The year 2018 will be remembered for many things – good, bad and ugly. But that one movement that took over the media and shook our collective sensibilities, was the #MeToo movement. Not only did it resonate with millions of working women from all walks of life, around the world, it brought to fore the extent of discrimination and harassment women face, when they chose to work. The movement definitely provided the much lacking support in incidents of molestation and sexual harassment, as thousands of women got the courage to speak up about their abuse, and many even publicly named their abusers.
What started as a one-off revelation by a Hollywood actress abused by a multimillionaire producer, spread like a wildfire in Hollywood, USA, and around the world. Many women followed up with legal action, several chose not to, and a significant number of allegations were even dismissed as they turned out to be false and baseless – a price every well-intended movement pays.
The #MeToo movement went on to prove one more thing – women around the world and in all walks of life face similar harassment at the hands of ‘more powerful’ men who are in position of authority.
The movement reached India when actress Tanushree Dutta leveled allegations against Nana Patekar and others of sexually harassing her at the sets of a movie in 2008. Post this, multiple women from media and entertainment industry revealed stories of abuse, molestation even rape. Many true, some false, and almost all high profile.
The missing piece
The movement, however, has entirely missed out on tackling one very important area of violence against women. The one that happens at home. The #MeToo movement failed to bring out and provide support to women who are abused, even killed, at home, in the ‘safe’ custody of their family.
In the last week of December 2018, was the horrific murder of a 15-year-old girl in Agra, Uttar Pradesh burnt alive by her cousin and his relatives for not reciprocating his ‘feelings’ for her. The boy had been making advances towards the minor girl,but she rejected all proposals, as she considered him her brother. This infuriated the boy who wanted to avenge his rejection.
Such incidents are not uncommon. They occur, constantly, in all parts of the country, and in rural and urban zones alike. The killing of this minor girl in Agra proves two things: First, the deep-rooted patriarchal mindset where a man believes he has the right to ‘control’ a woman, her choices, her decisions, her body and her life. Second, there is no deterrence or fear of the law or authority whatsoever in the minds of perpetrators. The law has failed to protect the women. The #MeToo that happens at home has no voice and no support.
Domestic Violence, as it is commonly known in India, is defined in ‘The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005’, as:
– Physical abuse – any act that causes bodily injury or hurt such as beating, kicking, punching
– Sexual abuse – any humiliating or degrading sexual act such as forced sexual intercourse
– Verbal and emotional abuse – insults, threats causing harm or injury
– Economic abuse – deprivation of the basic necessities of life
The shocking figures of domestic violence
Domestic violence extends far beyond rape, molestation, and spousal relations. The National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) data, the most recent, released by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, indicated shocking figures. Every third woman, since the age of 15, has faced domestic violence of various forms. The survey further reported that among married women who have experienced physical violence since the age of 15, 83 per cent reported their present husbands as perpetrators of the violence.
For unmarried women, the experience of physical violence originated from the most common perpetrators including mothers or step-mothers (56%), fathers or step-fathers (33%), sisters or brothers (27%), and teachers (15%). The data on sexual violence at home is even more alarming. The report stated that the most common perpetrators of sexual violence on unmarried women were other relatives (27%), followed by a current or former boyfriend (18%), their own friend or acquaintance (17%) and a family friend (11%).
A majority of the victims of domestic violence do not seek help or report incidents of violence fearing social ostracism, humiliation, concerns of future prospects of marriage, etc. Many also do not approach authorities particularly the police as they are not reliable or sensitive to the situation. One of the most important reasons for the failure of law to curb incidents of domestic violence is perception in society and among authorities. Policemen, who are supposed to protect the victim and provide support by registering cases, fail to do so as they are part of the same society that looks at women as inferior, and not equal citizens.
Families of victims of domestic violence, especially when abuse is not spousal but perpetuated by a member of the family, usually discourage the victim from reporting such incidents to authorities. They, instead, continue to protect and harbour the perpetrator, who in turn, continues to abuse the victim.
In instances where the abuse is inflicted by a family member such as a father, mother or brother, it becomes all the more difficult for the victim to report abuse. Authorities across spectrum, even at centres instituted for rehabilitating abused women, are insensitive, unaware and unlikely to believe a father or a brother can also abuse or harm a female relative. Very often, they brush off such incidents as ‘ghar ka maamla’ (a domestic problem where outsiders can’t intervene), and coax the victim to ‘patch up’with the family. Also, in such cases, the reputation of the victimised woman is at risk as she has ‘dared’ to complain against her own family.
In the last few years, there has been a certain level of acceptance of the concept of spousal abuse. Many institutions, government centres and NGOs are active and the stigma has decreased. But victims of abuse by consanguineous members have a long drawn battle to fight. The authorities also need to understand that abuse is not always sexual or physical. Emotional abuse or mental oppression is as much an abuse as physical and can disrupt normalcy in the life of a woman and her dignity.
Any act of domestic violence is not only a violence of the Domestic Violence Act, but also a violation of the fundamental Right to Life as laid in the Indian Constitution that extends to Right to Life with Dignity. An act of violence against a woman strips her of her dignity as an individual, and is violative of her fundamental right.