Legal Perspectives on Violence Against Women in India

Session Report
Aasthaba Jadeja

An informative and elucidating online panel discussion on “Domestic Violence and Abuse: Challenges and Responses” was an initiative of the Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC), at the IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi held on December 19, 2022. The program included an insightful and enriching discussion delivered by eminent speakers, Advocate Gayatri Sharma, Prof Vijaylakshmi Brara, Dr Tara Nair, Adv Celin Thomas, Dr Keerthi Bollineni, and Anchita Ghatak. Prof Vibhuti Patel chaired the session. The session was opened with introductory and welcoming remarks from Professor Vibhuti Patel and was further moderated by her.

On the first day our first speaker, Adv Shalu Nigam, lawyer, author, researcher, visiting senior fellow at IMPRI, commenced the discussion by delivering a presentation on the Legal Perspectives on Violence Against Women in India.  While presenting the legal context of Violence against Women in India, she briefed the attendees about the different forms of violence against women in public and private spaces, looking at numbers, consequences and means of prevention. 

She then proceeded by showing a short Youtube video titled- Lakeer: Draw a line to End Violence against women and girls by UN Women Asia and the Pacific about domestic violence and how one should learn where to draw a line and put an end to these forms of violence.

The definition of violence against women according to the UN as “ any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.” 

This issue revolves around patriarchy, ingrained gender biases, misogyny, and sexism, all of which contribute to gender-based inequality. Institutional bias also plays a significant role. Violence directed at women stems from the misuse of authority and detrimental societal norms. This concern is particularly pronounced in India due to the pervasive influence of systemic patriarchy and deeply entrenched structural biases, creating an environment that instills a sense of danger or apprehension among women.

Patriarchy in India

Patriarchy in India encompasses a complex web of inequalities, intertwined with caste, class, religion, majoritarianism, fascism, and poverty, viewed through an intersectional lens. This system endows men with perceived superiority, granting them control over resources, decisions, and ideologies.

Historically, traditional patriarchies tied to religion and culture, known as Brahminical Patriarchy, were prevalent. However, the rise of modernism and capitalism introduced Capitalist Patriarchy, commodifying and objectifying women, giving rise to issues like pornography, trafficking, and body shaming, fueled by market forces.

She mentioned the origin of the term intersectionality defining it as something that identifies multiple factors of advantages and disadvantages interlinked with each other. It is to view an individual in a larger social context. Using an intersectional lens to view Violence against women in India is important to understand how the nuances of caste, class, religion and other social institutions play a role in reality. 

Forms of Violence

The United Nations has recognized two primary forms of violence: domestic violence and sexual violence. Alongside the rise of digital platforms, there has been an escalation in Online/Digital violence, encompassing activities like cyberbullying, sharing explicit content without consent, doxing, and trolling.

This category also encompasses unjust laws and policies, limitations on access to healthcare and essential services, unequal distribution of caregiving responsibilities, pervasive sexism in society, reinforcement of gender stereotypes, coerced or underage marriages, human trafficking, and the tragic phenomenon of femicide. Violence perpetuated by the State is another category, highlighted by instances like the Thangjam Manorama Case and the subsequent protests against oppressive laws like the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.

Consequences of Violence

Violence directed towards women inflicts immediate and lasting physical, economic, and psychological effects upon females, hindering their complete and equitable involvement in society. This results in substantial direct and indirect expenses for survivors, employers, and the public sector, spanning health, law enforcement, legal procedures, and related outlays. Furthermore, it gives rise to injuries, unintended pregnancies, induced abortions, gynecological ailments, sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Moreover, it triggers conditions such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as sleep and eating disorders, among others.

According to estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO), the global economy suffers a loss of approximately 1.5 trillion dollars annually due to the aftermath of violence against women. This encompasses costs incurred in policing, healthcare facilities, and the income foregone when victims are unable to work. 

How can the Government end Violence against women

The state should implement international and  constitutional provisions and must provide free support to victims and survivors of violence. It should also allocate adequate funding for support services that include comprehensive training and gender sensitization for service providers.  Continuous training programs besides legal literacy and awareness campaigns should be conducted for the society at large. The state must also make effective laws and policies to eradicate violence and must ensure efficient enforcement of those laws and policies.

It must establish services including shelter homes, medical and health facilities, legal support and other facilities. Collecting relevant data and using that to formulate policies and laws is a key. The state must work towards challenging gender inequality and should hold the abusers and accountable for their actions. It must counter harmful norms by including programs to eliminate gender stereotypes. 

Conclusion

She concludes by emphasizing that both as individuals and as a collective society, we hold the power to prevent violence against women through actions at various levels. At the micro level, it is vital to guide a child’s upbringing from a young age, instilling values and ethics within families. On a broader scale, impactful strategies encompass active advocacy, a robust women’s movement, and seamless coordination among sectors such as law, healthcare, and finance. 

Holding every stakeholder accountable and responsible is crucial. Enhancing accessibility to legal resources and enforcing existing laws more effectively are essential steps. Empowering women, elevating their living standards, and challenging societal gender norms are key factors in creating a just and equitable society, thus countering violence against women. Establishing secure spaces for women and adopting a gender-sensitive perspective in urban planning contribute significantly. Employing strategic interventions that involve communities in dialogues while advancing women’s social, political, and economic empowerment is effective.

We should demand improved responses and services from the government, urging them to bridge the gap between legislations and their practical implementation. Recognizing the principle that “Personal is Political,” we must persistently advocate for gender equality in all spheres.

Acknowledgement: Aasthaba Jadeja is a research intern at IMPRI.

Read more session reports on web policy learning events conducted by IMPRI:

Domestic Violence and Abuse: Challenges and Responses