Saturday, January 3, 2004

Curbing domestic violence
Reeta Sharma

Like teachers’ violence against students, which has witnessed an alarming rise during the last decade, domestic violence has also been going up. Not that the later did not exist in earlier times, but it has certainly assumed frightening dimensions in recent years.

I remember we had held a ‘talk show’ on domestic violence on behalf of Majlis Journalists’ and Artists’ Association three years ago. We had approached NGOs of Chandigarh, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Delhi to send us victims of domestic violence to narrate their personal experiences.

The audience in the jam-packed Tagore Theatre, including the organisers, was shocked at the phenomenal number and kind of cases that had landed there. In fact, it was humanly impossible to accommodate all of them in the three-hour programme. We had then selected the cases as per the intensity of domestic violence meted out to these individuals.
I have personally not only reported but also read about hundreds of cases in which brides were burnt to death by the greedy in-laws and husbands. But I had never seen how a burnt woman looked like in person. At Tagore Theatre that day, a girl was brought from Jalandhar by well-known social worker Parminder Beri. The girl had survived an attempt to burn her alive. She had received 40 per cent burn injuries and a prolonged treatment was on to restore her to some semblance of normalcy. When she came to the stage, I am sure every body’s heart had sunk. She was a ghost of a figure.

Yet another heart-rending case was that of an 82-year-old woman from Chandigarh. She did not hesitate to share with the audience that her Squadron Leader son and daughter-in-law were not only physically assaulting her but had also taken over her one kanal house, forcing her to shift to the first floor.
One had almost presumed and concluded that domestic violence is largely restricted to poor families or, at best, to lower-middle class families. That poverty, ignorance and lack of education were the root causes of domestic violence in these classes. But this is not so. Each year, cases of domestic violence from upper middle classes and the affluent classes are pouring in.

The latest case is that of Kawatras living in Deli.`A0 The 80-plus couple have written a letter to the Chief Justice of India that their son, Naveen, and daughter-in-law, Neera, have been physically and mentally torturing them with the intention of usurping their`A0property. The old couple was not only beaten by the son but the daughter-in-law even tried to strangulate her mother-in-law a couple of times. The couple was restricted to just one-fourth of the area of the house. The son even executed a false deed of transfer of property of the old couple in his own name.

The Chief Justice treated the letter as a PIL and served notices on the son and daughter-in-law, besides directing the Delhi police to provide security to the frightened and helpless Kawatras. But there are hundreds and thousands of old people who are not as lucky as the Kawatras They either do not know whom to approach for help or are pressurised by their social conditioning against seeking outside help.

The case of Shamima of Chandigarh is only a few days old. She fell in love and married Mohammad Mansoor. Herself a Punjabi, she converted to Islam. But unfortunately, Mansoor and his parents began demanding dowry from her. She was often beaten black and blue. Even when she was pregnant with her daughter, she was kicked around creating a medical emergency. While all this was on for four years, unemployed Mansoor had gone ahead and in the name of Islam married another woman!

As if this was not enough, he and his parents decided to burn Shamima and get rid of her forever. On December 24, all the three poured kerosene on her and burnt her. While she was running around in pain, Mansoor quietly slipped out of the house and his parents just bolted themselves inside their house. The neighbours put a blanket on Shamima and carried her to the hospital. Shamima had received 90 per cent burn injuries and she died. The in-laws have been arrested. However, Mansoor is still absconding.

There is yet another case of daughter of an IAS officer of Haryana. She had approached the Chandigarh Police only recently with a complaint that her brother beats mercilessly while her parents look the other way. In a written complaint, this 20- plus girl has stated that her brother has been physically assaulting her from her childhood. The gender bias of her parents in favour of the son has allowed her brother to literally rule her life.

It is time for state governments to wake up to the rising trends of domestic violence. The police are not trained to handle such cases with the required tenderness as well as firmness. Similarly, the neighbours, the NGOs and even the media have to be made more sensitive to deal with this rising menace. We often react to such simmering problems only when they reach our own doors.