If you are in the media, you tend to become inured to stories of violence against women. It is far too frequent, and hardly evokes any great response. Yet, a recent story about the killing of a young mother of three girls by her husband, and his subsequent hacking her body to pieces, was bone-chilling. The background is all too familiar. The husband would harass the victim for dowry. She was also tortured during her short life for producing three girls. As in many such cases, her family knew about the frightening conditions she was living under, and the threat to her life. Yet, they did nothing until it was too late. In fact, the killer husband had gloated earlier that her family wouldn’t care even if he killed her, and he did.
This reminded me of another case which I wrote about – of the death of an air hostess in an upmarket Delhi colony who allegedly fell off the balcony. She had repeatedly complained of violence at the hands of her husband; her family even filed a case against him, but, in the end, she got no further help. A woman is killed for dowry every 69 minutes in India, according to National Crime Records Bureau data. The victim’s family is aware of what she is going through. In the absence of strong state systems to support an abused woman, the only port of call she has is her family.
But societal perceptions, and a false sense of familial honour, prevent many families from bringing their girls back, away from the life-threatening atmosphere that they are in at the homes of their husbands. This is a problem that cuts across all socioeconomic and educational barriers. A recent video on social media showed a respected judge, who delivered many stirring rulings on domestic violence, participate in the physical abuse of his daughter-in-law by his thuggish son.
If avaricious in-laws are to be blamed for their vicious attacks on their daughters-in-law, then I blame the girls’ families equally for not helping them in their moments of need, when such help might mean the difference between life and death. It is true that in many families, a disproportionate amount of money is spent on the marriage of their daughters, and the breakdown of the marriage is a huge loss, not just of face, but also of finances. But, then again, when the violence begins, it is very rare that it will stop even if the woman’s family gives in to demands for cash and kind. We talk about creating a safe environment for women, but that has to begin with her own family and a home she can return to if she feels threatened.
According to the National Family Health Survey-4, almost 30 per cent of married women in India between the ages of 15-49 have reported experiencing spousal violence at least once. The young woman who died recently in Delhi was let down at every step of the way in her tragic life. The first was by her family, which obviously did not exercise due diligence when marrying her to her killer husband. Then, it was by her in-laws, who pilloried her for her inability to bring in more money and for producing girls. Then, it was by those who lived nearby but surely were aware of her plight. And finally, yet again, it was by her family who did not think it fit to bring her back home.
The attitude that a family’s responsibility ends the moment a woman is married has to change, as much as the attitude that she is only of value to her in-laws as long as she can keep feeding their avarice.
If the families that girls are married into knew that they have a strong support system at home, they might think twice before attacking them. The knowledge that the woman has no one to turn to heightens the viciousness we witness in so many cases where the victim is either maimed, mentally scarred or killed.