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THE OTHER HALF

Why men kill women

KALPANA SHARMA

Women encounter violence within the ostensibly `safe' walls of their homes every single day ... reflections on the occasion of the International Fortnight Protesting Violence Against Women and Girls, being observed from November 25 to December 10.

AFP

Rich or poor, a woman's experience of violence is almost the same.

THIS was just another one of those depressing stories you read in the newspapers almost every day. Yet, coming as it did just a day before the commencement of a fortnight to remind people about violence against women — the International Fortnight Protesting Violence Against Women and Girls from November 25 to December 10 — it came as a rude reminder of the extent to which women encounter violence within the ostensibly "safe" walls of their homes every single day.

The story I refer to is about Savita Kasture who lives with her three children in Ulhasnagar, a depressing industrial township on the outskirts of Mumbai. Some months back, her husband, Sithu, left home without explanation. Savita was forced to find work and also to borrow money from her neighbour for her survival needs. One day, without offering any explanation about his disappearance, her husband returned. On learning that Savita had taken up a job, something that he had forbidden her to do, he flew into a rage. While she slept next to him, he cut off her nose and then threatened to kill their 11-year-old son. This sounds like a scene from one of those tacky Bollywood films. Unfortunately, it is the real life experience of a very ordinary woman.

Worse still, when the police caught the husband, he admitted to the crime and said, "My wife disobeyed my instructions and I decided to teach her a lesson." That is the key. "Teach her a lesson". Men continue to teach women "lessons" by raping them, beating them, torturing them and even murdering them — the same women that they are supposed to love and cherish. The awful reality of the growing violence against women worldwide is that half of the women who die from homicides, reports UNIFEM, are killed by their current or former husbands or partners. It also reports that from available data it appears that nearly one out of every four women in the world may experience sexual violence by an intimate partner in their lifetimes.

Every year, November 25 has been marked as the International Day against Violence and Against Women. Worldwide, women's groups use the fortnight from that date to put forward evidence about the reality of violence in women's lives and advocate strategies to confront and end this violence. But despite years of such campaigns, the statistics do not present a very encouraging picture.

According to UNIFEM and other surveys, in countries ranging from rich to poor, women's experience of violence is almost identical. For instance, while in Cambodia, 16 per cent of women reported being physically abused by their husbands, in the United Kingdom, almost twice as many reported the same. In Sao Paulo, Brazil, 13 per cent of the deaths of women in the reproductive age were murders and of these, 60 per cent had been committed by husbands or partners.

The data on other forms of violence is equally disturbing. In the United States, 7,00,000 women are raped or sexually assaulted every year. In Peru, a study found that 90 per cent of girls between 12 and 16 years of age who were pregnant had been raped or were victims of incest.

In the contemporary context of war and conflict in so many regions of the world, the attacks on women have greatly increased. Over 70 per cent of all casualties in recent conflicts have been non-combatants and the majority of these are women and children. The true picture of what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan is only now emerging. But in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, around half a million women were raped. And in Bosnia, during five months of the conflict in 1992, between 20,000 to 50,000 women were raped. These are documented facts. There must be literally thousands, perhaps millions, of such crimes that are never recorded, that will never see the light of day.

In India, for instance, according to statistics drawn from the National Crime Records Bureau (2000), there are 480 cases of crimes against women reported every day. Also, every single day, there are 45 reported cases of rape and 19 cases of dowry deaths. The word "reported" has to repeated and underlined because these numbers give you just a glimmer of the true extent of such violent acts. In addition, every hour five women face cruelty at home and there are four cases of molestation reported every hour. Indeed, crimes against women have been increasing at a faster rate than general crimes, statistics reveal.

Some women's organisations in India have launched a campaign with the slogan "Violence Free Homes Make Violence Free Communities". One should add that violence free homes would make a difference to boys as well as girls. For surely, boys who grow up seeing the kind of violence that led to Savita's husband's vile actions could decide that that is the norm in how to treat "your" women. For behind the action is a mentality of possession, of ownership, of a belief that men know best what is good for women, that women must silently obey — or face the consequences. Whether it is honour killings, dowry deaths or defacement, the motivation is identical — the desire to assert power, full control, over another person.

The statistical graph of violence against women will continue to climb until we can find a way to crack this belief in male superiority, in the undiluted conviction in millions of men that they were born to rule, to control and to be obeyed.

E-mail the writer at ksharma@thehindu.co.in

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