The reasons for a wide range of crimes against women — rapes, marital rapes, dowry-deaths, domestic violence, to name a few — lie within the walls of the home, behind closed doors, with at least one or more male members of the family actively involved. This is precisely why the study conducted by the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW) should be taken seriously by all stakeholders striving to ensure a safe environment for women. It all begins, as revealed by the study, with a false sense of masculinity, which men in certain parts of the country — Uttar Pradesh tops the list with 63.9 per cent, followed by Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Punjab and Haryana, Maharashtra and Rajasthan — are convinced of.
Their obsession with the male child stems from the belief that women are inferior to men, and that men have the absolute right to control women in various ways. In such a milieu, violence comes in handy to ‘show a woman her place in the family and in the outside world’. The study reveals that nearly 49 per cent of men in UP admitted to resorting to violence, while 44.6 per cent of women reported being at the receiving end of physical abuse. Odisha figures high on the violence parameter — higher than Punjab, Haryana, Maharashtra and Rajasthan — with 59 per cent of its women admitting to being beaten up and tortured. Odisha’s notoriety, of course, pales in comparison with UP. However, one is tempted to believe that women from other states may not have been open about their sufferings because domestic violence is endemic throughout India, across the class and caste spectra.
Ironically, development hasn’t proved to beneficial for the girl child because the states mentioned in the list cannot be termed backward. In a country with a skewed gender ratio — 914 girls per 1000 boys — according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) 2012 data, 30 per cent of foeticides in the country happened in Madhya Pradesh alone. Though, even today most such cases go unreported, Rajasthan, Haryana and Punjab have shown only marginal improvements in terms of infanticide and foeticide, when compared with the 2011 NCRB figures. That way, backwardness has been a blessing because lack of infrastructure (sex-determination clinics) and poverty has allowed the girl child to survive.
What’s surprising in the ICRW study is the poor percentage of men — only 25.6 per cent — who believe in the equality of sexes in a day and age when women are increasingly dominating professional space in the corporate world and even in jobs, otherwise considered worthy only of men. It’s clear that a rigidly patriarchal society in the heart of India is too scared to come to terms with the ascendancy of women. Hence, their belief in the khap-panchayat-style primitive justice in the name of family honour.
For most perpetrators, what begins in a private space and soon assumes the regularity of a habit, must be carried on in public spaces as well. Since they get away with it at home, they feel emboldened and entitled to invade the streets, parks and alleys, caring little for the laws of the land. Ironically, they do get away with the most despicable of acts on most occasions because in India, crimes against women, especially rapes, have a very poor conviction rate.