The Scourge of Domestic Violence
Gender inequality is deeply embedded in the structure of the patriarchal society of Bangladesh. Male dominance and female subordination are the basic tenets of our social structure. All Bangladeshi social institutions permit, even encourage, the demonstration of the unequal power relation between the sexes and try to perpetuate the interests of patriarchy. Bangladeshi families offer instances of the display of male dominance in intimate relations in the form of marital violence,” says an impassioned Roushan Jahan, a co-founder and former president of Women for Women, a research and study group in her book titled Hidden Danger--Women and Family Violence in Bangladesh.
The media and NGOS such as Mahila Parishad, BRAC, Grameen Bank, Proshika, Women for Women, Ain O Salish Kendra, Nari Pokkho, Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association (BNWLA), Steps Towards Development and Academy for Educational Development (AED) have brought to light numerous cases of domestic violence in the country and the senselessness of such acts. Take the case of AED's report for the Bangladesh Human Rights Advocacy Programme. Titled "Violence against Women within Marriage in Bangladesh", the study cites the tortuous saga of a mother-in-law, now in her 40s who reminisced on her own early married years. According to this victim of domestic violence, her mother-in-law used to castigate her and heap abuse on her for her husband's involvement with another woman. Often she would find fault in her daughter-in-law's housekeeping ability. Sometimes she would poison her son's ears against his wife and the former would beat her up. For this reason the husband married again, keeping his first wife in the house.
Data from the AED's study indicates that one of the most common causes of violence is wives not doing their housework properly, especially if the food is not prepared on time. Roushan recalls the case of Shahida who was beaten by her husband because she did not have the food ready when he came from the fields.
Apart from physical abuse (common in the low income class), psychological abuse is also prevalent, particularly in middle class families. The latter, says Roushan, is committed by calling the wife names in front of the children, verbal threats of violence against the victim or a person dear to her, forcing the victim to degrade herself, excessive controlling, curtailing and/or disruption of routine activities such as sleeping or eating habits, social relationship, access to money and verbal insults.
The news of violence against women published everyday in the dailies is largely about domestic violence. According to one estimate, among the total number of reports on violence against women published in the major dailies in 2004, there were incidents of 293 physical abuse, 978 murders and 408 suicides. Of them 92 incidents of physical abuse, 650 murders and 386 suicides were the result of domestic violence. Even outside the country, domestic violence has reared its dangerous head.
The need of the hour, say women activists, is a specific national legislation addressing domestic violence in Bangladesh. Currently various forms of domestic violence may be prosecuted under the penal code, the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act (2000 and amended in 2003), Dowry Prohibition Act (1980), Muslim Family Law (1982) Cruelty to Women Ordinance (1984) and the Family Courts Ordinance, 1985.
Asserts Dr Nusrat Ameen, associate professor, Department of Law, University of Dhaka, “Domestic violence is unrecognised as an offence in Bangladesh. The absence of a specific law to deal with it thus often results in a misuse of law. For example, women are often advised to file under the dowry law, as there is a law on this issue. But the fact remains that dowry may not be the cause of domestic violence in all cases. Moreover, the special law, Women and Children Repression Prevention Act does not deal with mental abuse for dowry.
Recently the Law Commission has drafted a law on domestic violence but it is not yet tabled. Also it has a lot of lacunae: for one the male-dominated judicial systems, says Roushan, makes it difficult for women to get a fair hearing and a sympathetic judgement.
In its introduction to the Draft Domestic Violence Bill, the Law Commission has specifically discussed the domestic violence laws in New Zealand and Malaysia. The Draft Bill, it is said by women's organisations, would benefit from a comparative analysis of domestic violence laws in South Africa and India, which have to deal with poverty, extreme inequality and deep-seated biases against women.
Today, say activists, it is imperative to bring domestic violence out of the closet and tackle it head on. This is where the NGOs and civil society can step in by organising awareness campaigns, rallies, workshops, seminars and lobbying with the government to introduce a specific law dealing with domestic violence.
Among the proactive organisations that deal with this issue is the 14-member NGO apex body Action Network to Combat Violence Against Women (ANCVAW). This body comprises members such as Mahila Parishad, AED (which lends technical assistance to it), Ain o Salish Kendra and BNWLA. Explains Khalida Khatoon, senior programme manager of AED: “ ANCVWA aims at creating broad-based recognition of domestic violence as human rights and public rights issue at local, district and national levels, and highlighting essentiality of a separate law on domestic violence.”
A research paper of BNWLA, titled Domestic Violence: "In search of a Legal Framework", charts out a road map to address domestic violence. Its recommendations: establishing marriage counseling centres at the municipality, Union Parishad and ward level, enhancement of coordination among service providing agencies or organisations (government and non-government), making gram adalat and arbitration council more active and restructuring the Family Court so that domestic violence can be addressed.
For Roushan the answer to the menace of such violence is economic emancipation of women. Though concerned about the growing tide of religious extremism and conservative attitude, she feels that all is not lost. “The problem needs to be addressed holistically. We need to bring together legal redressal machinery, empowerment and a change of mindset,” she concludes.
Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2006