One in three women in India subject to domestic abuse, study finds

Joe Wallen
Indian women queue for relief money - Rajesh Kumar Singh/AP
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A new study has found that one in three women in India has been subject to some form of domestic abuse in her lifetime, amid fears of a further surge in violence during the nationwide lockdown.

Researchers collated the responses of 65,000 Indian women to the National Family Health Survey of 2015 to 16 to guage whether they had ever suffered physical, sexual or emotional abuse at the hands of their husbands or partners.

The study, in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health (JECH), found only one in ten women had reported the violence to the police or a healthcare professional, suggesting the fear of reprisals remained strong.

Dr Nayreen Daruwalla, the Director of the Society for Nutrition, Education & Health Action (SNEHA), an NGO in Mumbai that supports domestic abuse victims, warned the ongoing coronavirus lockdown in India would lead to an increase in violence.

Prior to the lockdown, SNEHA would receive four to five reports a month requiring immediate, emergency intervention but Dr Daruwalla said the organisation was now receiving this number each day.

“The privileges of men are impinged due to the lockdown,” said Dr Daruwalla. “Men's mobility is restricted and they are supposed to stay in a domestic environment which they are not used to.

“On the other hand, women’s roles and responsibilities have increased many times. Even in a domestic violence situation in a normal time, women have their own coping mechanisms, which have been completely destroyed due to the inability to leave the house and the presence of the husband's family members.”

In 2018, India was named as the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman by a Thomson Reuters Foundation poll, ahead of conflict-ridden nations like Afghanistan and Syria.

Indian society is inherently patriarchal and domestic violence has become normalised - over half of boys said a husband would be justified in beating his wife, according to a Unicef study in 2012.

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Women from poor and rural backgrounds are particularly vulnerable as they are typically confined to their husband’s family home and have nowhere to flee or anyone to report a crime to. Only one third of India’s 1.4 billion people have internet access and out of this already reduced figure, only 30 percent of users are female.

Under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, India has committed to eradicating all forms of violence against women and girls by 2030.

However, the JECH study indicates little progress has been made, with nearly seven per cent of those surveyed injured as a result of their partner’s violent behaviour.

Women whose partners were unemployed, poorly educated, drank alcohol or grew up in a household where they witnessed their father hitting their mother were twice as likely to be victims of domestic violence. Those who were employed were just as likely to have been subjected to violence as those without, suggesting a backlash against changing societal roles, the researchers said.

Physical violence was the most common form of abuse, with just over a quarter of women reporting this, the researchers found. Sexual abuse and emotional abuse were reported by nearly 13 per cent and nearly seven per cent of those surveyed, respectively.

The types of spousal violence varied by region of the country. But older women; those who were widowed, separated, or divorced; those with little education; and poor women were all more likely to have been subjected to some or all forms of intimate partner violence.

“Gender-based violence against women is an important public health problem, which claims millions of victims worldwide. It is a notable human rights violation and is deeply rooted in gender inequality,” the authors said.

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