Today is the day you’ve been looking forward to. You’ve been asking for a sibling for as long as you can remember. Your whole family has waited in anticipation for the birth. As you sit in the hospital with your family, you notice everyone is on the edges of their seats. It’s like they’re on a game show and have just answered the million-dollar question except they don’t know if their response is correct. Your family is awaiting the gender reveal of the newborn. You watch as the nurse enters the waiting room and discloses the news. No one smiles. No one cheers. No one celebrates. You don’t understand why your family did not break out into tears of excitement and joy like they did at your cousin’s birth. You ask what is wrong. Your mom gave birth to a girl.
In India, females are seen as burdens. Even though India is evolving and trying to improve gender inequality and abuse, reported violence against women has doubled in the last decade (see below). As the government enforces laws of equity and improves safety and education, women attain a greater level of empowerment. Violence against women has not increased; rather, the number of women who report violence has increased due to the improved means of reporting injustice.
Many forms of violence against women have been banned in India. One of the most extreme instances enforcing the patriarchy by way of violence against women is the practice of Sati. This tradition is when widows of recently deceased spouses are expected, encouraged, and forced to immolate themselves on top of their husbands’ bodies. The British Imperialists banned this practice in the British Territories of India in the 1800’s, but after Independence, India officially condemned Sati in 1987. Although this practice is banned, the idea that widows are useless to society has remained.
Widows as Outcasts
The majority of women work in the private or undocumented sectors or they do not work at all. Even when women work in official positions, the wage gap is 25% to 28% less for women than men in India (Shalini 2017). This inequality in wages makes it difficult for a woman to succeed in the world without a man by her side; a husband provides social security. Widows are looked down upon and are not always treated properly. In Indian joint families, once a woman marries, she belongs to the husband’s family. Often the family of the widow will not take her back if there is a divorce or a death. In some cases, widows will leave their homes and live at temples to dedicate their lives to Krishna, one of the three major Hindu gods, because no one else will take them in. Widows no longer are subject to death, but they are still treated like they are dead to society.
Because India’s population has been growing out of hand, there have been many efforts to reduce the numbers of children birthed. The main method currently employed is the reproductive health approach through child immunization (Sheryle 2017). However, with the push for fewer children birthed, the violence against girls due to the preference for boys has risen. It is not that families did not care about the gender of babies before family planning; rather, it is that families used to have a higher number of children, meaning there were higher chances of having boys. Due to the reduction of childbirth rates, families began to desire to know the gender of the child before it was born. Female abortion rates skyrocketed because parents would abort their baby if they found out she was a female. These female abortions became so common that the government made it illegal to identify the sex of a fetus before birth according to the Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1994. The 2011 Census found that the sex ratio has risen to 940 girls to every 1000 boys, which is better than the 2001 report of 933 girls to every 1000 boys (refer to the graph below). While the ratio has improved over the last decade, female infanticide still occurs. Families hope to have sons because sons take care of the parents in their old age, they make higher wages, and they have power in society. Girls leave the home and become their husband’s property, they do not hold power in society, and they cost more money because unofficial dowries are still used.
Dowries used to be given to the groom’s family to bribe them into having their son wed the family’s daughter. It degraded the bride by lessening her to a piece of property. She was worth a certain amount. Now, dowries are illegal according an act made in 1961. However, women are still seen as the property of the groom and his family. Many Indian families are joint, meaning the husband and wife live in the same house as the husband’s parents. Although nuclear families are up and rising, the ideology of the husband’s superiority remains. The wife takes on the groom’s name and becomes his. These familial traditions stratify wives from husbands, but it also increases the amount of violence inflicted upon the wife. Intra-household violence is one of the most common instances of violence inflicted upon women today. According the Family Nation Health Survey-4, conducted in 2015-2016, about 30% of married women aged 15 to 49 years old reported spousal violence. Some of these instances are due to dowry related abuse, when the man wanted a higher dowry so he inflicts his anger on his wife. It can also occur out of a sense of entitlement and power.
Over the last few years, there have been numerous new laws enabling women and children to report rape and violence. In 2005, the Protection of Women and Children from Domestic Violence Act was the first law to address violence within a household that includes all physical, verbal, and economic abuse. In addition, in these cases of violence inflicted upon women, men are guilty until proven innocent, unlike all other instances (Jeyaprakash 2017). Abuse is on longer what the man thought he did, but how the woman feels. There have also been strides in the protection of women in the police enforcement realm. The police station used to be the number one location for rapes. If the police were looking for a runaway convict, they would abduct the wife of the runaway and threaten to gang rape her if her husband did not return to the station (Jeyaprakash 2017). Now there are rules that prohibit officers to keep women at stations after 6PM. There are also women officers and female correction centers. These are only some of the recent improvements made to protect women in India.
There have been many advances in the protection of women against violence and inequality in India. With all of these new regulations, one would assume that violence would lessen because of the stricter policies. However, the number of reported cases of violence has doubled in the last decade and increased 34% from 2012 to 2015. It could be that there really was more violence against women in the last few years, but it is more probable that there were simply more reports of violence.
In 2015, the number one reported cause of violence against women in India was cruelty by husbands and relatives followed by assault of women with intent to outrage her modesty, kidnap and abduction, rape, insult of women, and finally dowry deaths. This might discourage the Indian population and the rest of the on looking world, but this should offer some hope and encouragement.
When assessing these rates of violence, one must understand the context of the reports. Yes, it is awful that this much violence occurs, but it is reassuring to find that the media, the government, and the new legislation have begun to empower women to actually report instances of injustice. There is no way to know if violence has actually risen in numbers. There were no prior means in legislation for women to report violence, especially pertaining to domestic violence; in fact, families discourages it because it was considered a ‘family matter.’ Women were suppressed, but they are slowly becoming liberated through laws that allow them to stand up for themselves. Even though there is so much violence occurring, the numbers of reports should encourage people because that many women feel strong enough to speak up and recognize that violence should not be a norm. In the future years, India should hope that these violence rates decrease, but it can find hope in the rising empowerment of women to actively oppose discrimination and abuse.
Chachra, Manisha. 2017. “Ten Years After It Was Implemented, How Is the Domestic Act Faring?” Scroll.In, August. https://scroll.in/article/846666/ten-years-after-it-was-implemented-how-is-the-domestic-violence-act-faring.
“Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961.” 2017. Accessed November 7. http://wcd.nic.in/ ct/ dowry-prohibition-act-1961.
Jeyaprakash, Shiel. 2017. “Violence Against Women.” Lecture. Women’s Christian College, 5 October 2017.
Mallapur, Chaitanya. 2015. “Crimes against Women Reported Every Two Minutes in India.” Scroll.In, September. https://scroll.in/article/753496/crimes-against-women-reported-every-two-minutes-in-india.
“National Family Health Survey – 4.” 2015. http://rchiips.org NFHS/pdf/NFHS4/India.pdf.
Nehra, Krishan. 2009. “Sex Selection and Abortion: India.” Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/law/help/sex-selection/india.php.
Pillai, Soumya. 2017. “Forgotten Widows of Vrindavan.” The Hindu, August 28. http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/forgotten-widows-of vrindavan/ article19574277.ece.
Ravi, Malavika. 2016. “Everything You Need To Know About The Domestic ViolenceAct (PWDVA), 2005.” Feminism in India. September 13. https://feminisminindia.com/2016/ 09/13/domestic-violence-act-india-pwdva/.
Salve, Prachi. 2016. “Crimes against Women up 34% in Four Years; Most Reports from UP, Maharashtra, West Bengal.” First Post, September 6. http://www.firstpost.com/india/ crimes-against-women-up-34-in-four-years-most-reports-from-up-maharashtra-west-bengal-2991754.html.
Shalini, Florence. 2017. “Gender Issues and Development in India.” Lecture, Bishop Heber College, 27 October 2017.
Sheryle, Joy. 2017. “Demography and Family Planning.” Women’s Christian College, 12 October 2017.
“Sex Ratio in India: Census 2011.” 2011. http://www.census2011.co.in/sexratio.php.
“The Abolished ‘Sati Pratha’: Lesser-Known Facts on the Banned Practice.” 2015. India Today. December 4. http://indiatoday.intoday.in/education/story/sati-pratha/1/538362.html.
“The Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987 Act No. 3 of 1988.” n.d.