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“Violence against Women in India: An Analysis”

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  • Published
    23rd Dec, 2019

UPSC Exam is all about proper strategy, dedication and consistent endeavour in the right direction with authentic and reliable study material. Government and renowned international reports form a very important source for grasping the conceptual clarity of contemporary national and international issues/topics. However, it is a daunting task to comprehend a report that runs through hundreds of pages. It becomes difficult for the students in time crunch situations particularly during UPSC Mains Examinations.

In order to ease the burden over aspirants, GSSCORE has come up with a series of summary of important national and international reports in a crisp and comprehensive manner. Underlining the importance of reports and indexes for PT and Mains, GSSCORE provides a comprehensive summary of important reports of national and international repute. The summary of the report by GSSCORE would save the time and energy of the UPSC aspirants and enable them to quickly cover the syllabus.

  • The following summary of the report titled “Violence against Women in India: An Analysis” is in one among the series of summaries created by GSSCORE on various reports.
  • The report gives us a brief idea on Extent of violence against women, Beijing Platform for Action, The gains made so far, The challenges that still remain, Forms of violence against women, Various explanations offered for gender related crimes, Agencies through which women are put at risk, Consequence of gender related violence, Laws and policies in place, Low reporting and conviction rates, Why have laws not been enough, Suggestions to curb violence against women and Way forward imperative for UPSC aspirants.
  • Students can download the gist of this report from the Free Resources section of GSSCORE website: https://iasscore.in/free-study-material-downloads
  • Globally, one in three women experience either intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence during their lifetime.
  • According to National Family and Health Survey (NFHS) 2006, total lifetime prevalence of domestic violence was 5%, and 8.5% for sexual violence, among women aged 15–49.
  • A 2014 study in The Lancet, reports that although the reported sexual violence rate in India is among the lowest in the world, due to large population of India, sexual violence affects 27.5 million Indian women over their lifetimes.
  • A survey carried out by Thomson Reuters Foundation ranked India as the most dangerous country in the world for women.
  • According to Unicef's Global Report Card on Adolescents 2012, 57% of boys and 53% of girls in India think a husband is justified in hitting or beating his wife.
  • Unfortunately, cases of violence against women and girls in India continue to rise.

Beijing Platform for Action (1995), and since;

  • Beijing Declaration 1995 was ratified by 189 governments, each committing itself to a world where women and girls could exercise freedoms and choices, including a life free of violence, rights to go to school, participate in decisions and earn equal pay for equal work.
  • In the years since, definitions of “gender" has expanded to include not just women and girls, but Trans, non-binary, and intersex people.

Gender gains

  • Gains in education and health: Gender gains have been undeniable in areas such as education and health.
    • According to the World Bank, Global primary school completion rates are 91% for boys and 90% for girls, and in secondary school, 76% for boys and 77% for girls.
    • Female life expectancy worldwide has increased from 70 in 2000, to 74 in 2017.
    • All India Survey on Higher Education reports female college enrolment in India, at 48.6% in 2018, up from 47.6% the previous year.
  • New laws, including India’s domestic violence and workplace sexual harassment laws, have been passed.

Situation is still grim

  • Rise in crimes: National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) figures show a 6% rise in crimes against women in 2017. Laws and policies have not kept up and there is need for a “mind-set change".
  • New challenges: Some old problems, such as unpaid work and low female labour force participation (FLFP) still continue. India’s FLFP, at 24%, is among the lowest in South Asia.
    • Along with older challenges of violence and low participation of women in public life, newer challenges have emerged, including cyber bullying, climate change and migration.
  • Current status: Globally, 7% of women have been sexually assaulted by someone other than a partner and as many as 38% of murders of women are committed by an intimate partner.
    • The National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) suggests that 30% women in India in the age group of 15-49 have experienced physical violence since the age of 15.
    • NFHS-4 reveals that 6% women in the same age group have experienced sexual violence at least once in their lifetime.
    • About 31% of married women have experienced physical, sexual or emotional violence by their spouses.
  • Status on rape and reporting: India’s average rate of reported rape cases is about 3 per 100,000 of the population. However, this differs in places like Sikkim and Delhi, which have rates of 30.3 and 22.5, respectively, while Tamil Nadu has a rate of less than one.
    • According to Livemint, about 99% cases of sexual violence go unreported due to social stigma surrounding such offences
  • Perpetuators are mostly related: NCRB 2016 recorded that majority of cases under crimes against women were reported in the following order; ‘Cruelty by Husband or His Relatives’ (32.6%) > ‘Assault on Women with Intent to Outrage her Modesty’ (25.0%) > ‘Kidnaping & Abduction of Women’ (19.0%) > ‘Rape’ (11.5%).
    • Clearly, domestic violence is one of the most prevalent forms of violence against women in India.
  • Domestic violence: Domestic violence in India includes any form of violence suffered by a person from a biological relative, but typically is the violence suffered by a woman by male members of her family or relatives. It is a form of violence involving sexual/reproductive coercion and marital rape.
  • Types of Assault: Women who experience domestic violence tend to have greater overall emotional distress, as well as high occurrences of suicidal thoughts and attempts.
    • Physical violence: Physical injury is the most visible form of domestic violence; more obvious than psychological ones.
    • Emotional abuse: Emotional abuse has been gaining more and more recognition. Psychological abuse can erode a woman's sense of self-worth and can be incredibly harmful to overall mental and physical wellbeing.
  • NFHS 2006 report on domestic sexual violence:
    • Sexual violence lowest against women in the 15-19 age groups.
    • Women with 10 years of education experienced sharply less sexual violence, compared to women with less education.
    • 85% of women who suffered sexual violence, in or outside of marriage, never sought help, and only 1% reported it to the police.

Behavioural and contextual factors that contribute to gender related crimes

  • Why do men rape? It is important to “understand the perpetrators”. Different reasoning has been offered, but the question has still not been conclusively settled.
  • Early psychoanalysts: Early psychoanalysts attributed the tendency to rape to ‘wrong parenting’ and ‘childhood behaviour disorders’. However, many of these conclusions never really stood the test of scientific scrutiny.
  • Feminist reasoning: In 1970s, feminists replaced psychoanalysts as the ultimate experts on the issue, and discarded their reasoning. Feminists described rape as an act of domination, an instrument that is used by patriarchy to hurt, humiliate or degrade women.
  • Biologist and anthropologists reasoning: This school argues that feminists’ views are only “political", instead, there is an evolutionary explanation of rape, one in which rapists seek sexual gratification.
  • Contributing stress factors: “Stress factors” within the household that are critical to understanding varying rates of violence against women include low educational attainment, poverty, young initial age of marriage, having multiple children, and other limiting engendered development factors.
    • Low income and low education increases the risks of domestic violence.
  • Problem in accessing the issue: There is a sample flaw in most studies on rape perpetrators. The sample mostly comprise of those men convicted of the crime. These convicts do not represent the majority of rapists who are acquaintances, and whose crimes go unreported.

This means that little is known about the majority perpetrators.

Patriarchal social structure

  • Contribution: The persistence of harmful practices, pervasive gender stereotypes and deeply entrenched patriarchal social and cultural norms, contribute to the slight and grave issues that women experience around discrimination and violence.
  • Instrument of patriarchy: There are three main aspects of patriarchal structure in India that affect women's agency: marriage, active discrimination by means of abuse (marital or extramarital), and diminished women's agency through limited economic opportunity through stifled opportunity for independence.
  • Rigid masculinity: A study on masculinity, son preference, and intimate partner violence (IPV) in India showed that two out of every five men were rigidly masculine (defined as having inequitable gender attitudes and high levels of controlling behaviour).
    • These men are three times more likely to perpetrate acts of physical violence against their partners.

Myths propagated in society

  • Outrageous myths: Fantasised and romanticised myths such as a woman’s “no" means “yes", or the dress of a woman provokes men to commit crime, or that women enjoy rape, have been propagated through folk stories, movies and, recently, through pornography.
  • What should a rape be? Many seem to think that rape is always done by a stranger, that a victim will always fight the attacker, so the victim should have bruises, and should have shouted for help. Some think that if the victim was raped several times before complaining, the compliant is not genuine. Or if there is a long delay between the crime and filing of complaint, the complainant has ulterior motives; or that non-consensual sexual act by a husband is not rape.

Honour killing

  • Honour killing is the practice wherein an individual is killed by one or more family member(s), because he or she is believed to have brought shame upon the family.
    • The shame may range from refusing to enter an arranged marriage, having sex outside marriage, being in a relationship that is disapproved by the family, starting a divorce proceeding, or engaging in homosexual relations.

Dowry system in India

  • There are strong links between domestic violence and dowry. Dowry payments are another manifestation of the patriarchal structure in India. Bride burning is an extreme manifestation of the dowry problem in India.
  • History of the practice of dowry system is embedded in Hindu society/culture. But today, dowry cases are not limited to any specific religion, and are found among Muslims, Sikhs and others too.

Low reporting, low conviction rates and reasons

  • Perpetrators no strangers: Because in most cases the perpetrator is someone related to the family, it is very difficult to convince even close family members, leave alone police personnel, of the crime.
    • Under-reporting of domestic violence is mainly because it is not handled as a legitimate crime or complaint, but more of a private or family matter.
  • Lack of understanding of the nature of crime: During an attack, the victim’s mind is not just under severe stress, but in a heightened fight-flight-freeze mode, which makes it difficult to coherently record memories of it.
    • Law enforcement agencies that focus on tangible evidence and consistency of victim’s narrative have not understood the behavioural peculiarities associated with this particular crime.
  • Socio-economic dependency of women: Widespread socio-economic dependency of women puts women in an unbalanced equation with their husbands and other family members. The fear of social exclusion and banishment causes women to continue face violence and intimidation
  • Link with female literacy: The extent of under-reporting tends to be higher on average in states with low female literacy. For example, in states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand, less than 0.5% of incidents of violence against women get reported.

Consequences of Gender Violence

  • Economic cost: Violence against women is a major public health concern across the world, a barrier to women’s empowerment and gender equality, and a constraint on individual and societal development, with high economic costs.
    • In some countries, violence against women is estimated to cost countries up to 3.7% of their GDP – more than double what most governments spend on education (World Bank, 2018).
  • Health cost: Women who experience violence are more at risk of unwanted pregnancies, maternal and infant mortality, and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. It has direct and long-term physical and mental health consequences.
  • Detrimental to individual wellbeing: Women who experience violence from their partners are less likely to earn a living and are less able to care for their children or participate meaningfully in community activities or social interaction that might help end the abuse. It affects their overall quality of life.
    • In many societies, it is the women who are stigmatised and isolated.

Laws and policies

  • Stricter laws on sexual violence: India’s legal system has recently passed stricter sexual assault laws and created fast-track courts for prosecution of rapes convicts.
    • At least four states – Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir, Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh – have introduced death penalty for rapes of minors, defined as below 12 years of age.
    • In 2013 government made a few amendments to the Criminal Law, which makes stalking, voyeurism, acid attacks and forcibly disrobing a woman, explicit crimes for the first time.
    • It provides capital punishment for rapes leading to death, and raises to 20 years from 10, the minimum sentence for gang rape and rapes committed by a police officer.
    • However, the law doesn’t address on rape committed by the armed forces or rape against men.
  • Domestic Violence law: Domestic violence is currently defined in India by ‘Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act of 2005’. The PWDVA, which is a civil law, includes physical, emotional, sexual, verbal, and economic abuse as domestic violence. Section 498A was introduced to protect women from Domestic Violence.
    • Under Indian law, marital rape is not a crime, except during the period of marital separation of the partners.
    • Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) considers forced sex in marriages as a crime only when the wife is below 15.
  • Protection to LGBTQ community: Decriminalising homosexual relationships under section 377 along with the implementation of HIV/AIDS Act came as a huge relief to the LGBTQIA communities in the nation.
  • International human rights instruments:
    • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
    • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
    • International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
    • Convention on the Rights of the Child
    • Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Laws and policies around various aspects of Gender Based Violence:

Dowry Prohibition Act (1961), Amendments to the Indian Penal Code, 1862 (1986- Section 498A and Section 304B), Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act (1986), – Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act (1986), The Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition Of Sex Selection) Act (1994), – Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (2005), Prohibition of Child Marriage Act(2006) to the new acts in last decade addressing the evolving form of crime which includes Information and Technology Act (2008), – The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (2012), Criminal Law (Amendment) Act (2013), Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention Prohibition and Redressal) Act (2013), Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act (2016), Decriminalization of Gay Sex (Section 377-2018), Criminal Law (Amendment) Act (Death penalty for raping a minor- 2018).

  • Disconnection between laws and practices: Critics point out that there is often disconnect between laws and practices in India.
    • For example, according to a 2012 United Nations report, 47% of Indian women marry younger than 18 (the legal marriage age is 21 for men and 18 for women). This is almost half the women population of India.
  • Biases: Caste, class, religious bias and race also determine whether action is taken or not against the perpetrator.
    • For example, poor or lower-caste females do not have the same access to legal enforcement or education, and often have trouble getting help from law enforcement agencies.
  • Delayed justice system: According to NCRB data, 29% of all cases of rape at the end of 2017 were unresolved by police forces across the country. The court backlog is even worse: nearly 88% of all rape cases in Indian courts were pending resolution in 2017.
  • Extrajudicial justice: Delays in the system could also be encouraging support for extrajudicial justice. Something that happened in the case of perpetrators of Hyderabad incident, who were killed in a police encounter. A significant proportion of India’s police force believes that extrajudicial killings and violence towards criminals is justified.
    • The 2019 Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) survey found that 19% of police personnel believe that killing dangerous criminals is better than a legal trial and 75% feel that violence towards criminals is justified.
    • Similarly, the 2018 CSDS survey suggested that 50% of all Indians believe there is nothing wrong with violence towards criminals.
  • Law based solution may not be the best choice: Some argue that severe and immediate punishment will eliminate the problem. But this solution has over-reliance on law to solve what is essentially a social problem. Instead of acting after the occurrence of crime, measures should be taken towards preventing it.
  • Engaging boys and men: Evidence shows that when men and boys are engaged in tackling gender inequality and promoting women’s choices, resulting outcomes are positive, and men and women are able to enjoy equitable, healthy and happy relationships.
  • Socio-economic development of women: Policies and programmes should support not only the health of women and girls, but also their socio-economic development.
    • Women, who live in cities, have higher household wealth, are educated are reported to be significantly at lower risk of physical and sexual domestic violence.
  • Bridging gap between Gender laws and correlated areas: Bridging the gap to encompass related laws regarding women; such as legal rights to property, land, inheritance, employment and income (that allow woman to safely move out of an abusive relationship).
  • Address underlying social causes: Apart from prevention of sexual and gender-based violence, there is need to address harmful traditional practices that compromise and limit women’s development in other areas of their lives.
  • Improving reporting: There is need to address the deeply entrenched patriarchal attitudes of the police, lawyer and other judicial officers that continue to contribute to low reporting and conviction rates.
  • Recognise women’s sexual and reproductive rights: Promote and protect women’s right to have control and decide freely over matters related to their sexuality, including their sexual and reproductive health, and family-planning choices.
  • Increasing participation: Reclaiming the spaces for women to increase their presence and visibility through political and economic participation and diversifying their engagement in non- traditional sectors.
  • Use of technology: Technology can be used for ensuring safer cities and creating gender friendly infrastructures and spaces that prevent gender based violence. Include safety of women as a benchmark to mark cities ‘smart’.
  • Protect rights of men too: Most laws offers relief to only women. Men in India cannot avail of a similar legal remedy to protect themselves from domestic violence from either men or women.
    • In 2016 Supreme Court accepted that perpetrators and abettors of domestic violence can be women too.
    • The words "adult male" was struck down from the domestic violence act.
  • Questions that need to be revisited:
    • Correct assessment of proportion of women subjected to physical, sexual or psychological violence by a current or former intimate partner or by other persons.
    • Proportion of time spent on unpaid domestic and care work.
    • Proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments and local governments.
    • Proportion of women in managerial positions.
    • Proportion of women aged 15-49 years who make their own informed decisions regarding sexual relations, contraceptive use and reproductive health care.
    • Access to sexual and reproductive health care, information and education systems to track and make public allocations for gender equality and women’s empowerment.
    • Key Government schemes, systems and mechanisms to safeguard women’s rights. Conclusion

Without a comprehensive effort to address issues around objectification of women and her treatment as the “weaker sex”, in schools or university, at work, in the family, in the community and in print and electronic media, the elimination of violence against women will continue to remain a challenge.


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