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This blog post has been written by Oommen C. Kurian, Research Coordinator at Oxfam India, posted on 18 December 2015.
As a society that sanctions, legitimises, and even applauds violence, how can India look selectively at just one manifestation?
Despite the label of a ‘middle income’ country that has made our opinion leaders proud, most parts of our country remain poor in terms of human development outcomes. Despite some gains over last decade, India still has the largest number of deaths amongchildren younger than five years of any country in the world. At 1.5 million deaths per year, three children under the age of five die every minute in India.
The discrimination and neglect of girl children is well-reflected in child mortality rates as well. Female-to-male mortality ratio under five years of age in India is calculated to be 1.31 - for every 100 deaths of boys, 131 girls die. It is not without reason that India is often cited as one of the worst places in the world to be born in, if one is a woman.
The Government of India adopted a National Policy for the Empowerment of Women in 2001 to bring about gender justice and make de jure equality into de facto equality. As we see all around us, a lot remains to be achieved, to put it mildly. It is a well-known fact that India has one of the lowest sex ratios worldwide, pegged at 914 girls per 1000 boys in 2011, which points to the levels of systemic violence characterising gender relations in the country. Also, unfortunately, there are more direct ways in which violence affects child mortality. A new study from the University of Essex shows that nearly one in ten child deaths under the age of one in India can be attributed to domestic violence.
Oxfam India has explored in its publications how incidence of Violence against Women in India and the South Asia region remains one of the most shameful reflections of the poor progress made towards realising human rights for all, including right to life with dignity. A 2014 study by International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) revealed that 6 out of 10 Indian men feel violence against women is justified. Surprisingly, nearly 70 per cent of married women justify gender-based violence.
If we take the long-term view, no doubt things have changed due to public advocacy, education, and campaigns run by women’s organisations as well as the government. Earlier, the average husband would beat the wife and feel proud. Now, the average husband still beats the wife, but he is perhaps not boasting about it anymore. Enactment of strong laws – although ineffectively implemented- has contributed to this micro change. Some men of course have even started feeling they are the victims in this highly “hostile” legal structure.
When violence is a language within the family relationship
Patriarchy treats violence as a language that the woman“understands” within the marital relationship. One that gives quick results that other modes of human communication always can’t. When you don’t have arguments, beat her. When you want her to behave, beat her. When she wants to go out, beat her. Basically, when in doubt, beat her.
The social norms that sanctify violence as a fair way of conveying one’s opinion may have deep origins. These may be unsettling for many, and perhaps it is too scary for India as a country to look at them yet. Doesn’t this simple and powerful solution to all problems sound eerily close to something else that Indians do routinely in their everyday lives? Yes, we are talking about parents (and teachers) beating “their” children.
For example, if we were to implement the “Western” standards of child protection in India, then most of our legislature, judiciary, executive, media, and -god forbid - civil society, will be in jail. The “Indian Way of Parenting” has alleged high-profile run-ins with the “Western civilization”at regular intervals. That Indian parenting/teaching is a popular theme for Western comics of Indian origin, points to the high incidence of violence against children that we silently take for granted.
A study that looked at parenting habits in Mumbai covering 1700 parents had some interesting findings. In addition to the fact that in 2015, 62 per cent parents in Mumbai beat their kids to discipline them, the reasons and reactions that parents gave sounded quite familiar. In the following Figure, just replace child/kid with wife/partner and see if it helps.
Figure 1: Reasons and reactions to Child Beating
The ingrained violence in human relationships and how norms get formed maybe aspectacularly rich theme for sociological enquiry. However, a kid who gets beaten up every day at home doesn’t need to be a sociologist to realise that violence is an effective tool to “discipline” dissent. It’s a weapon that is bound to be used in the future.
There is research that shows that people who come from violent homes are more prone to socially sanction violent behavior. And indeed, children and women are the most common victims of violence in the home.
Violence at school
In a patriarchal culture, men are more likely to use violence to keep their dominant position. Just like parents do with their kids. Or even teachers. In many ways than one, perhaps it all starts at our homes and schools.
Lastly, I’m reminded of an incident which a friend who is a gender trainer shared. It happened in a north Indian city. At a training against VAW conducted by the state police department for private school children, my friend caught the principal and the police officer in-charge chatting about “changed times”.
Rattled by the noisy kids in the training, the principal of this top private school tells the policeman, trying to hide his embarrassment: “Sir, RTE ke aane ke baad haalaat kharab ho gaya hein. Hum thappad bhi nahin lagaa sakte”. (Sir, after the Right to Education Act, the situation is really bad – we can’t even slap the kids!)
The policeman empathises, as he completely understands: “Kya bole sir, RTE ne aap ke saath who kiya jo mobilephones ne hamare saath kiya. Kabhi haath bhi na lagao; nahi to Youtube pe aa jayega”. (What to say sir, RTE has done to you what mobile phones have done to us –even touch them (the detainees) once, and it’s all over Youtube.)
Here we have two model figures for our children, seemingly at a loss, when they can no longer use violence as freely to “discipline”. The Delhi Police ad released a couple of weeks back, against what it calls “eve-teasing” is yet another example of how we legitimise violence everyday. Watch it, no comments.