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From strangers on the street, to husbands in the home, women in India face violence from multiple sources, and want things to change NOW.
Violence against women is a major problem, both under-reported and under-addressed in India. When it comes to dating violence, domestic violence, rape on campus, sexual harassment on the street or sex trafficking – the main way victims can get help is by coming forward and reporting that they have been assaulted and exploited. Yet, police and judicial mechanisms hardly make this easy for the victims.
According to UN Women, “Around 120 million girls worldwide (slightly more than 1 in 10) have experienced forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts at some point in their lives.” What’s more, data from the Violence Against Children Survey (VACS) supported by Together For Girls shows that one in every four girls experiences sexual violence before attaining adulthood.
Women and girls are repeatedly objectified and their bodies hypersexualized; the films and media contribute their part making it a bigger menace.
With a view to hearing the voices of young people on gender violence and related issues, Plan India organized a three-day ‘Youth Debatathon’ in Patna, and here’s what we heard from the participants, who were members of the Plan India Youth Advisory Panel, drawn from educational institutions in Bihar and Jharkhand.
A young woman in her early 20s who hails from the remote Simdega district of Jharkhand lamented being called ‘kareja’ and ‘maal’ which she felt was due to the rampant use of lewd words in Bhojpuri songs. Blaming individual singers like Vinay Bihari and Guddu Rangeela for the menace, she said that any sane woman would find the words offensive (as opposed to men who seem to think they are paying a compliment!)
She held definite views on solutions towards such harassment and believes that the Central Board of Film Certification a.k.a the Censor Board should formulate specific norms. There should be a system of fines and penalties for the first time offenders, while the habitual/repeat offenders must be blacklisted and hence barred from the industry.
Predators that girls and women face come in many forms, from the stranger on the street to the godman in his lair. Priya, a girl in her late teens whose mother works as a domestic helper, narrated how she once contracted some skin disease that caused visible rashes on her limbs. Priya was taken to a remote place for her treatment by a self-styled Godman. She was quick to identify the ‘bad touch’ and raised the alarm as she had been taught by a Didi from a local NGO. Priya is now proud to be regarded as a crusader against gender injustice and a role model for the girls of the community.
A young woman in her early 20s from Muzaffarpur district in Bihar added that dowry abuse, which is still rampant, not only harasses the victims but also acts as a very bad example for kids who happen to be the mute spectators.
She felt that girls who are spectators to such violence develop an apprehensive approach towards the institution of marriage and to men in general, while male onlookers, on the other hand, develop a “taste” for dowry, seeing it as the norm. One of my cousins (male, jobless) proposed that once married he could start a business venture from the amount he anticipated in dowry, the shocked woman added.
She emphasized that feelings of independence and self-reliance must be inculcated amongst the kids, both male and female. Only systematic sensitization of children can possibly contain and thereby decimate the menace, she held.
A college-going girl from Patna suggested that a list of those convicted for dowry abuse cases must be prepared and made public. This could restrict the offenders’ chances of getting married the second time breaking the vicious cycle, she said.
In a country like India, where the post-marriage sexual ‘gratification’ of men holds utmost importance, women suffer the most. They are treated no better than a lifeless sex toy, said Fatima* from Samanpura locality of Patna. She spoke of how her husband not only threatened her of dire consequences when she uttered a “No” to sex, citing malaria and the resultant body pain, but also divorced her then and there.
She was all praise for the recent decision disallowing ‘Triple Talaq’ that made women, the secondary citizens. She believed that many girls could’ve been saved from the brunt of lecherous men who used marriage as the excuse to violate women’s bodies, had these norms been put into place beforehand.
While holding sexual relations as one of the building blocks of a successful marriage, Fatima added that it should not be made the only criteria. She held that a blend of mutual trust, cooperation and understanding between the husband and the wife is the key. No marriage can survive when what is a possibly pleasurable experience turns into one of a woman’s worst nightmares, she said.
Data from the National Family Health Survey-III, conducted in 2005-06, showed that over 37% of married Indian women had faced some kind of violence from their spouses, whether sexual or otherwise. Alcohol addiction adds to the menace.
Suhana*, while complaining against her own sibling, said that her brother, Irfan, was a very caring and loving husband to his wife, Raziya* (name changed) when clean, but threw furniture and utensils at Raziya amidst a drunken brawl. This incident forced her to get Irfan admitted to a posh rehabilitation centre located in Chhatarpur area of Delhi, Suhana said. Raziya was 6 months’ pregnant by then, Suhana said but added that Irfan and Raziya are the proud parents of a baby girl and living happily post his de-addiction.
Domestic violence not only harms the victim physically but also shatters her morale, held Suhana while adding that appropriate counselling of the couple concerned should be ensured, and if that fails, the court must be moved for a legal separation or divorce.
Of course, these stereotypes are harmful to boys as well. Boys see how their bodies are portrayed in relation to girls and learn to believe that success is tied to dominance, power and, in turn, aggression.
Kundan*, a Class XII student and a gender-justice volunteer himself, questioned how a society can function to the optimum level when half the population is made to suffer silently. “I do it for my future daughter,” he said.
In the refusal of young men and women to accept these stereotypes and norms, lies our hope for the future!
If you would like to be a part of this initiative, and help create a more just world for all our girls, learn more about this initiative and you can become a volunteer or donate to support Plan India’s valuable work.
This article is part of the #LeaveNoGirlBehind campaign supported by Plan India, of which Women’s Web is a proud media partner.
*Names changed to ensure participants’ privacy