I think October 2006 has been a glorious month for the women of India. First, the Delhi High Court convicted a former IPS (Indian Police Service) officer's son, Santosh Kumar Singh, for raping and murdering Priyadarshani Mattoo 10 years ago in New Delhi, India. Then, Imrana got justice when a Sessions Court in Muzaffarnagar, UP, convicted her father-in-law Ali Mohammad, and sentenced him to 10 years imprisonment. Today, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 comes into effect. The Act will "provide for more effective protection of the rights of women guaranteed under the Constitution who are victims of violence of any kind occurring within the family and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto."
Domestic violence has been the bane of women for centuries in the strictly patriarchical Hindu society. According to the Manu Smriti, "In childhood a female must be subject to her father, in youth to her husband, when her lord is dead to her sons; a woman must never be independent" [v. 148]. If that's not bad enough, consider this "Though destitute of virtue, or seeking pleasure elsewhere, or devoid of good qualities, yet a husband must be constantly worshipped as a god by a faithful wife" [v. 154]. Do Hindu brides even know that they swear to uphold such virtues, when they take their marriage vows? Less said about the status of the Muslim women in India, the better. A few lowlights from a recent report presented by the Regional Office for South-East Asia, WHO, are quite revealing:
- Up to 50% women reported physical violence by their husbands or partners in SEAR.
- Some studies in Nepal have reported higher rates of violence - 82% victims reported knowing about beating and 66% reported knowledge of assaults.
- In a recent family health survey, carried out in India, (1998-99) almost three out of five women (50%) believed that wife beating is justified for at least one of six reasons, including going out without informing the husband.
- Partner violence accounts for 40-70% murders, where women are killed by their husband or boyfriend, often during ongoing abusive relationships.
- Studies have shown that 16% of maternal deaths in Maharashtra (India) during 1993–1995 and 14% deaths in Bangladesh from 1982-1990 were caused by domestic violence.
Under such circumstances, the Domestic Violence Act 2005 is a welcome step in the right direction.
Nevertheless, it's long way to go to secure women's rights in this region. The Indian husband will still not be committing rape, if he had sex with his wife against her will. Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, defining rape, makes an exception to non-consensual sex between husband and wife, provided the wife is not fifteen or under. Marital rape under the new Act may be prosecuted as an act of domestic violence, but a jail term up to a year and a fine of Rs. 20,000 (less than US $500) could hardly be considered as a punishment for rape.
My libertarian sensibilities rebel against the censorship or banning of cigarette smoking in Indian cinema, but I am sick and tired of Tamil movie heroes slapping the heroines, who in turn promptly fall in love with their asassaulters. Will the Government of India please outlaw such virtual violence against women on the celluloid screen, too? Thank you.