Shraddha's macabre murder turns spotlight on domestic abuse in India

The desire to control what women wear, eat and feel is what leads to much of the violence against them



File photo
File photo

By Simran Sodhi

Published: Sun 20 Nov 2022, 8:40 PM

Last updated: Mon 21 Nov 2022, 2:28 PM

These last few days have been full of horrific news. A woman murdered and later cut into 35 pieces by her live-in partner; a girl jumping out of an auto-rickshaw (3-wheeler) to escape harassment, and a man slitting his partner’s throat and then posting the video of her dying moments online. Even for a nation that is quite used to incidents of violence against women, this marks a new low. The crimes confirm what the statistics have been telling us for a long time; that the most unsafe place for women is actually their homes. Women are more likely to be attacked by their husbands, partners or family members than an outsider.

In 2021, when the government released crime data a few months back, India recorded the highest number of crimes against women ever. In India, the crimes against women range from stalking, dowry deaths, domestic violence, eve-teasing, rapes, the list goes on. It’s also not a matter of pride for the national capital that it is often referred to as the ‘rape capital of the world’. After the soul-shattering Nirbhaya gang rape in 2012, which saw a nation wake out of its slumber and come together to demand stronger laws for protecting women, one had hoped that things would get better. But alas, the alarming rate at which violence against women continues, it seems that as a country and as a society, a serious review is in order.

Violence against women is a global phenomenon and while no society can claim that its women are totally safe, the story in India tends to get a little complex. Despite rapid urbanization and an increase in the number of women in the workforce today, patriarchy refuses to give up. This desire to control what women wear, eat and feel is what leads to much of the violence against them. Women in India today, especially in the cities, tend to be educated and have a desire to work and chart out their careers. Men, on the contrary, even the highly educated ones, seem to be stuck in a time warp. Cooking, cleaning, taking care of the kids remains essentially a woman’s job, even if she is the busier and the more successful of the two in a relationship.

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It reminds me of the famous Satyajit Ray movie Mahanagar (The Big City). The film was released in 1963 and is the story of a diffident housewife who gets a job to overcome her family’s financial burdens, but ultimately starts to enjoy her work and the financial independence it gives her. The husband’s growing insecurity and how their relationship changes as the economics of the household change applies to the India of today. Most Indian men are uncomfortable with a successful woman; and if she happens to be your partner, well there can be hell to pay. Add to this a society where women are still not given due respect for being individuals and their identity remains tied to that of their male companion. Bollywood hasn’t helped in this matter either, rather it has played a rather negative role in normalizing stalking, eve-teasing and the constant shoving down our throats of the ‘traditional good’ woman image.

Women are also hesitant to report crimes against them because of the insensitivity of the system. Going to a police station in India is harassment of a different kind for women who are often subjected to ‘double victimisation’. The support that a woman should ideally receive from her family and friends is sadly absent. Even in this gruesome murder where the girl was chopped by her partner, many have questioned her live-in status rather than the crime. It’s shocking at one level but absolutely distressing at another that even after her murder, questions have been raised about her unconventional choices in attire and love.

And yes love, that one emotion for which women sacrifice careers and lives to stay in a ‘peaceful’ home with their male partners, however, lacks one important ingredient, and that is respect. Can love be genuine if the man can’t respect his partner’s choices and decisions? Is subjugation love for many Indian men? And does independence need to be controlled and condemned ?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has on two occasions spoken about this in his address to the nation. First in 2014, in his first Independence Day speech, he spoke strongly against the rising incidents of rape and said, “When we hear about these rapes, our heads hang in shame". This year again while addressing the nation on 75 years of India’s Independence, Modi urged people to change their mentality towards women. But the issue remains mired in patriarchal views, societal norms and a lax legal system. According to the recently released National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) data, crimes against women in India increased by 15.3 per cent in 2021.

We need stronger laws to protect women, we need stronger implementation of these laws but we also need more sensitive homes where parents teach young boys respect for girls. Laws can only do so much, this battle has to be won in our homes and hearts. Let’s show our women some love and respect.

- The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi


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