In the last week of November 2021, a report revealed the findings of the latest National Family Health Survey, which sheds new light on anti-women violence in contemporary Indian society. As per the survey, more than 75% of women respondents across three states justified men beating their wives – notably 84% in Telangana, 84% in Andhra Pradesh and 77% in Karnataka.
Although facts show that Indian men use domestic violence against their spouses to justify their male supremacy, what is startling is that how the male supremacy’s influence on women made 75% of them, in these three states, justify domestic violence against women. Even after the much-hyped campaigns like Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (Save the girlchild, Educate the girlchild), we are witnessing a very high figure of up to 84% women in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh justifying violence against women.
Men have subjugated women for so long in Indian society, as elsewhere, that women too have imbibed and inherited patriarchal ideas, even though these ideas hurt their interests, freedom, and basic human rights. In this way, women too become a tool of patriarchy, its enablers, thereby helping in their oppression. Kamla Bhasin, South Asia’s feminist icon who passed away on September 25th 2021 in New Delhi, had observed: “I know enough women who are totally patriarchal, who are totally anti-women, who do nasty things to other women, and I have known men who worked for women’s rights their whole life.”
Some of the ways in which subjugated women promote patriarchy in our society are as follows. Women who suffer from dowry demands at their wedding, later on, support such demands during their sons’ weddings. To appease their spouses and their families, women enslaved by patriarchy actively participate in the crime of female foeticide. Among urban working women, it is often the case that an educated working woman quits her job to go with her husband if he is transferred or relocates. This is because the concept of gender equality has almost no takers in Indian society due to the centuries of dominant feudal patriarchal norms and cultures.
The National Family Health Survey was conducted across 14 states and union territories. Across these 14 regions, an average of at least 30% of women respondents justified women to be beaten by their husbands under certain circumstances. The survey had asked: “In your opinion, is a husband justified in hitting or beating his wife?” The percentage of women respondents who justified men beating wives was 66% in Manipur, 52% in Kerala, 49% in Jammu & Kashmir, 44% in Maharashtra, 42% in West Bengal.
Although this survey was not conducted in every state, the above figures give us some idea that the situation is somewhat similar in all states of India. This figure of women justifying men’s violence against themselves should have declined in the post-Independence period. Traditionally, women are considered goddesses in Hindu culture and are also worshipped at home, notably for nine days on Navratri, but historically it is also a fact that women in India were denied the right to education which further strengthened their mental slavery
However, they also face violence from men on regular days. Courts in India and members of the Parliament continue to justify violence against women. Maneka Gandhi, a female minister justified marital rape. The Indian government also has refused to include marital rape as a sexual offence. In 2017, the Supreme Court of India said that marital rape cannot be considered criminal.
We have also come far in terms of democratic rights. We should not be seeing such high figures in modern India. Also, among Muslim communities, women can be seen justifying anti-women violence by men. For example, Muslim women know that burqa affects their freedom to go around in society, still they force their daughters to wear a burqa. Among the Bohra Muslims, women support female genital mutilation (Khatna) of their daughters. Despite seven decades of democracy, the World Health Organisation reports 37.7% of women suffering domestic violence in India, worse than the global average of 35%.
What is also surprising is that in states like Kerala where there is a high level of literacy, more than half of women respondents justified men’s violence against women. Perhaps further studies are required to find if our education system is unable to remove patriarchal influence and free the minds of women.
The Press Trust of India, which published the survey results quoted Amita Pitre of Oxfam, India’s lead specialist on gender issues, as saying that “harmful gender social norms help justify violence against women and girls.” She added, “All the reasons cited to justify violence on women are a product of these norms: if she neglects the house or children, if she refuses to have sex with the husband, if she doesn’t cook food properly. All these define how women should behave in society.”
From the survey results, we reach the following conclusions:
One, patriarchy needs to be removed from the minds of women before it is removed from the minds of men. At some level, women unconsciously inherit patriarchal ideas. Women’s rights organisations must play an active role in launching awareness in local communities.
Two, our education system is somewhere failing in protecting women’s basic rights. So, school education boards should include chapters in moral studies which sensitize girls and boys from an early age that violence in any form against women is not acceptable.
Three, the understanding of basic human rights in our society is very limited or negligible. Women and girls have to learn about basic human rights. Both boys and girls should grow from primary standards with a strong sense of equality and the rights of the individual. Four, when a man fights for a woman, he fights just for the woman. But when a woman fights for another woman, she fights for her rights and liberties. Therefore, it becomes necessary that women should be at the forefront of the campaign to eliminate patriarchal ideas from their minds as well as from the society in which they live.
Mantasha Ansari is a student of MA in Political Science at the University of Lucknow. She is deeply interested in emerging issues related to development, gender and politics. She has written for The Quint, Janata Weekly, Freedom Gazette, The India Forum Journal and The Frontier Weekly, among others. Her writings can be read at www.mantashaansari.com