Violence against Women: Health and Health Care Issues- a Review of Selected Indian Works

Abstract: The research to examine the health impact of violence against women and the role of health services and professions has been undertaken in different parts of the country. The research being done and completed use the traditional quantitative and qualitative methods as well as action and intervention research methods. The National Family Health Survey has also asked a few questions on violence, including women’s attitude to such violence. Institutions like CEHAT are conducting research by establishing one-stop crisis centres for women, called Dilaasa in collaboration with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation at the Bhabha Hospital, Bandra, Mumbai. This would attempt to mainstream the support system of battered women through the health care services.

Keywords: violence against women, battered women, forms of violence, abuse, women’s movement, prevalence of violence, feminist resource centre, response to violence, suicides

In the last three years a considerably high amount of research to examine the health impact of violence against women and the role of health services and professions has been undertaken in different parts of the country. The research being done and completed use the traditional quantitative and qualitative methods as well as action and intervention research methods. The National Family Health Survey has also asked a few questions on violence, including women’s attitude to such violence. On the other hand, the institution CEHAT is conducting action research by establishing one-stop Crisis Centre for Women, called Dilaasa in collaboration with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation at the Bhabha Hospital, Bandra, Mumbai. This would attempt to mainstream the support system of battered women through the health care services. All such present works linking health and health care to women’s concerns on violence draw heavily from the work started by pioneers in the 1980s and 1990s. This paper reviews such work of first two decades (1980-1998) of modern women’s movement.

Society and Violence Against Women

English Common Law tradition, the Rule of Thumb: “It was legal for a man to beat his wife as long as he beat her with a stick no wider than his thumb”.

Napoleonic Code: Women, like walnut trees, should be beaten daily.

Manusmriti: “If a wife, a son, a slave, a menial servant, or a full brother has committed an offense, they may be beaten with a rope or with split bamboo cane, but only on back of the body, and never on the head; anyone who beats them        anywhere else will incur the guilt of a thief”. (Laws of Manu, 1991, 184) “….. stealing grain, base metals, or livestock; having sex with a woman who drinks wine, killing a woman servant, commoner, and professing atheism are all minor crimes”. (257) “A woman’s mouth is always unpolluted”. (113) “There is no ritual with vedic verses for women; this is afirmly established point of law. For women who have no virile strength and no vedic verses, are falsehood; this is well established”. (198)

• A declaration adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1993 defines violence against women or gender based abuse as: “Any act of gender-based violence that results in or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in private or public life.” (Economic and Social Council, 1992)

• The great surge of women’s movement in the 1980s brought the issue of violence against women on the political agendaof the country.

Violence against Women as a Public Health Issue

Lori Heise, Alanagh Raike, et el (1994), surveyed 18 key studies from a variety of less developed countries and discussed them in relation to findings from studies in the developed countries to show that violence against women is a significant public health issue. In her World Bank Discussion paper, Lori Heise, et el, (1994) have used and analysed the data on DALY (Disability Adjusted Life Years lost) collected by the World Bank and concluded that “at a global level the health burden from gender-based victimisation among women aged 15-44 is comparable to that posed by other risk factors and diseases already high on the world agenda, including the HIV, tuberculosis, sepsis during childbirth, cancer and cardiovascular disease” (17). According to these estimates, rape and domestic violence account for 5% in the developed countries and 16% in the less developed countries of the healthy life lost to women in reproductive age. This paper also reviews 40 key studies on violence against women from various countries in the world.

Although there are no other comparable independent estimates of prevalence of violence against women in India available findings of various smaller and methodologically different studies seem to be pointing to a high level of health problems due to violence for women. We are interested in knowing both the women’s health problems due to violence and the response of the health professionals while confronted with the victims of violence. We review below some of the studies in order to highlight the work done so far and to identify the areas needing the attention of health workers, activists and researchers

Prevalence of violence

In the World Bank Discussion Paper of Lori Heise quoted above, two studies from India are reviewed. One by Mahajan.A (1990) and another by Vijayendra Rao and Francis Bloch (1993). We could not get a copy of both the studies for review. However, we had an opportunity to read a book on the subject by Mahajan A and Madhurima (1995) describing the full study. In this book they have given a study of 115 women in the lower caste households in one village at the outskirt of Chandigarh in Punjab. They found that as many as three fourth (87 or 75.7%) women reported physical violence against them by their husbands. Further, of these 87 women, two third (58 or 66.7%) said that they were beaten regularly. In the paper of Mahajan A (1990) quoted by Heise (1994), it was found that 75% of scheduled caste men admit to beating their wives while only 22% of higher caste men admit to beatings. Further, 75% of scheduled caste wives reported being beaten frequently. Rao and Bloch (1993) – as quoted by Heise (1994), studied 170 women by taking 100% sample of potter community in three villages in rural Karnataka. They found that 22% of women report being assaulted by their husbands, while 12% reported being beaten on the average 2.65 times in last one month. From their informal interviews and ethnographic data they concluded that prevlence rates are “vastly under-reported”.

A study was conducted at the NIMHANS, Department of Psychiatric Social Work, Bangalore, Bhatti (undated), separately of both spouses in 120 families drawn from high, middle and low income groups and matched for religion and age. The family violence was defined as “an act performed by a family member to achieve the desired confirmity which carries negative emotional component”. Five components of violence- physical, verbal, social, emotional and intellectual- were covered. It was found that some form of violence against women was prevalent in families of all income groups. 88% of women in the low, 43% in the middle and 35% in high income families receive physical and verbal violence. However, 65% of women in high income and 57% in middleincome families received social, emotional and intellectual violence. Thus, the “less” violence apparent in the middle and high income families was due to “higher” prevalence of non-physical and non-verbal violence. From the study he concluded that wife battering is a culturally determined phenomenon and the form of violence is related to the status of women. He observed that the members of low income families are involved in complimentary power struggle, i.e. attack and resist, while the members of middle and low income families are engaged in symmetrical power struggle, i.e. attack and counter-attack. From this he suggests that the family dynamics generate some specific patterns of violence. Lastly, he concludes that since family violence is a life style perpetuated by culture, it could be counter-acted only by making fundamental changes in the national policies.

Sathyanarayan Rao and his collegues (1994) from the Department of Psychiatry in the Medical College at Mysore studied 230 urban middle and upper class women who were married and had stayed at least for a year with the partner, to understand the pattern and causes of psychological violence against women in the family. The main psychological and emotional violence reported by them included ignored feelings (20%), refusal to work (14%), humiliating in public (13%), withholding of affection (12%) criticism/shouting (10%), ridiculing value/beliefs (11%), refusal to socialise (10%), controlling money/ decision (10%). Women’s dominant reaction to violence was found as seeking permission to spend money and for socialisation (33%) and watching the mood of husband (31%). The main causes for violence given by women included financial problems, stress at work and jealousy.

Some data on prevalence of sexual violence against women come from a survey of urban English and Kannada speaking and rural Kannada speaking girls in schools and colleges of Karnataka. Ganesh (undated but apparently prepared in 1994 or 1995) conducted interactive workshops with 348 girls (age group 15 to 17 years) in eleven colleges and schools, provided introductory inputs, had discussion and then canvassed a questionnaire. The study covered eve-teasing, molestation/sexual overtures and serious forms of sexual abuses including rape. In each case it inquired into the self blame felt, the time when and to whom the disclosure on the experience made and girls reactions to the abuse. The findings of the study are revealing. It was found that 83% of these girls experienced eve-teasing, 13% of them at the age less than 10 years; 47% have been molested or experienced sexual overtures, 15% of them at the age less than 10 years; and 15% of them have experienced serious forms of sexual abuse including rape, 31% of them were less than 10 years old when that occurred. Significantly, the study discovered that the tendency to self-blame increases with the seriousness of the abuse – 20% of those eve-teased, 37% of those molested and 50% of those seriously abused felt self-blame. Further, the tendency to self-blame increases as one goes down the social ladder and moves from urban to rural representation. On the other hand there was some decrease in the rate of disclosure with the seriousness of abuse – 86% eve-teased, 67% molested and 61% seriously abused girls made disclosure to somebody, sometime. In both, the molestation and serious sexual abuse cases, more than half (55%) abusers were male family members. And lastly, the study found that the preponderant effects of abuse on the girls were sadness, depression, anger, helplessness and distrust of men.

In Maharashtra, the problems of deserted women were actively taken up by women’s movement in the 1980s and early 1990s. In 1987, the Samata Andolan surveyed 55 villages in Sangamner taluk of Ahmednagar district. In these villages they found 621 deserted villagers and according to their estimates, there were 2000 deserted women in Sangamner taluk, 20-25 thousand in Ahmednagar district and 600,000 in Maharashtra state. Of the 621 deserted women identified by them, the husbands of 585 had married again without giving legal divorce and any maintenance to these women. (Datar, 1993, pp.154)

Studies of Survivors

Flavia Agnes (1984) studied 25 middle class and 25 working class battered women. Few papers and case studies from this research have been published and presented in the conferences (e.g. D’Mello, Savara, undated). She found that prevalence of violence cuts across age and socio-economic class barriers (half of them were having jobs). Half of women in their sample were beaten within six months of their marriage and having children did not decrease the violence. The immediate cause of violence reported was arguments over money, jealousy and suspicion about woman’s character, instigation by in-laws, housework, alcohol, woman’s desire to work outside home or of high esteem, disputes over children and extra-marital affairs of husband. This study mainly recorded physical and sexual violence against women. However, it provides a record of the kind of injuries suffered, viz. deep cuts requiring stitches, broken bones, miscarriage and nervous break-down. They also noted that most of these women did try to find some assistance, which included, going to parents’ home, staying with friends, staying alone, seeking advice of counsellors and religious heads, complaining to police and going to rescue homes.

Using qualitative data of this study, Agnes looks at many aspects related to the problem. She very forcefully explodes several myths related to the battering. The myths exploded are: (1) middle class women do not get beaten; (2) victim of violence is a small, fragile, helpless woman belonging to working class; (3) a man who beats his wife is from lower strata, frustrated, alcoholic or a paranoid man, or man who is already aggressive in his relationship with the world beats his wife and the wife is only one of the victims; (4) she must have provoked him or she deserves, or must have asked for it, or that good wives do not get beaten, that a long standing battering relationship can change for the better; (5) the husband who beats is not a loving husband; (6) since the woman does not leave the house, she must not mind getting beaten or must be liking it. Agnes’ study confirms Lenore Walker’s cycle theory of violence, i.e. three stages in the battering – tension building period, the explosion (acute battering) and the calm loving respite. The study also examines behaviour of police towards the battered women, the inadequacy of existing laws and above all critiques the functioning of the traditional rescue and shelter homes. It identifies the support (legal aid, shelter/home, job, etc.) needed by the battered women. Although it records injuries suffered by battered women and discusses the “cruelty” as a ground permitted by law for getting divorce, it does not deal with the role played by health services and health professionals. Apparently, in the case studies this aspect was not pursued adequately.

In another similar study, Sheila Rebello (1982) surveyed 50 (30 rural and 20 urban) battered women in South Canara district of Karnataka. The urban women surveyed were from Mangalore while the rural women were from nine villages in three taluks of the district. In 20 cases, the information was collected through informal talk or the researcher knew about their lives due to close association, while for 15 cases personal interviews were conducted and for the other 15, information was collected from counsellors. Her findings are also in similar line, that the existence of wife beating cuts across the class, education, age groups, religion, duration of marriage, number of children, type of marriage (love or arranged), dowry paid, type of family (joint or nuclear), alcohol intake by husband and extra-marital affairs by any spouse. However, there are certain immediate causes of beating, and they include husband’s drunkenness, demand for money from wife, conflict on household expenses, forcing sexual intercourse, suspicion of wife’s infidelity, disputes regarding decision making, husband’s affairs with another woman etc. Rebello examines the roots of the problem. Issues identified are religion and culture which have strictures against women and give them low status, legal system and mass media which are insensitive and pitted against women, the patriarchal family structure, the frustrations experienced in the class society and attitude of the family and neighbours towards the wife beating. She also looks into the reasons why battered women continue to live with their husbands and believes that the only hope for removing battering is unity and struggle by all women for their rights.

Using material from interviews conducted with middle class and upper middle class women in Delhi, belonging to different regional and professional backgrounds, Meenakshi Thapan (1995) examines images of body and sexuality in women’s oppression – particularly psychological and emotional violence, in nuclear and joint families. In the situation of psychological violence, she concluded that women’s femininity get defined largely in terms of their bodyshapes, their sexuality, and their inability to conduct themselves within the dictates of a normative femininity. Women too collude with their oppressors by accepting prevailing definitions of femininity and the female body which they translate into their own ideals of femininity so that its oppressive nature remains hidden even to them. Lastly she concluded that women were helped in maintaining and beautifying their bodies and therefore in the perpetuation of their oppression, by an extremely competent system of cultural norms and practices that seem to exist for this purpose. She suggests that there is a need to explore the possibilities of an autonomous perception of femininity, which is not geared to the gaze of the other but is an expression of a woman’s innermost self.

Seshu and Bhosale (1990) studied 50 judgements delivered between 1987-9 by the Sangli District Court. In this court during the period, 120 cases of dowry deaths and 20 cases of attempted dowry deaths were recorded. In the former, 68 cases were decided with only 7 (10.3%) convictions, and in the latter, 15 were decided with 3 (20%) convictions. Of the dowry death cases, they studied 5 cases of convictions and randomly selected 44 cases of acquittals. Of the attempted dowry death cases, they studied 1 case of conviction. In addition to studying these 50 cases (49 deaths and one survivor of attempted murder), they also did case studies of 2 deserted women, 2 women victims of harassment, and interviewed mother-in-laws, lawyers, social workers etc. Of the dowry deaths cases, 14% took place within 1st year of marriage, 30% in 2nd years, 42% between 3rd and 5th year and 10% between 6th and 7th years. Thus, 96% of deaths were within 7 years of marriage and yet, the police had registered only 24% of cases under the section 304(B), dowry death, one of the condition for which is death within 7 years of marriage. Further, it was found that harassment of 70% of women victims was started in husband’s home in the first two years of marriage. These women had also not taken the harassment completely lying down. 98% of victims had rebelled against the harassment. However, such rebellion, described as “arrogance”, “back-answering”, “not-obeying-advice”, “not-adjusting” etc., had invited more violence followed by desertion or death. There was representation of almost all religions and castes, rural and urban areas, educational level, and economic status; thus indicating that such deaths were common in all strata of society. The women who died were young, 88% of them being from the age group 15 to 25 years. 82% of victims came from joint families, and in 86% of cases the principal accused was husband. However, all or some family members also partook in the violence.

Another important finding was that 58% of victims were childless, another 22% were having only female children and the rest, only 20% had male as well as female children. Interestingly in 58% cases, dowry was not mentioned as a cause of harassment and death. When dowry was mentioned as a cause in 42% cases, the police did not record the nature of harassment or cruelty committed against victims. This omission, perhaps deliberate, led to acquittal as the judge did not accept the prosecution’s allegation in the absence of description of the harassment. Of the cases where dowry was not mentioned (29 out of 50 cases), the nature of harassment included physical violence (59%), mental torture (28%), molestation by family members, perversity (10%) and starving (3%). The killing of women in family violence shows a definite pattern; 46% of women died of burns and 34% by drowning. Thus fire and water accounted for 80% of deaths in the family violence in this study. Surprisingly in none of the deaths studied, the victims had left a suicide note, while 15 women had given dying declaration (DD). Seshu and Bhosale found that the court termed many of the DD “untruthful” as there was no reference to the DD in the FIR, it was not recorded in actual word of the deceased, it was not in a question-answer form, medical certificate was not obtained before taking it, there were two contradicting DDs and so on.

Experiences of Women’s Organisations with Victims

Several women’s organisations have been working with battered women. Narrating their experiences with battered women, the women from Saheli, New Delhi (1986), felt that the pattern of violence differs from one class to another. At the bustee level, there is nothing private in a husband beating his wife, half the neighbourhood is witness to the act. The sympathies for the wife are according to rules already established. If the husband is an alcoholic or a womaniser, there is always a lot of sympathy for the wife and the neighbours often reach out and help the wife by stopping her husband. But if they perceive the husband as a decent sort of man, with no major vices, the blame is usually laid on the wife, basically because wife-beating is considered legitimate. In the upper and middle classes, where privatisation of both emotions and acts is given a very high priority, the situation is very different. Very often, no one else even in the house – knows what is happening. The first time when a wife confides in a friend or relative, it is received with stunned silence and disbelief, accompanied with the usual set of questions – “but he is so educated”, “so well employed”, “not excessive in his habits”, “so respectable”, etc. One levelling point between all these classes (if the husband is not an alcoholic/womaniser or has no other social vice) is the attitude that the wife must have provoked the husband, it could not be all his fault – which in other words is the overall acceptance of physical violence towards the wife. The experiences at the Saheli made it clear to them that, (1) An odd slap or a kick now and then was not perceived as something major, (2) The connection between the above and regular physical assault was not perceived. (3) A lot of women who suffered physical abuse were willing to continue to suffer provided “he” would change his other habits. (4) No woman perceived it as an act which was to be condemned unequivocally. From this they concluded that women had a very low self-esteem. Yet, paradoxically, somewhere in the subconscious, all women who could talk about being beaten felt more humiliated by this act than any other form of subjugation and which finally broke down their resistance. It became the most painful aspect of their lives to talk about. Yet, because they were convinced that this form of chastisement was natural for a man to use, it had to be accepted.

The women’s organisation in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, AWAG (1986), has drawn attention to the familial violence, particularly on the high rate of suicide by women in Gujarat. This paper notes the tradition in Gujarat of child marriages, bride-price, handing over of a woman by her husband to creditor – a practice known as “chotla- khat”, giving away of daughter in marriage as a gift of charity etc. The social reformers in Gujarat established counselling centres for women as early as in 1934 and in 1937 homes for destitute women were built. Referring to the report of the Suicide Inquiry Committee in 1965, the paper notes that the suicide rate has remained equally high in 1980s. There were, on an average, 3 deaths of women per day by burning in 1985. According to AWAG, the violence against women is widespread in rural and urban Gujarat among all castes and classes, but it is perhaps higher in rajputs, brahmins and patels. While working with women they identified five forces which seem to go against women: (1) The family in which she migrates (husband’s family), (2) No response to her cry for help, (3) Hospital set up, (4) The police and (5) The legal machinery. The paper describes the attitude of people in all five situations. They observed that the alleged involvement of mother-in-law is actually a kind of implicit obeying of wishes of husband by his mother. The women normally first turn to their parental home; then to their friends and relatives for help and through them to women’s organisations. However, they found that wife battering is considered normal by the society and so does not attract serious attention while women’s organisations are not able to help the women in their hour of need. Describing the attitude of people in hospital when a woman has attempted to burn herself, the paper says that the case is treated as medico-legal, her statement is recorded by the policeman on duty and if her life is found to be in danger, by the magistrate as dying declaration. In the latter situation, she is hardly able to speak audibly and the concerns for her children are uppermost in her mind thus making her not to tell truth. Thus, the first statement made to the police on duty and the dying declaration made to the magistrate are often found to be contradictory. Thus, in the hospital records, for most of such deaths the cause is put down as accident – caught fire while making tea.

Analysing the causes of violence, the AWAG found the victim woman herself contributes to her own destruction by totally accepting all that happened around her. The worst aspect they found was total acceptance and submission of woman to the violence by the husband. The paper thus explores how the woman internalises such damaging values from her childhood onwards. They conclude that in such a situation, any strategy of intervention will have to be directed at the family and other social setups as well as at the women themselves.

From her experiences at the Women’s Centre, Mumbai, Lata P.M. (1988) narrates many case studies to analyse patterns and causes of violence against women. She begins her paper with the analysis of sex stereotyping which perpetuates biases against women in general. Tracing the history of protests against gender violence in the 19th century Maharashtra, she describes work done by Mahatma Phule and Savitribai Phule against sati and keshavapan (shaving woman’s hair after husband’s death), and the role played by periodicals like Sudharak, Subodh Patrika and Kesri in campaigning against child marriage and the rape of minor girl-wife in marriage. A century after these protests, the family still remains an institution perpetuating violence against women. Quoting from the cases studies done by the Women’s Centre she explains the need to seriously take into account, in addition to physical violence, the mental/ psychological violence, emotional violence, neglect and sexual abuse. Their experience suggest that the society ignores the violence under the pretext that it is a punishment for infidelity (75% of cases studied and helped fell into this category), that it takes place only in the poor and uncultured families, that home is the only safe place for women and to say that it is unsafe is ignored and that women actually ask for such violence through their behaviour. In this paper Lata describes experiences of monitoring a burns ward in a big Municipal hospital in Mumbai. The Women’s Centre and four other organisations involved in this work found that most of the patients in the burns ward were women while a male patient was admitted once in a month, female patients were admitted daily. Further, female patients normally came with over 50% burns, a very unusual thing according to doctors, as normally somebody helps the victim in extinguishing fire. This was seen in cases of men as they normally reported very low percentage of burns. In another paper narrating experiences of the Women’s Centre, Nayana Mehta (undated), analyses several case studies to explode societal myths on the causes of family violence.

In the Women’s Centre’s (1985) report on first five years (1981-5) of its existence, the struggles faced in establishing such a pioneering work, the learning process of activists and volunteer women and the gradual increase in the utilisation of the Centre by women are described. Only 10 women dropped in at the Centre in 1982, but the number increased to 30-35 in 1983 and 1984, and reached 125 in1985. The women who dropped in in 1985, were from different religion, caste, language and class background. While most had marital problems, six of them had problems at work place. Four women had history of prostitution, the husbands of at least 10 women had committed bigamy, in at least four cases incest or attempted incest were reported. In 1986, 66 women approached the Centre with problems while another 25 women used its services such as legal aid, shelter, job, financial help etc. Of the 66, 18 approached with the problems of battering or physical violence, while the rest with other forms of violence and marital problems.

Experiences and Guidance on Medical Procedures

Flavia Agnes (1990) prepared a handbook on procedures to be followed in a rape case. Medical evidence and the report of the chemical analysis are important supportive evidence to prove sexual intercourse. Knowing well that the medical evidences could be misused by the defendants in the court trial, while explaining the medical procedure in two pages, she cautions the woman about it. First of all, she warns against the delay as delay would wipe out evidence. Similarly she advises her to approach a doctor before she washes herself. Second, she records the usual reluctance of private doctor in doing the medical examination and in order not to lose time, advises her to go to a public health institution (hospital or PHC). Third, she instructs her to tell the doctor that she was raped. Fourth, she says that woman should get herself fully examined, including internal examination, taking of vaginal smear etc. and ensure that all injuries (including bruises and bite marks) are properly recorded. Fifth, she warns against allowing the doctor to do finger test, which is often done to record if the girl was a virgin at the time of rape. According to this test, if only one finger could be inserted with difficulty into vagina, the girl is termed virgin, and if two fingers could be inserted easily, she is termed as habituated to sexual intercourse. According to Agnes, the defence lawyers often use this test to humiliate her or to discredit her evidence. And lastly, since penetration is essential for bringing charge of rape, she advises the woman to ensure that the doctor mentions it.

Opinion Studies

Geeta Mishra (1988) from the Department of Psychology, Guwahati University, Guwahati, Assam, surveyed 1000 male and female teachers and students of the Guwahati University, to understand their opinion on the gender violence, causes of such violence and the ways of improving the condition. A high number of respondents said that bride-burning, sati, rape and immoral trafficking are very serious crimes against women. However, cases of sati and bride burning were practically unknown to them. Unmarried women teachers and students considered suicide by women as a serious problem. Eve-teasing was considered very serious by unmarried women students and by male teachers. The male students felt that provocative dresses of women was one relevant cause for violence against them, but women respondents did not rate that as high as a cause. The social factors identified by respondents for causing violence included sexy advertisement, general decline in moral values, frustration in life, lack of standard education, men’s brutal nature and pornography. The respondents felt that as a consequence of violence, the women victims lose social prestige, get guilt feeling and insecurity. However, they did not feel that such violence lowers victim’s prospect of marriage. They also opined that in order to improve the situation, women should be given freedom, economic independence, have better protective laws for women and provide female education. While discussing the findings Mishra contends that in the NorthEast region, marriages are generally with out dowry and with relatively less parental interference. She says that girls are not seen as curse to their parents. She suggests that dowry is positively correlated to the bride burning, sati and suicide, and therefore, efforts should be made to stop the dowry.

Sharma and Singh (1988) from the College of Home Science, Punjab Agricultural University, surveyed 40 male and 40 female class four employees of the Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana to understand their opinion on the violence against women. Though the study uses small sample of University employed respondents, its findings reveal the attitude of society to women. A very high proportion of men and women respondents felt that not educating women, keeping them in the joint family, early marriage, rape, prostitution, wife-beating and ill treatment of widows were violence against women. On the other hand, a very small proportion of respondents of both sexes considered sex selection or desiring a male child, the dowry system and not giving a share in parental property as reasons for violence against women. The divergence in responses of male and female respondents came primarily on issues like purdah system (two third of men supported as compared to only one third of women) and allowing women to work outside (58% men opposed as against only 7% women). On disaggregating responses according to the age of the respondents, they found that while those in older age groups tended to accept violence against women, the younger age groups resented it.

Medico-Legal Response to Violence against Women

Shally Prasad’s (1996) study in Delhi is one of the rare studies on medical response to violence against women. After examining the attitude and response of the police and the legal profession to the violence against women, Prasad found the conspiracy of silence on the part of physicians. She found that the private as well as state-employed physicians seldom acknowledged the cause and totality of woman’s injuries nor did they make referrals to counselling services or women’s organisations. The physicians generally avoid involvement in gender-based abuse because of the negative social stigma. The physicians’ general attitude of denial is manifested through delayed and often inappropriate medical examinations, denial of the crime and health impact on women, and limited health care assistance beyond immediate trauma. Often physicians deliberately do not ask questions regarding the cause of injuries because they do not want to be involved in a legal case. Her interviews with over 30 survivors of abuse and health care providers showed that long term care, STD screening, counselling and preventive care are not generally included in examination of victims of abuse. On the other hand, the case studies of rape survivors showed that physicians often did not conduct thorough and time-sensitive medical examinations, which resulted in the loss of valuable medical evidence. According to her, particularly problematic for proving a case of assault or rape is the lack of routine forensic testing capable of linking sperms or blood samples to particular individuals. Since medical technology for identifying the aggressor is not available for criminal purposes and medical evidence of assault is difficult to retrieve, “consent”, or “likelihood of consent” is the basis of the legal argument against an alleged aggressor. On the basis of her findings, she makes recommendations that Medical Association should be motivated to upgrade rape protocol, implement comprehensive treatment and long term care for survivors, implement similar training and refresher training for medical students and doctors etc. She also makes a plea for establishment of a bureau of forensic specialists in public hospitals to coordinate the collection of medical evidence.

       Kelkar (1985), noted that “investigations have indicated that womenburning is prevalent all over the country, most acute in Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, the Western UP and the Saurashtra region in Gujarat”. According to her, the maximum “dowry deaths” in the Western UP were reported from Thakur and Brahmin caste groups. These caste groups are high caste and have a recorded history of female infanticide. She says that the Gujarat Suicide Enquiry Committee report of 1960s noted that 90% of suicide cases were of women in Gujarat. This report stated that 867 women committed suicide due to “family tension” (as against 302 men) and “particularly in the cases of poorer women, the causes of the tension were often related to dowry”. Analysing the dowry problem, she contends that the dowry witch-hunt in India stems from women’s subordination in the structure of material production, the organisation of marriage and family and the sexual division of labour; these create gender-specific personalities. Men tend to value their role as the principal one in the national economy and “bread winners” and supporters of the family, while women are excessively undervalued for their dependence, ignorance of outside world and pre-occupation with children and household chores.

In a sharp critique of the state of Women’s Studies in India, Upendra Baxi (1987), gives a call to prevent WS from becoming yet another oppressive scientific domain. Criticising the dichotomy between discourse and praxis, he suggests that all institutions pursuing research and other academic work should be involved in activist articulation and intervention. According to him, mainstream social sciences in India have altogether ignored the fact that India is a very violent society. There do not exist even pre-theoretical discourses on violence in India. Compared with the practice of violence in India, there is a total denial of discourse on violence. In other words, we do not have in India even an andro-centric discourse on social and political violence. Feminisation of social thought and practice must begin, then, with mediations on violence against women as a key to approach towards collective political violence in India. He suggests that every funded institution, scholar and fellow of the ICSSR be required, as a duty, and as a condition of grants to organise public opinion and social action in their area on every major reported incidence of violence against women.

Vibhuti Patel (1985) critiques various theories of violence – statism which views it as law and order, Gandhians who view it as a moral and ethical issue, liberals consider it as a violation of the sanctity of an individual and the traditional Marxists attribute it to the institution of private property – and advances a socialist feminist view. Accordingly, the patriarchy must be emphasised as the institutional source of violence against women and contextualised with other realities of class, caste and race. Saguna Pathy (1985), opines that the form of violence on women takes historical dimension, and the violence on women and their subordintion are to be traced within the operation of the family structure and the labour process.

Agnes, Flavia. Violence in the Family: Wife Beating, Mumbai: Women’s Centre, 1984, 23.

————. Journey to Justice: Procedures to be Followed in a Rape Case, Mumbai: Majlis, 1990, 68.

AWAG. Familial Violence and Women, Ahmedabad: AWAG, Paper presented at the Third National Conference on Women’s Studies, Chandigarh, 1986, 11.

Baxi, Upendra. “Towards the liberation of Women’s Studies”, in ICSSR Newsletter, 17. 3, 1987, 1-13.

Bhatti, Ranbir Singh. Sociocultural Dynamics of Family Violence”, Bangalore: NIMHANS, (Mimeo, undated and unpublished)

Datar, Chhaya (ed.) “Deserted Women Break Their Silence”, in The Struggle against Violence, Calcutta: Stree, 1993, 198.

D’Mello Flavia and Savara Mira (undated), Violence in the Family: Wife Beating, Mumbai: Feminist Resource Centre.16 (Paper presented at the Women’s Conference) and by the same authors (undated), Violence in the Family: A Survey on Wife Beating, Mumbai: Feminist Resource Centre, 12.

Heise Lori L. Economic and Social Council. “Report of the Working Group on Violence Against Women” United Nations,        Vienna. E/CN.6/WG.2/1992/ L.3 (As quoted in Heise Lori L. Violence Against Women: The Hidden Health Burden,        Washington DC, World Bank, 1994, 72). Ganesh, Anita (undated), “Childhood Sexual Abuse of Girls”, Bangalore: Samvada, Preliminary Report of Workshop Series and Survey, 26.

Haksar, Nandita, “Women and Violence”, in Economic and Political Weekly, December 6, 1986, 2126-7 (This paper is  her report of the workshop on Women and Violence at the Third National Conference on Women’s Studies at Chandigarh).

Heise Lori L., Raike Alanagh, Watts Charlotte H., Zwi Anthony B. “Violence against Women: A Neglected Public Health Issue in Less Developed Countries”, in Social Science Medicine, 39.9, 1994: 1165-1179.

Kelkar, Govind Women and Structural Violence in India, New Delhi: Centre for Women’s Development Studies: Occasional Paper., 1985.

Lata P.M. Violence within Family: Experiences of a Feminist Support Group, Mumbai: Women’s Centre (mimeo), 1988,13.

Laws on Manu, New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1991. Mahajan, A “Instigators of Wife Battering”, in Sood Sushma (ed.), Violence Against Women, Jaipur: Arihant Publishers, 1990.

Mahajan A, Madhurima, Family Violence and Abuse in India, New Delhi: Deep and Deep Publication, 1995, 178.

Mehta, Nayana (undated), Sociology of Battered Women: Empirical Studies, Mumbai: Women’s Centre (mimeo), 17.

Mishra, Geeta “Gender Violence: A Survey of Problems Related to Violence against Women, Their Opinions about Their Causes, and suggestions Regarding the Remedial Measures”, Paper presented at the Fouth National Conference on  Women’s Studies at Andhra University, Dec 28-31, 1988, (mimeo)15.

Patel, Vibhuti “Towards a Feminist Critique of Theories of Violence”, Paper presented at the seminar on Women and Violence, organised by Department of Sociology, South Gujarat University, Surat, January 11- 13, 1985, 7.

Pathy, Suguna “Violence within violence”, Paper presented at the seminar on Women and Violence, organised by Department of Sociology, South Gujarat University, Surat, January 11-13, 1985, 7.

Prasad, Shally “The Medico-Legal Response to Violence against Women in India: Implications for Women’s Citizenship”, Paper presented at the International Conference on Violence, Abuse and Women’s Citizenship, Brighton, UK., 1996.

Rao, Sathyanarayana and Vasumathy Rao et el., “A Study of Domestic Violence in Urban Middle Class Families”, Paper presented at the IMA workshop on Medical ethics and Ethos in Cases of Torture, November 25-27, 1994. IMA
Workshop Report, New Delhi: Indian Medical Association, 1994, 131-8.

Rao Viayendra and Bloch Francis. Wife Beating: Its Causes and Its Implications for Nutrition Allocation to Children: An Economic and Anthropological Case Study of a Rural South Indian Community, Washington DC: World Bank, Policy   Research Department, Poverty and Human Resources Division (Draft),1993.

Rebello, Sheila A Survey of Wife Beating in South Kanara, Mumbai: Institute of Social Research and Education (ISRE), 1982, 30.

Saheli “Wife battering: Issues Facing the Women’s Movement”, Paper presented at the Third National Conference on Women’s Studies, Chandigarh, 1986, 14.

Sharma, Sunita and Singh M.B. “The Opinions of Fourth Class Employees of Punjab Agricutural University, Ludhiana,Regarding Violence against Women”, Paper presented at the Fourth National Conference on Women’s Studies, at Andhra University, Dec 28-31, 1988 (mimeo).

Seshu, Meena and Vasant Bhosale Imprisoning Womanhood: A Report of Death and Desertion of Women in Sangli District”, Sangli: Meena Seshu, 1990, 62.

Singh, Anil “Atrocities against Women on the Rise, Agrees Munde”, in The Times of India, Mumbai: March 27, 1997.

Thapan, Meenakshi “Images of the Body and Sexuality in Women’s Narratives on Oppression in the Home”, in Economic and Political Weekly, Review of Women Studies, 30. 43, 1995, 72-80.

Women’s Centre. The Last Five Years, Mumbai: Women’s Centre, December, 1985, 26 (mimeo).

————.“ Moving Forward: Annual Report for 1986”, Mumbai: Women’s Centre, (mimeo) 1986, 12.

Health researcher and activist. He is one of the founders of CEHAT (Centre for Enquiry into Health and Allied Themes) and Forum for Medical Ethics Society (and its journal, Issues in Medical Ethics) in Mumbai. He is also an active member of the Medico Friend Circle. Since mid-December 2001 he is working as Programme Co-ordinator of the Achutha Menon Centre for Health Sciences Studies, Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute of Medical Science and Technology, Thiruvananthapuram.

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Health researcher and activist. He is one of the founders of CEHAT (Centre for Enquiry into Health and Allied Themes) and Forum for Medical Ethics Society (and its journal, Issues in Medical Ethics) in Mumbai. He is also an active member of the Medico Friend Circle. Since mid-December 2001 he is working as Programme Co-ordinator of the Achutha Menon Centre for Health Sciences Studies, Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute of Medical Science and Technology, Thiruvananthapuram.

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