other silent killer
We all know about
the various aspects of domestic violence, thanks to media reporting and
human rights organisations. But how many cases are actually reported?
Why do we have to wait for the victim to be murdered, commit suicide or
be doused with kerosene or acid and burnt in order for the news to hit
the headlines in an attempt at a series of cheap sensationalism or for
the police to be embarrassed into doing their duty?
We all know as well
that despite the well-intended laws prevalent in the country purporting
to protect women from violence, the lack of implementation of such laws,
police indifference and the slower-than-a-snail pace at which the legal
system tiredly moves, makes seeking remedy a futile effort. Furthermore,
the two reigns of 'shame' and 'honour' (meaning father and/or husband's
honour, of course) hold back attempts to report domestic violence. Like
carbon monoxide, domestic violence is, in many cases, the silent killer.
Why is domestic violence
such a 'speak no evil see no evil hear no evil' kind of thing? Is it macho
or manly to beat the heck out of one's wife? Is it a mark of dominance?
Or is it economic frustration? Maybe it is sheer impatience and a mean
disposition. Unfortunately, in some cases it is a mix of all, with a good
helping of family attitude and misguided upbringing. Women are subjugated
to silence and tolerance by fear and mental and physical pain or by the
fear that they may not be accepted in their father's home even if they
find the strength to leave their husband's. However, some, especially
in rural Bangladesh, accept it as their lot and expect to be beaten at
On a more serious
note, economic frustration and the illegal demand for dowry seem to be
two of the main causes of domestic violence. Every year there are hundreds
of reported cases of such violence. One can only wonder about the number
of others not reported. In 2003, 261 women were reportedly killed by their
husbands in domestic disputes over dowry. In the first eleven months of
2004, there were already 149 such deaths reported, which leads one to
think whether such incidents are on the increase or whether more are being
reported. It is easy to guess that the former may be the truth of things.
What adds to the cruelty is that a large number of wives who suffer domestic
abuse are below the age of 18 child brides. Thus, these women suffer a
double abuse. Such young women often end up as victims of acid violence,
grievously injured by their husband's and/or in laws.
Since the Legislature
is so good at drafting new laws at the drop of a hat, how come no bright
sparks thought about drafting a Domestic Violence law? We have laws for
almost everything else on paper. At least, if there was such a law, seeking
remedy for such criminal violence might not be such a tedious event. May
be the reason for not drafting a law on domestic violence and the reason
for not ratifying the whole of the UN Convention on the Elimination of
all Forms of Discrimination Against Women are the same they will bruise
the male ego. It is no excuse to state that the Penal Code and the law
protecting against repression of women and children are enough to safeguard
women. Domestic violence has a lot of dimensions to it and the sheer fact
that it is so close to the proximity of women, proves that it needs to
be dealt with separately and swiftly.
Again, in order to
pass such a Bill, there needs to be actual participation of women not
only in the legislature, but also in the NGO arena, the grass roots level
and from all professions. There needs to be a collective female will strong
enough to create a tidal wave to wash away male biases and hesitancies.
For those interested in drafting such a Bill and making sure it is enacted,
Domestic Violence laws can be found in India, the UK and in the United
States for reference. One word of advice please do not leave mental torture
and aggravation out of the equation. They leave scars as well.
The author is a member of Odhikar.