Knowing and Reacting to Gender-Based Violence: The Indian Account

Woman holding in solidarity sign

Societies across the globe have been forever partial in bringing up girls and people of the third gender. Societies give unrestricted freedom to boys while conditioning girls and individuals from the third gender to accommodate the violence hurled towards them since birth. Anyone except the heterosexual male is taught that any insult meant for them is a compliment and not at all harmful in nature. It is easier to give an account from a society in which you have lived and experienced such discriminations on a daily basis.

Reflecting on memories

Talking to friends based in India when I decided to write this blog, re-exposed me to memories—those that one always wants to forget. A friend from Kolkata underlies a recent discussion she has had with her divorced mother, on why her mother would cry on most nights until separated from her father through a divorce. My friend had always suspected that her father would force himself on her mother against her will. Now she was adult enough to ask her mother directly for a reply. She asserted that there were no replies, however, her mother’s silence was enough for her to put realise the weight of the unsaid truth.

Non-consensual sex in marriage debate

Whether non-consensual sex in marriage should be considered rape or not has been debated over a long time in India. While I write, in India, the debate rages inside the courtrooms asking the lawmakers to do away with the age-old law of not considering non-consensual sex in marriage to be rape. Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) underlines the definition of rape: A man forcing himself over a woman without her will or consent is rape. Nonetheless, the code has two exceptions to it. One, a medical procedure is not rape. Two, the sexual intimacy of husband and wife. Such laws were made by the colonial government based on the idea that marriage is a union that makes two bodies and two souls one, that marriages are made on mutual consent and contract. But it is already high time to acknowledge that upholding this law in the 21st postcolonial society is an intentional curb on the fundamental rights of the married woman: It can no longer be supported by the reasoning of the “give and take” policy—where the woman is liable to give her husband sexual pleasure in return of shelter, food, and protection. The National Family Health Survey records that of the 80,000 women they interviewed during 2005-2006 (India), 93% had been sexually abused by their current or former husbands.

Society’s stubbornness to change?

Honestly, marriages with consent, love marriages between people of different religions, or even love marriages between people of similar backgrounds in India materialise only after immense struggle. They might never crystalise. In my friend circle, I feel disheartened, every time I hear of a non-consensual arranged marriage. It is common for the bride and groom to not talk before marriage under such circumstances. The families decide on their behalf who should be the best match. The situation becomes dire in case of marriages between different religions, especially between the Hindus and Muslims. The community reaction can even lead to honour killings of the man and woman involved. The Supreme Court of India chronicled about 288 deaths by honour killings in India in the years 2014-2016. Considering which, it usually becomes difficult to differentiate right from wrong. A decision or activity leading to violence or death perplexes the individuals from sticking to their decisions or even realising that they have been subjected to violence through discrimination. Through violence, they are made to accept that what they were doing is wrong. Thereby, the stubbornness to change or walk in the right path is lost to the winds at the face of societally conditioned understanding of things.

Suffering in silence

Adolescents in India, deprived of sex education are those who mostly fail to understand what gender-based violence is. For having exercised consent and turned down a love proposal they are being stalked, harassed, or even attacked by acid to “teach them a lesson”. The number of acid attacks is increasing in India, in 2020 the number of reported cases was 182. These victims suffer in silence, fearing the reaction of their families—and they might never grow an understanding of what is acceptable and what is not. They live a life believing that they have been wrong in exercising their will and should have stuck to the instructions of their family.

Amrita DasGupta is a SOAS Digital Ambassador and is currently PhD-ing in Gender Studies. You can find her with her cats on Instagram @minminloo_mommom.

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