Gender Violence in India 2014: Domestic Violence

The United Nations General Assembly addressed domestic violence in Resolution 58/147, ‘Elimination of domestic violence against women’. This resolution defines domestic violence as occurring ‘within the private sphere, generally between individuals who are related through blood or intimacy’, and notes that it is ‘one of the most common and least visible forms of violence against women’. Domestic violence can involve ‘physical, psychological and sexual violence’ as well as ‘economic deprivation and isolation’.[1] Thus, domestic violence occurs in the home or other private space; victims usually share a household with perpetrators. In many cases, victims of domestic violence experience more than one form of abuse. While domestic violence can occur across genders, the United Nations and other organizations have recognized that victims are predominantly women.

A crucial subset of domestic violence, intimate partner violence (IPV), refers to abuse by one’s spouse or partner. The World Health Organisation defines IPV as including ‘acts of physical aggression, psychological abuse, forced intercourse and other forms of sexual coercion, and various controlling behaviours such as isolating a person from family and friends or restricting access to information and assistance’. While IPV can occur in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships, and can affect both men and women, the overwhelming majority of victims are women abused by male partners[2].

In India, IPV is seldom recognised as a distinct gender violence category. Women in abusive marriages may be reluctant to report the abuse because of societal perceptions that married women must ‘adjust’ to their husbands’ behaviour, and that speaking publicly against their husbands will bring shame to their families; on the other hand, unmarried women facing IPV may be dismissed as ‘asking for it’ by being in premarital relationships.

Know the law

The 2005 Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA) is a civil law that aims to provide relief and compensation to victims of domestic violence. It does not provide for punishment of perpetrators, aside from possible payment of monetary compensation. It applies to women living in a ‘domestic relationship’ with an abusive man; it can thus be used by wives, sisters, widows, mothers, etc.[3] Crucially, this law also extends to women who live with their partners ‘in a relationship in the nature of marriage’, referring to women in live-in relationships. Moreover, a complaint can also be filed against the male and/or female relatives of the victim’s husband or intimate partner. The PWDVA defines domestic violence as actual abuse, or the threat of abuse, of a physical, sexual, emotional, verbal or economic nature.[4] This act also addresses harassment of women over dowry payments, or any other ‘unlawful demand’.[5]

Under the PWDVA, a magistrate or court can provide protection to the woman by barring the offender from committing violence within and outside of the home, from taking away the woman’s assets, from intimidating her and her family and from communicating with the woman. Additionally, the woman cannot be evicted from a shared residence, and can claim damages for mental and physical injuries. The magistrate can order maintenance, and grant her temporary custody of children.[6]

Complaints can be registered with a Protection Officer, a service provider, the police, or a magistrate. A Protection Officer is appointed by the state government and facilitates access to the services provided by the PWDVA. Service providers are non-profits and hospitals that can also aid the woman in accessing legal aid and medical services.[7]

In 2012, the Lawyers Collective Women’s Rights Group reported that it received an ‘extraordinary and unprecedented’ 22,255 orders from magistrates under the PWDVA, showing that women ‘have been turning up in the tens of thousands to invoke … the PWDVA as a shield against abuse and violence in their homes’.[8] However, it must be noted that as a civil law, the PWDVA cannot be utilised to pursue criminal proceedings against perpetrators of domestic violence.

Crucially, Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, which addresses rape, includes an exception stating that ‘sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife … is not rape’.[9] Thus, a married woman cannot legally accuse her husband of rape. While Section 375 can be utilised by unmarried women who have been sexually assaulted by their intimate partners, there is a pervasive belief that rapists are not personally known to their victims, which makes it more difficult to prosecute such cases.

Married women do have the option of filing a criminal case against their husbands or his relatives under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, which addresses marital cruelty. Section 498A vaguely defines ‘cruelty’ as any conduct that ‘is likely drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or [mental or physical] health,’ as well as ‘harassment … with a view to coercing her … to meet any unlawful demand for any property’.[10]

Keeping Count

The last National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3), conducted in 2005-06, surveyed married women on the incidence of spousal violence. More recent data from the survey are as yet unavailable, as the NFHS-4, 2014-15, is currently being conducted. According to the NFHS-3, 39% of currently married women have experienced physical, sexual or emotional violence by their current husbands, of which more than two thirds reported experiencing violence within the last twelve months.[11] Roughly one in three women report having been slapped by their husbands, and 10% of women report that their husbands have physically forced them to have sex. Between 11% and 15% of women surveyed report having their arms twisted or being pushed, shaken, kicked, dragged or beaten.[12] Only one in four women who experience violence have sought help to end the violence, and very few women report seeking help from the police or social organisations.[13] Moreover, the survey found that 54% of women and 51% of men between the ages of 15 and 49 believed wife-beating to be acceptable for one or more reasons.[14]

The study also reports a greater likelihood of spousal violence among women whose fathers beat their mothers, and among women whose husbands get drunk often.[15] In addition, women who are employed and earn money are much more likely to experience spousal violence, particularly if they earn more than their husbands.[16] For women who make household decisions jointly with their husbands, including how to use their own earnings, the odds of experiencing violence are lower than for women who either make these decisions alone, or do not have a major say in such decisions.[17]

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) tracks reports of ‘Cruelty by Husband or his Relatives’. Table 1 and Figure 1 show the number of cases reported each year nationally from 2002 to 2013. Not all cases resulted in a trial or conviction; some cases are still pending.

Table 1: Reported Cases of Cruelty by Husband or his Relatives, NCRB[18]

Year 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007
Number of cases reported of cruelty by husband or relatives 49237 50703 58121 58319 63128 75930
Year 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
Number of cases reported of cruelty by husband or relatives 81344 89546 94041 99135 106527 118866[19]

 Figure 1

DV I

The 2013 figure of 118,866 cases reported is an 11.6% increase from the number reported in 2012, and a 316% increase from the 28,579 cases first mentioned in 1995 by the NCRB. Of the cases from 2013, the highest proportion came from West Bengal (15.2%), followed by 12.7% each from Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh.[21] Moreover, crimes under Section 498A represent roughly 40% of all crimes against women recorded by the NCRB under the Indian Penal Code.[22] While the NCRB data includes complaints filed by married women against not only their husbands, but also their husbands’ relatives, it does not extend to unmarried women in intimate relationships.

A recent study by the World Health Organisation (WHO), in partnership with the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and the South African Medical Research Council, titled ‘Global and Regional Estimates of Violence against Women: Prevalence and Health Effects of Intimate Partner Violence and Non-Partner Sexual Violence’, found that globally, 30% of women have experienced IPV.[23] Based on an analysis of data from 155 studies in 81 countries, the report does not provide country-specific information, but presents consolidated data from low- and middle-income countries in six different WHO-defined ‘regions’, in addition to a separate category with high-income countries from the different regions.[24] The South-East Asia Region, which includes India, has the highest rate of IPV among surveyed women, at nearly 38%.[25]

The report also reveals that 38% of all murders of women around the world are committed by their intimate partners,[26] and that women facing IPV are about 16% more likely to have babies with low birth-weight,[27] twice as likely to have an abortion,[28] almost twice as likely to experience depression and have alcohol-use problems,[29] and in some regions, 1.5 times more likely to contract HIV.[30]

[1] ‘Elimination of domestic violence against women’, United Nations General Assembly Resolution 58/147, 19th February 2004, http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N03/503/40/PDF/N0350340.pdf?OpenElement, accessed 20th November 2014.

[2] ‘Intimate partner violence: facts’, World Health Organisation, p. 1, http://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/violence/world_report/factsheets/en/ipvfacts.pdf, accessed 29th October 2014.

[3] Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, Section 2, http://wcd.nic.in/wdvact.pdf, accessed 29th October 2014. Section 2(a) defines an ‘aggrieved person’ as ‘any woman who is, or has been, in a domestic relationship with the respondent’ and who alleges to have experienced domestic violence. Section 2(f) defines a ‘domestic relationship’ to include living together ‘in a shared household’ as well as relationships of consanguinity, marriage or adoption.

[4] PWDVA. See above note 3. Section 3(Explanation I)(i-iv) defines physical, sexual, verbal and emotional and economic abuse.

[5] PWDVA. See above note 3. Section 3(b) includes in its definition of domestic violence harassment intended to ‘coerce [a woman] … to meet any unlawful demand for any dowry or other property’.

[6] Lawyers Collective Women’s Rights Initiative, ‘Frequently Asked Questions on the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005’, p. 3, http://www.lawyerscollective.org/files/FAQonProtectionOfWomen1.pdf, accessed 2nd September 2014.

[7] PWDVA. See above note 1. Section 2(n) defines a ‘Protection Officer’, and Section 2(r) defines a ‘service provider’.

[8] Gopal, M. G., ‘The Big Picture’, from Staying Alive: Evaluating Court Orders, Sixth Monitoring and Evaluation Report 2013 on the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, Lawyers Collective Women’s Rights Initiative, p. ix, http://www.lawyerscollective.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Staying-Alive-Evaluating-Court-Orders.pdf, accessed 2nd September 2014.

[9] Indian Penal Code, Section 375(Exception), http://indiankanoon.org/doc/623254/, accessed 29th October 2014.

[10] Indian Penal Code, Section 498A, http://indiankanoon.org/doc/538436/, accessed 29th October 2014.

[11] Kishor, S. & Gupta, K., ‘Chapter 10: Spousal Violence’, ‘Gender equality and women’s empowerment in India’, National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3) India 2005-06, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, p. 96, http://www.rchiips.org/nfhs/a_subject_report_gender_for_website.pdf, accessed 28th October 2014.

[12] See above note 11, p. 97.

[13] ‘Key Findings Report’, National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3) India 2005-06, p. 21, http://www.rchiips.org/nfhs/NFHS-3%20Data/NFHS-3%20NKF/Report.pdf, accessed 28th October 2014.

[14] See above note 11, p. 74.

[15] See above note 11., p. 102 (for correlation with parental domestic violence) and p. 104 (for correlation with husbands’ drinking often).

[16] See above note 11, p. 100.

[17] See above note 11, p. 100.

[18] ‘Cases registered and their disposal under Cruelty by Husband or his Relatives during 2001-2012’, Crime in India 2012, National Crime Records Bureau, http://www.data.gov.in/catalog/cases-registered-and-their-disposal-under-cruelty-husband-or-his-relatives#web_catalog_tabs_block_10, accessed 29th October 2014. Table 1 and Figure 1 data up to 2012 are from this report; for 2013 statistics, see above note 18.

[19] ‘Chapter 5: Crimes against Women’, Crime in India 2013, NCRB, p. 81, http://ncrb.gov.in/CD-CII2013/Chapters/5-Crime%20against%20Women.pdf, accessed 26th September 2014.

[20] Figure 1 was generated using the data from Table 1.

[21] See above note 18, p. 84.

[22] See above note 18, p. 81.

[23] ‘Global and regional estimates of violence against women: Prevalence and health effects of intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence’, World Health Organisation, 2013, p. 2, http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/violence/9789241564625/en/, accessed 29th October 2014.

[24] See above note 23, p. 9-10.

[25] See above note 23, p. 17.

[26] See above note 23, p. 2.

[27] See above note 23, p. 23.

[28] See above note 23, p. 23.

[29] See above note 23, p. 24-25.

[30] See above note 23, p. 29.

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This series of posts were researched, drafted and edited by Divya Bhat, Shakthi Manickavasagam, Titiksha Pandit and Mitha Nandagopalan.

December 2014

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Gender Violence in India Report 2014: Acid Attacks

An acid attack is the premeditated act of throwing concentrated acid (usually sulfuric, nitric, or hydrochloric acid) on the body of another person. The purpose of this is to intentionally disfigure and cause extreme physical and emotional pain to the victim.[1]

The effects of acid attacks include blindness, disfiguration of the face and body, scarring, and long-term psychosocial and economic difficulties. Treatment for acid violence can include multiple expensive surgeries, physical therapy, and long-term medical care, which are often out of reach for many victims due to geographic isolation, the prohibitive costs of hospitalization and specialized care, and lack of appropriate medical facilities.[2]

While acid attacks occur in many countries around the world, they are particularly prevalent in South Asia, and ‘perpetrators’ motives are often tied to gender inequality and discrimination’.[3] In India, acid attacks are most commonly perpetrated against women, often in retaliation for ‘spurning suitors, for rejecting proposals of marriage, [or] for denying dowry’.[4] The types of acid used for these attacks can be bought easily and inexpensively in many neighborhood stores and until 2013, the sale of acid was not regulated by any governing body.[5]

The Avon Global Center for Women and Justice also reports that a majority of acid attacks in India, about 61% out of those reported in news media, occur in public spaces like bus stands, road sides, trains, schools, colleges, and markets.[6] Acid attacks may also harm bystanders and relatives in addition to the primary intended victim.

Know the Law

In the 2013 Criminal Law Amendment Act, the Indian Penal Code was amended to include a specific category for acid attacks. According to Section 326B of the Amendment, attempting to throw or administer acid with intent to deform, maim or burn another person can be punished with five to seven years in prison, plus a fine. According to Section 326A, anyone who ‘causes permanent or partial damage or deformity to’ or ‘maims or disfigures’ another person by intentionally throwing acid shall be punished with a minimum sentence of ten years’ imprisonment, plus a fine. Sentences up to life in prison may be issued.[7]

In 2013, the Indian government reclassified acids as a poison, bringing them under the regulatory purview of the Poison Act of 1919. This Act empowers state governments to regulate the safe possession, sale and registration of substances designated as poisons. Including acids in this category means buyers of over-the-counter concentrated acids must provide proof of identity to the retailer upon purchase.[8] Retailers must also register the purchase and the address of the buyer, and concentrated acids can no longer be bought by individuals under the age of 18. While this is a national ruling, the responsibility to implement the law remains with state governments.[9] Data on whether the ruling has reduced the frequency of acid attacks in India are not yet available. However, Bangladesh saw a 15-20% decrease in the number of acid attacks following the adoption in 2002 of laws to limit access to acids and increase criminal penalties; this suggests that such laws can be effective in decreasing acid attacks.[10] As of September 2014, however, few states have implemented the new laws, and compensation and medical help for victims often remain mired in inter-departmental confusion.[11]

Keeping Count

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) has yet to publish data on acid attacks, as they were only recognized as a distinct category of crime in 2013. The Acid Survivors Trust International, an organization dedicated to preventing acid attacks and supporting victims, estimates that between 500 and 1000 acid attacks occur annually in India, based on comparison with neighboring countries that do publish data.[12] The Avon Center report ‘Combating Acid Violence in Bangladesh, India, and Cambodia’ tracked news reports of acid attacks in India from January 2002 to October 2010, as a proxy for the actual prevalence of attacks. Table 1 and Figure 1 below show the number of acid attacks reported across all the news sources examined in the report. Note that the actual number of attacks is almost certainly orders of magnitude greater than the number that make it into the news. However, if the rising number of news articles is in fact at least partly due to greater numbers of attacks and not simply to increased media attention, the report suggests that acid attacks have been on the rise in recent years.

Table 1: Acid Attacks in News Reports, 2002-2010[13]

Year 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
Number of acid attacks reported in news 4 6 10 22 19 19 25 21 27

 Figure 1

Acid Graphic

Statistics and surveys of acid attack survivors show that acid violence is often connected to other forms of gender violence. A survey of 56 women in Karnataka who survived acid attacks between 1999 and 2007 found that 55 of them knew their attacker. All of the women surveyed stated that, prior to the acid attack, they had experienced other forms of gender violence or harassment, including workplace harassment, domestic violence or dowry demands.[15]

[1] ‘Combating acid violence in Bangladesh, India, and Cambodia’, Avon Global Center for Women and Justice at Cornell Law School  et al, 2011, p. 1-2, http://www.ohchr.org/documents/hrbodies/cedaw/harmfulpractices/avonglobalcenterforwomenandjustice.pdf, accessed 21st November 2014. This report examined news reports of acid attacks in India from January 2002 to October 2010; it also studied reports of acid attacks in Bangladesh and Cambodia.

[2] ‘Burnt not defeated: Women fight against acid attacks in Karnataka’, Campaign and Struggle Against Acid Attacks on Women (CSAAAW), 2007, pg 28, http://www.lawschool.cornell.edu/womenandjustice/upload/burnt-not-defeated.pdf, accessed 21st November 2014.

[3] ‘Combating acid violence’, Avon Center, p. 9. See above note 1.

[4] ‘Report on the inclusion of acid attacks as specific offenses in the Indian Penal Code and a law for compensation of victims of crime’, Law Commission of India, 2008, p. 3, http://lawcommissionofindia.nic.in/reports/report226.pdf, accessed 21st November 2014.

[5] Mahapatra, D., ‘Government to treat acid as poison, regulate sales’, Times of India, 17th July 2014, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Government-to-treat-acid-as-poison-regulate-sales/articleshow/21111357.cms?referral=PM, accessed 21st November 2014.

[6] ‘Combating acid violence’, Avon Center, p. 14. See above note 1.

[7] Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, Ch. 2(5), http://indiacode.nic.in/acts-in-pdf/132013.pdf, accessed 8th October 2014. Sec. 5 of the Act inserts Sections 326A and 326B into the Indian Penal Code.

[8] Poisons Act, 1919, Sec. 2(a-g), http://www.health.mp.gov.in/acts/poison-act-1919-2.pdf, accessed 21st November 2014.

[9] Mahapatra, D., ‘Government to treat acid as poison, regulate sales’. See above note 5.

[10] ‘Combating acid violence’, Avon Center, p. 12. See above note 1.

[11] Dasgupta, K., ‘Acid attack survivors in India find safe space but little legal respite’, The Guardian, 9th September 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/sep/09/acid-attacks-india-legal-respite, accessed 22nd November 2014.

[12] ‘Where it happens: India’, Acid Violence, Acid Survivors Trust International, http://www.acidviolence.org/index.php/acid-violence/countries/india, accessed 22nd November 2014.

[13] Table 1 adapted from data provided in ‘Combating acid violence’, Avon Center, p. 11. See above note 1. Note that the data for 2010 only go up to October.

[14] Figure 1 adapted from ‘Combating acid violence’, Avon Center, p. 11. See above note 1.

[15] ‘Burnt not defeated’, CSAAAW, 2007, pg 30. See above note 2.

 

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This series of posts were researched, drafted and edited by Divya Bhat, Shakthi Manickavasagam, Titiksha Pandit and Mitha Nandagopalan.

December 2014

Gender Violence:The Health Impact – Training Health Workers to Respond to GV – The Dilaasa Model

by Rashi Vidyasagar

World over, gender based violence has been accepted as a public health issue. As per the World Health Organisation (WHO), “The principles of public health provide a useful framework for both continuing to investigate and understand the causes and consequences of violence and for preventing violence from occurring through primary prevention programmes, policy interventions and advocacy.” This is because violence has severe physical and mental health consequences – both short term and long term, which includes bruises, cuts, and wounds, lacerations to depression, anxiety, nightmares, pregnancy, STIs, HIV, and even, death. All of these require a visit to the health facility where if proper care and treatment is provided, the survivor can begin the process of healing. Moreover, there is evidence to show that women are more likely to visit a hospital after an episode of violence rather a police station or a counselling centre.

Interventions carried out at the public health level (individual as well as community) can help mitigate violence and help deal with its consequences. However, medical professionals are ill- equipped to sensitively respond to the issue of violence against women. Lack of training and education on this issue, general indifference to dominant societal norms that legitimise violence against women are only some of the reasons for the inability of the professional to respond effectively to the needs of victims of violence. There is evidence that, even when women facing violence are identified within the health care system, providers have a tendency to focus on the physical consequences of abuse, to be condescending and distant, and to blame women for the violence they face. [Campbell and Lewandowski 1997; Kurz and Stark 1988; Layzer et al 1986; Vavarro et al 1993; Warshaw 1989, Daga 1998]. Within the medical context, violence is understood as a social problem and/or private family matter, as it does not fit into the traditional illness model. As noted elsewhere, “The concern for violence is conspicuous by its virtual absence in medical discourses. The special medical needs and rehabilitation of victims and survivors of violence are hardly ever discussed by doctors” (Jesani 1995). Thus, training becomes an integral part of any intervention with the health care system to fill the void left by the medical education.

It was with this view that Dilaasa, a hospital based crisis center was set by Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) in collaboration with CEHAT. Today, Dilaasa is a fully functional department within a 400+ bed hospital in the heart of Mumbai.

When CEHAT did the need assessment while setting up Dilaasa, a hospital based crisis centre in 2001, the need to develop a training module emerged clearly. This training was not only for doctors but also for hospital administrators, nurses and every health care professional. Between 2001 -2003, a module of adult peer to peer learning was created. A mixed group of doctors and nurses were selected with the hope that they would go on to train their own cadre. Despite this, referrals were low. This prompted the need to have continuous training of all medical professionals rather a one-time training. In 2006, Dilaasa started expanding and more and more health care providers were interested in providing services, however, the current healthcare system was not able to sustain their interest. It was then when it was decided to set up a training cell. It was formed to share resources and experiences of HCPs dealing with domestic violence, as well as provide them with formal roles of trainers with the aim of mainstreaming the training cell in the current health system.

The impact of this training can be seen in the steady growth of referrals by the health system. Along with training, it was also essential to give certain information-education-communication (IEC) material to these health care providers to supplement their referrals. Visiting cards, brochures, posters, pamphlets with messages of how violence is not their fault or that suicide is not the way out were printed. All of these were displayed prominently in the hospital or given to the doctors. It was realised that doctors don’t necessarily ask women patients about abuse in the OPDs. Women who reported abuse were being referred but no effort was made to draw out those who may have been abused but did not report it. That is when checklists of health consequences for each department and how could they ask about violence were printed and placards were made.

In the 14 years that Dilaasa has been functioning in a public hospital, training has been the cornerstone of the work that is being done. Continuous training with the hospital staff gives them a sense of identification and association with the project. The role of a medical professional is to identify, document and refer a survivor of violence. There should be no ambiguity in the expectations from the training. Training can provide tools that are required to identify the abuse and can also provide an important document if the woman takes the legal road. However, for the provision of comprehensive healthcare, this needs to be supplemented by a counselling centre where the doctors can refer the woman and/or organisations that provide services like shelter, counselling and legal aid to the survivor.

The following case study shows the importance of training all the hospital staff to recognise signs of abuse

Amma was referred to the Occupational Therapy Physiotherapy (OTPT) department by the orthopaedic department for the injuries that she had sustained. Amma had reported that she had fallen and hurt herself. At the OTPT she had received therapy for her hand and shoulder for a week. During this period, the physiotherapist found time with her alone and told her about Dilaasa and what it does. She then asked her if she would like to go there. Amma said, “No, I do not need it”. The following day, the physiotherapist asked her how she had sustained her injuries. Amma repeated the same story about a fall. The physiotherapist suspected abuse but did not want to probe further as she feared that the woman might not come back for treatment. She then asked one of the Dilaasa counsellors to come to OTPT department and speak to her. Amma then talked about the abuse she had suffered and subsequently sought Dilaasa services

Amma’s story is a testimony to the effect that training can have. Since 2001, Dilaasa has responded to over 3000 women, most referred by health care professionals. This has been possible through continuous support of the hospital staff, the trainers and the administrators who have ensured that a comprehensive health care response to survivors can be provided.

More information on setting up Dilaasa, the process of training the health care providers and other work related to Domestic Violence and Sexual violence can be found here: http://cehat.org/

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Rashi Vidyasagar is a Criminologist who is currently engaged in research on issues around violence against women including domestic violence and sexual assault. She is a Crisis Interventionist who works with CEHAT (Centre for Enquiry into Health and Allied Themes) in Mumbai.

Gender Violence:The Health Impact – Adopting a Survivor-Centric Attitude to Medical Care

by Aparna Gupta

Gender-based violence, apart from being a human rights violation, is also a major public health concern. In addition to physical injury that would require immediate medical attention, violence can lead to life-long psychological and physical health problems, along with social and occupational impairment. Therefore, providing effective medical care and support is crucial to mitigate the short- and long-term health effects of gender-based violence on survivors and their families.

Keeping this in mind, it is heartening to note that the State has tried to improve medical care for survivors through various interventions. The Supreme Court in Pt. Parmanand Katara v. Union of India, for example, ruled that doctors in both private and government hospitals have a paramount obligation to extend their services to protect the life of a victim of sexual assault.[i] Taking this judgement forward, the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, inserted section 357C in the Code of Criminal Procedure, according to which all hospitals, both public and private, shall have to provide immediate first aid or medical treatment, free of cost, to the victims of sexual violence.[ii]  Refusal of medical care to survivors of sexual violence and acid attacks is a punishable offence under Section 166 B of the Indian Penal Code.

In December 2013, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare took a significant step by issuing detailed guidelines for providing medico-legal care to survivors of sexual violence.[iii] Briefly, these guidelines include the following:

  1. Compulsory informed consent of the survivor regarding examination, treatment and police intimation
  2. Specific guidelines on dealing with marginalised groups such as persons with disabilities, sex workers, LGBT persons, children, persons facing caste-, class- or religion-based discriminations
  • Ensuring gender sensitivity in the entire procedure and refraining from mentioning the survivor’s past sexual behaviour.
  1. Standard treatment protocols for managing health consequences of sexual violence
  2. Guidelines for provision of first-line psychological support

While commendable, these guidelines must be implemented in letter and spirit, to help in putting an end to the horrendous medical process that victims are subjected to after sexual abuse, and to prevent a miscarriage of justice, by ensuring the proper collection of evidence; laws, policies and guidelines, though a significant part of the solution, cannot guarantee tangible results by their mere existence. Thus, despite the existence of praiseworthy legal tools, survivors of gender violence have been repeatedly denied the much needed compassionate and sensitive post- violence medical care. The first point of contact for any survivor of violence is a medical establishment. However, doctors usually prioritise the collection of forensic evidence, and often insist on filing a police complaint as soon as survivors approach them for medical care, which can intimidate survivors and discourage them from pursuing treatment (Human Rights Watch, 2010)[iv] . Too often, survivors are forced to make gruelling trips from one hospital or ward to another, and receive multiple examinations at each stage. Medical workers frequently collect evidence inadequately, or insensitively, or both. While the provisions of trauma counselling and psychological care for survivors and their families are minimal, even basic medical care such as treatment for injuries or infections is denied to survivors at times (Nita Bhalla, 2013)[v].

Therefore, it is necessary that the existing policies and regulations are supplemented by certain urgent measures. The government should conduct sensitisation programmes in hospitals and for medical practitioners, in order to train them on the possible health consequences of violence against women and how to address such health consequences. The Justice Verma Committee suggested that each district should have a ‘Sexual Assault Crisis Centre’, with at least one female gynaecologist and one professionally qualified counsellor available on the premises. Subject to the survivor’s physical health and choice, their first interaction should be with the counsellor, then the doctor.[vi]

India can draw on the experience of other countries in this regard. For instance, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada have specialised sexual violence crisis intervention centres equipped and staffed with trained professionals to provide integrated services, with a special focus on the therapeutic needs of survivors. Furthermore, South Africa provides specialised training for medical students on how to treat and examine survivors.

There is a need to recognise that gender violence is a complex problem with varied dimensions, and hence requires multi-sectoral interventions for prevention and management. In the fight against gender violence, strengthening medical health capacities  can go a long way towards providing empathetic and survivor-centric care for addressing survivors’ immediate health concerns and rebuilding their lives after assault.

[i] Pt. Parmananda Katara v. Union of India, 1989 4 SSC 289

[ii] Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013

[iii] Guidelines & Protocols: Medico-legal care for survivors/victims of Sexual violence, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, December 2013.

[iv] ‘Dignity on Trial’, Human Rights Watch, September 2010.

[v] ‘How India’s police and judiciary fail rape victims’, Nita Bhalla, Shakti Vahini, January 2013,

http://shaktivahini.org/shakti-vahini-2/analysis-how-indias-police-and-judiciary-fail-rape-victims.

[vi] ‘Report of the Committee on Amendments to Criminal Law’, Justice J.S Verma, January 2013.

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Aparna Gupta is currently a fellow with PRS Legislative Research’s Legislative Assistants to Members of Parliament programme. An engineer by degree, and student of policy by day, Aparna aspires to work in the field of human rights and gender violence.

Gender Violence:The Health Impact – Responding to Domestic and Sexual Violence: An Emergency Health Care Model

by Diksha Choudhary

In a survey conducted in 2010 by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, India won an unenviable tag: that of the worst G20 country in the world to be a woman in[i]. The latest numbers from the National Crime Records Bureau don’t contradict that poll either. In 2013 alone, 309,546 crimes against women were reported, including 118,866 cases of domestic violence, and 33,707 cases of rape[ii]. By average, that’s 92 women who get raped every day, and 848 who have taken the step to report domestic violence, every day.

The statistics paint a gory picture. And gender violence is a crime with serious health consequences. World Health Organization (WHO) defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”[iii]

Gender-based violence results in physical and psychological trauma on the victims. Physical trauma may include abdominal pain, unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, pelvic inflammatory diseases, sexual dysfunction etc. whereas psychological trauma might range from being in shock, denial, numbness, guilt to self- loathing, depression and even suicidal attempts.

So, if a woman who has been abused walks into the emergency ward of a hospital in India, what sort of help can she expect?

In the last few years, India has commenced showing sensitivity towards the issue of emergency medical healthcare. For example, as per Section 357 C of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (introduced by an amendment in the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013), both public and private hospitals are required to provide free treatment to survivors of sexual assault and they cannot be denied such treatment. Refusal to provide medico legal examination and treatment is punishable by imprisonment for up to 1 year as per Section 166B of the Indian Penal Code[iv].

However, so far there is no accepted, standardized and efficient protocol for medical personnel to follow. Until recently, there was no standardized pro-forma for rape examinations across hospitals in India, which was corrected in a guideline issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in March 2014.[v] While this is an essential first step in strengthening the institutional infrastructure required for an emergency healthcare model, few hospitals follow this protocol.

Incidents like the one in Mysore[vi] where a rape survivor with mental disabilities was made to wait naked for a medical exam reek of insensitivity on the part of medical practitioners. It also raises questions about the training provided to our doctors and nurses. There is an urgent need to implement the training structure as per the new guidelines by the Government to sensitize and educate all medical personnel on how to provide the best medical help to the victims. There is also a need to develop specialized certification training program such as Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) in USA to respond to sexual assault patients’ emotional and physical needs as well as forensic evidentiary requirements of the victims.[vii]

Plans to build 600 one stop crisis centres across the country are another step in the right direction[viii]. Models from countries like UK are good examples to emulate, where sexual assault referral centres provide medical care and forensic examination following assault/rape and, in some locations, sexual health services. Medical services provided are free of charge and are provided to women, men, young people and children[ix].

While that’s the wishlist for essential institutional and physical infrastructure needed for emergency healthcare for sexual and domestic violence survivors, here’s an attempt at a ‘model’ model for emergency response: the 3Es to follow for survivors:

  1. Emergency Helpline, or an Emergency Medical Dispatcher (EMD): There is a need for a centralized emergency medical dispatch service in defined zones of every state which provides immediate medical help needed for the victim of sexual violence. This EMD would gather information related to medical emergencies such as information regarding the perpetrator, the wounds inflicted on the victim or information collected from a family member, to provide immediate help prior to the arrival of medical services. It would also dispatch an Emergency medical services team for the aide of the victim[x]. In the United States of America and Canada, 9-1-1 functions as an EMD for all kinds of emergency services. We can develop a similar emergency medical dispatch network to help in the cases of exigencies tailored for medical attention specific to gender violence. Further it is vital that not only government hospitals but private hospitals and nursing homes are included in this program.
  2. Essential Medical Attention: Once a survivor of domestic or sexual violence is brought to a hospital, or a one stop crisis centre, medical practitioners must follow standardized procedures for providing immediate medical care. This must include treatment of physical injuries, detection of sexually transmitted infections, and provision of emergency contraceptives where needed. It must also include psychological counseling of the survivor, and her immediate family or friends where needed.[xi]
  3. Evidence Collection Protocol: An emergency model must also have a proper protocol for forensic evidence collection, and the right methods to do the same. The protocol must expressly forbid prejudicial medical practices like the two-finger test. One-stop crisis centres must have rape kits for doing the necessary tests and for safe storage of evidence. [xii]

[i] http://www.trust.org/item/20120613010100-b7scy/?source=spotlight

[ii] National Crime Records Bureau- http://ncrb.gov.in/ and  http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-29708612

[iii] WHO Violence against Women- http://www.who.int/topics/gender_based_violence/en/

[iv] http://indiacode.nic.in/acts-in-pdf/132013.pdf

[v] guidelines and protocols to provide medico-legal care for survivors and victims of sexual violence http://uphealth.up.nic.in/med-order-14-15/med2/sexual-vil.pdf

[vi] News Article- http://daily.bhaskar.com/news/BAN-brazen-display-of-insensitivity-rape-victim-made-to-wait-naked-for-3-hours-in-go-4688547-NOR.html

[vii] http://www.vawnet.org/applied-research-papers/print-document.php?doc_id=417

[viii] http://wcd.nic.in/nirbhaya_centre.pdf

[ix] http://www.rapecrisis.org.uk/Referralcentres2.php, http://www.cwhn.ca/en/organization_en/results/taxonomy%3A2998

[x] Wikipedia definition of Emergency Medical Dispatcher -http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergency_medical_dispatcher,

[xi] http://www.rapecrisis.org.uk/index.php, https://rainn.org/get-help/sexual-assault-and-rape-international-resources, http://www.cwhn.ca/en/organization_en/results/taxonomy%3A2998

[xii] https://www.rainn.org/get-information/sexual-assault-recovery/rape-kit, http://www.casac.ca/, http://www.rapecrisis.org.uk/Policeprocedure2.php, http://uphealth.up.nic.in/med-order-14-15/med2/sexual-vil.pdf

*****

Diksha Choudhary is a former analyst with one of the top consulting firms in the world, and is currently a fellow with PRS Legislative Research’s Legislative Assistants to Members of Parliament programme. In her spare time, Diksha reads French works of fiction.

Why India Should Criminalise Marital Rape

by Aparna Gupta

The marital rape exemption can be traced to statements by Sir Mathew Hale, Chief Justice in England, during the 1600s. He wrote, “The husband cannot be guilty of a rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife, for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract, the wife hath given herself in kind unto the husband, whom she cannot retract.” Hence for centuries, the rape laws around the world gave absolute immunity to the husbands, with respect to their wives.

However, the societal perception about marriage has now changed and wives cannot be regarded as mere property of the husbands. Internationally, at least 52 countries have explicitly outlawed marital rape in their criminal codes by April 2011. In India, the judiciary has time and again lamented about the lack of provisions to protect the wives from the acts of sexual perversity by their husbands. The Justice Verma Committee, the UN Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women and numerous women rights activists have recommended for the criminalisation of marital rape in the Indian statute. Then why does India still allow this grave discrimination to exist in its laws?

During the passage of the Criminal Laws Amendment Act in 2013, the Indian Parliament widely debated on criminalizing marital rape and finally chose an opposite stance. The law makers who opposed the move argued that it has the potential of destroying the institution of marriage. Such archaic notions are completely flawed as marriages thrive on mutual respect and trust and not through submitting to an abusive husband. It is the act of rape by one’s own husband that destroys the marriage and not the prosecution of the perpetrator.

There have also been concerns regarding difficulty of proof. This has lead to two contradictory issues. The opponents argue that it would be nearly impossible prosecute marital rape, because unlike an unmarried victim, the evidence of penetration is not considered sufficient evidence. Secondly, there is the danger of husbands being wrongly committed of a serious offence. However, these difficulties already exist in the cases where the victim is in an intimate relationship with the accused. The difficulty in prosecution cannot be considered as an excuse for not bringing the required reform in legislation. For instance, the prosecution might also be difficult in cases of murder, but that does not mean that murder shall not be considered as a crime.

The second issue, regarding protecting the innocent husbands from false accusation can be taken care of through implementation of certain measures. The Section 228 A of the Indian Penal Code could be amended to prevent the public disclosure of the husband and not just the victim. This is also important to protect the identity of the victim herself, as revealing the identity of the husband might lead to disclosure of her identity. The law could also compel the wife to give evidence in order to prevent the misuse of the act. Moreover, while such concerns are genuine, the existing power dynamics in the society reflect that investigation regarding allegation of rape is a notoriously difficult process for the complainant. In a country with abysmally low rates of conviction in rape cases, it is hard to believe that criminalisation of marital rape would lead to victimisation of the husbands.

Finally, the purpose of the legislation is to create deterrence against the acts of marital rape and to send a strong social message that marriage cannot be equated to consent. It is to provide legal support to the wives who have been battered, beaten and raped in the name of marriage. It is to tell the husbands that marriage does not give them the license to rape their wives. Despite difficulties in prosecution, if the law is at least able to bring this change in mindsets, then it would be a victory for the law. Therefore, it is time that the Indian parliamentarians look beyond their doubts and criminalise marital rape.

 

Aparna Gupta is currently a fellow with PRS Legislative Research’s Legislative Assistants to Members of Parliament programme. An engineer by training and student of policy by day, Aparna aspires to work in the domain of Human Rights and Gender Violence.

Marital Rape: Not a Myth

by Aparna Gupta

Every 6 hours, a young married woman is burnt or beaten to death, or driven to suicide from emotional abuse by her husband. According to the UN Population fund, two-third of the married women in India, aged between 15 and 49 years, have been beaten, raped or forced to provide sex by their husbands. These are not just mere statistics, but each represents a silent sufferer brutalised and caught in the glorified institution of marriage in India. There have been reported cases where women have been forced to have intercourse till their late pregnancies and have been brutally assaulted by their husbands just after delivery of a child. There have also been cases where a husband has transmitted sexually transmitted diseases to the wife leading to vaginal infection through forced sexual intercourse. Despite such horrifying realities the Indian marriage and rape laws continue to remain misogynist and treat wives as the property of husbands. Marital rape is not only legal in our country but it is somehow a taboo to even talk about it.

Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code says that sexual intercourse by a man with his wife who is not less than 15 years old is not considered as rape. The IPC goes further and Section 376B provides for a lesser punishment for the perpetrator for committing a sexual offence if the victim is his wife, living separately, under a decree or otherwise. These provisions under the IPC are not only inhumane and misogynist but also absurd and inconsistent with the other laws in India. Section 375 clearly gives the legal sanction to a man to rape his minor wife, while the age of consent under other laws is 18 years. There exists a grave anomaly as the Indian statute criminalises consensual sex between teenagers but turns a blind eye to the atrocities that are committed against women in the name of marriage every day.

The countrywide protests after the 16 December rape case lead to the amendment of the IPC through the Criminal Laws (Amendments) Act which brought in many progressive changes. However, the Indian parliamentarians abstained from omitting these highly sexist and patriarchal exceptions from the law, despite contrary recommendations by the Justice Verma Committee. The Verma Committee explicitly stated that marital relationship between the perpetrator and the victim should not be considered as a valid defence against the crimes of rape and sexual assault. Therefore it is essential that the Indian law makers and the society at large believe that a rapist remains a rapist regardless of his relationship with the victim.

It was heartening to see that in the budget session this year, both the houses of the parliament spent considerable amount of time in discussing the issues related to gender violence and atrocities against women. However, amongst more than 750 members in both the houses, only one raised the issue of marital rape and the inconsistencies under the IPC. While the growing number of brutal crimes against women has pricked the conscience of the parliamentarians and the people of India, we seem to have passively accepted the crimes committed to them within the confines of their home by their husbands as something normal. This needs to change- the patriarchal mindsets that consider wife to be duty bound to provide sex to her husband; the traditional understanding of a wife’s role as a submissive, docile homemaker. And the taboos that exist around the discussions regarding sexual relationship between a husband and a wife.

Therefore, there is a need to create more awareness regarding the heinous acts of sexual perversity that many wives suffer under the hands of the husbands. No society or culture can exist without change forever. Sometimes the laws of the land undergo transformation in the light of the social change and at other times they become the agents of social change. This is one of the latter times when the country needs a judicial awakening through uprooting the patriarchal sections of the IPC that propagate the archaic notions of marriage and consent.

 

Aparna Gupta is currently a fellow with PRS Legislative Research’s Legislative Assistants to Members of Parliament programme. An engineer by training and student of policy by day, Aparna aspires to work in the domain of Human Rights and Gender Violence.

16 Days Campaign Theme series: Peace or war, what difference does it make?, by Kirthi Gita Jayakumar

Kirthi Gita Jayakumar

Peace or war, what difference does it make?

That gender-violence is a weapon of war, and common on every warfront is a fact. But what is obscure, and perhaps little considered, is that it is as rooted in peacetime as it is in wartime. The thin red line separating the two does not exist: gender violence is ubiquitous, existing in a “continuum” of sorts, between peacetime and wartime. In both situations, the occurrence of gender-violence is significant of the dominance and aggression that men assert over women, and of the fact that the bodies of women are focal points for aggressive discrimination based on sex. Where the difference lies, however, is in the proportion. In peacetime, bodies remain ‘individual’, as scattered or episodic instances of violence take place. In wartime, the scale and proportion extends beyond this limit, where bodies become ‘social bodies’, with the number of events taking place tolling much higher.

Wartime gender discrimination and violence is proof of a prevalent undercurrent of socio-cultural dynamics that speak of gender discrimination in peacetime. This is precisely the reason for the effectiveness of gender violence in war. If there were no prevalent concepts in peacetime of honour, shame, sexuality, sacredness of virginity and modesty, gender violence cannot function so effectively in war.

The surrounding element of cultural salience in peacetime surrounding a woman’s honour is a reflection of the connotations that sexuality has in peacetime. The dynamics of male dominance stem from the notions surrounding the protection of female honour, which in turn, is inherent in many traditional cultures. Most countries that have remained thriving hotbeds of impunity with gender-violence in wartime are those that are peppered with a sanctimonious perception of women as sex objects in peacetime. By “sex objects”, the connotation intends to convey that women are representatives of the code of honour of their families and the code of honour of their blood and lineage. This in turn leads to the augmented sanctity attached to the virginity, chastity, honour and virtue of a woman. Women themselves are brought up with the preconditioning that their honour and shame are non-negotiable elements for their acceptance in society. A woman is deemed the representation of the honour of the three-tiered hierarchy that commands her life: her husband, her family, and the community or province she represents.

Given the importance of and emphasis upon a woman’s chastity, monogamy and fertility in peacetime, it is understandable why women become the critical targets of enemy combatants in a state of war. An act of violence against women is a means for combatants to show their control over the “sexual property” in a conflict.

Sexual violence in peacetime is often construed as crimes against the individual – while in war the very same offences gain greater magnitude. The continued subsistence of a culture of silence in peacetime is a springboard for the unhindered occurrence of violence against women in war. In effect, therefore, bodies don’t turn battlegrounds, but remain. The lack of peace at home and at the grassroots snowballs into the lack of peace in the nation, and the lack of peace across the world.

Kirthi Jayakumar is a lawyer (International Law & Human Rights). (The only link is: www.kirthijayakumar.blogspot.com)

“The right to hit”???

This blogpost by Dr. Ganesh Puttu is a must-read story about someone who was proud that her husband hit her. He asks why she is so proud of his strength (which hurt her eardrum) and of his violent behaviour. Read!

Ganesh Puttu, Domestic Violence and the Bharatiya Nari, November 28, 2012.

 

 

Why ‘mental cruelty’ is clearly a form of violence

In The Hindustan Times (16 July 2011), Shalini Singh discusses what the phrase ‘mental cruelty’ includes. Is it depriving your spouse of affection? Or food? Or attention? Or refusing to have a child?  As she points out, mental cruelty is no longer an ‘also’ charge, clubbed along with physical, sexual or economic violence, but a credible manifestation of gender violence on its own terms.

Last week, Justice Kailash Gambhir of the Delhi High Court overturned a lower court’s ruling and granted divorce to a woman and ruled that doubting a spouse’s character could amount to mental cruelty and that it could be reason enough for divorce.  This is yet another step in acknowledging psychological torture within a marriage — a form of violence which legal and mental health experts say we are getting more sensitised to as a society.According to legal experts, earlier, ‘mental cruelty’ was clubbed along with physical, financial or economic forms of cruelty to make a case. Says Pinky Anand, Supreme Court lawyer. “Cruelty as a ground for divorce under the Hindu Marriage Act was more about physical violence. Down the line, mental cruelty has become a plain ground for divorce and is no longer about just stray instances.”

Mental cruelty is described as psychological aggression resulting in verbal, dominant or jealous behaviour that causes trauma to the victim.

According to the Hindu Marriage Act, mental cruelty has been broadly defined as conduct that inflicts such mental pain that the sufferer cannot live any more with the perpetrator. It goes on to note that the cruelty may be mental or physical, intentional or unintentional. It states: “If it’s physical, it’s a question of fact and degree. If it’s mental, the enquiry must begin as to the nature of the cruel treatment and then as to the impact of such treatment on the mind of the spouse.”

The Protection of Women From Domestic Violence Act 2005 broadened the definition. It includes “verbal and emotional abuse” — insults, ridicule, humiliation and name-calling, specially on inability to bear a child. It also brings within its ambit “repeated threats to cause physical pain to any person in whom the aggrieved person is interested”.

On the rise
Of late, cases of mental abuse have become frequent and more complex. As says Supreme Court lawyer Meenakshi Lekhi: “We are getting more cases that include a mix of, say, adultery and watching pornography — leading to mental agony for the spouse.”

For those who have suffered mental cruelty, the emerging nuances in the understanding of it are welcome. “It’s torturous if you use emotions to your advantage and hurt your partner,” says Delhi-born Amrita Jain, 29, who recently got a divorce. “When my ex-husband would pretend that he was depressed in order to get away with whatever he did, it was cruel. I felt drained and completely stopped thinking about myself.”

Such not-so-straightforward cases are on the rise, Jain feels, ascribing it to the fact that “people have started living complex lives”. Lekhi says such cases are increasing because “people in India are getting more individualistic.” Whatever the reason, the courts are taking note of the change.

Defining the term
Experts say that mental cruelty is behaviour over a period of time that dehumanises another person, causing them trauma — or, as Dr Harish Shetty, a Mumbai-based psychiatrist, puts it, “that which can cause emotional distress in a person who has had a normal state”.

For example, says Lekhi: “A person refusing to speak to the spouse: he or she is not abusive or violent, but if this leads to depression, mental ill-health, not being acknowledged, then it amounts to mental cruelty.”

In the landmark Samar Ghosh vs Jaya Ghosh case in 2007, the Supreme Court, focussing on “sustained behaviour”, held that “that a few isolated incidents over a period of years will not amount to cruelty” . It said that “mere coldness or lack of affection cannot amount to cruelty” but made allowance for the fact that “frequent rudeness of language, petulance of manner, indifference and neglect may reach such a degree that it makes the married life for the other spouse absolutely intolerable”.

More recently, earlier this year, the Delhi High Court said that “mental cruelty is not as easy to establish as physical cruelty, the impact of it has to be deliberated upon” while ruling on a case recently where a husband got divorce from his wife in a trial court on the grounds that she used to taunt him for being a clerk and quarrelled with him over petty issues. The Delhi High Court ruled that “an angry look, a random quarrel, a sugar coated insult or a taunt cannot lead the court to grant a decree of divorce.”

On the other hand, in May, the Bombay High Court ruled that keeping a mistress amounts to inflicting mental cruelty on the wife — 16 years after Chandrakala committed suicide, the six month jail term awarded to her husband Ratan Jagzap wazs upheld on grounds of subjecting her to cruelty.

Mental cruelty continues to be not so easily definable and can be interpreted differently. But as sociologist Shiv Visvanathan points out: “While earlier, mental cruelty was part of any cruelty, that’s changing as women’s rights become more open and women’s stresses are being professionally recognised. So it’ll get easier for people to win a case.”

Women’s rights activist Ranjana Kumari, director of Centre for Social Research, calls mental cruelty the most “gruesome form of cruelty” because it “damages a person’s personality which could lead to depression or insanity”. She says: “Any form of deprivation, like troubling the kids to teach the wife a lesson, showing her family in a bad light, and of course the age-old badgering for dowry are forms of mental cruelty where the woman starts feeling depressed… Unlike mental cruelty, physical and economic cruelty is identifiable more easily.”

Kalpana Mehta of Saheli Women’s Resource Centre says our laws are “nuanced, given that psychological cruelty is a complex issue.” According to her, “What we need is more gender sensitisation and implementation.”

Applying the law
While there’s no one interpretation of the legal term, most experts see it as sustained behaviour which includes actions that have been repeated over a period of time. What is changing, however, is that more and more nuances are being added to what can be considered cruelty. For instance, Dr Shetty says: “If a woman by nature is an introvert, doesn’t like to dress up and party with her husband, he could see this as an act of omission — ‘denying the normal pleasures of life’ — while all this may be perfectly acceptable for a man who likes a shy wife. Then incompatibility or ‘anger of a depressed spouse’ may be seen as cruelty.”

Cultural differences may come into play while identifying pyschologically abusive behaviours. In western societies, experts say, the concepts of space, freedom and choice are strong. Even raising your voice at the spouse could be a legitimate reason, while in India anger is still widely tolerated.

Widening the application
While mental cruelty is largely seen in the matrimonial ambit, our laws cover it in other areas too. Lekhi says there are provisions within the Domestic Violence Act for issues such as sexual harassment at workplace as mental cruelty, too. Even ragging in institutional institutions is treated as systematised form of human rights abuse, as embodied in the Indian Constitution.

Delhi-based child rights activist Enakshi Ganguly says instances of a child being humiliated in class by his teacher, or a girl being discriminated by her family must also be treated as mental cruelty offences. In the US, for instance, mental cruelty is treated as ‘behavior that causes mental agony to another person’ and includes relationships such as employee-employer, master-servant too. Physical violence is not necessary.

There are also those who take the definition too far. “I’ve seen cases of people taking things to silly levels — such as ‘my husband hasn’t bought me a mobile phone’, ‘he got angry because I was talking to my mother for a long time’ says Anand. Our courts hold that divorce should be granted if the situation is intolerable, not on the basis of minor differences.”

Justice lies in the fine balance — and finding it is an ongoing quest.

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