime and getting police stations to enforce the law on such crimes, besides providing emotional support to the victimized women. Though there is reservation for women in local panchayats, there is still no local level organized ‘lobby’ for enforcing the equality for women enshrined in our laws, only individual voices, individual victims.
Simultaneously, the government could also look at this social crime from the angle of public health (as is evident from the above quoted study done on the NFHS surveys), besides the current view as being only a law enforcement problem. It is a social practice that is affecting the physical and mental health of our nation’s next generation.
There is hope for a cultural change in the undercurrent of simmering national anger against acts of abuse and violence on our ‘mothers, sisters and daughters’.