Domestic violence is a widespread scourge throughout India, and women from all spectrums of society suffer from violence within the home. This violence is widely seen as a normal and justifiable part of married life, with the media regularly featuring cases of intimate partner violence as well as torture and killings of women.
The statistics tell a chilling tale. In India, 37% of married women between the ages of 15 and 49 have experienced physical violence and 10% have experience sexual violence at some point since turning 15 Further, 54% of women and 51% of men feel that domestic violence is warranted in a variety of situations.
These 'justifiable' situations include if a women leaves the house without telling her husband; if she neglects her household duties; argues with her husband; refuses to have sexual intercourse with her husband; doesn't cook properly, is unfaithful, or if she is disrespectful to her in-laws. Any woman, anywhere in the world, is certain to violate such a stringent code several times in their married life.
India's economic boom has brought a rise in affluent women. These women are highly educated, have successful careers, dress in western clothes and visit restaurants, clubs and cinema halls. They enjoy far greater freedom than their parents' generation. However, these freedoms often clash with hard-line elements of India's largely conservative society. Much of India is still deeply patriarchal and there are wide gaps in the status of men and women. Even among India's upper crust, women's freedom can be superficial.
Throughout the country, women who resist gender norms often face consequences for their actions. This is particularly prevalent as women are beginning to enter the labour market in full-force. Men are used to power, used to being the decision-maker, used to being the breadwinner and to the privileges this position brings in the household.
When women start to challenge this power by amassing their own resources, it is often perceived as threatening to men and can lead to an increase in violence. Women from upper-class families often suffer this violence in silence, due to the stigma attached to women who report cases of violence and the fear of bringing shame to their family.
Centre for Social Research has supported many women from the upper class families who have experienced domestic violence. One such case involved a woman, who we'll call Devi, from one of Delhi's affluent neighbourhoods. Devi was a PhD graduate from a respected university, and her husband was working in a very well-respected and highly paid profession. However, he was an alcoholic and was violent whenever he consumed alcohol.
On one occasion he poured boiling water over Devi, on another he tried to push his son off the balcony. Devi's family pressured her not to speak to the police about her husbands' behaviour and it was only after ongoing counselling that she agreed to make an official complaint. Yet, after she was told that her husband would lose his job, she withdrew her complaint. CSR provided ongoing counselling to the couple and Devi's husband eventually agreed to sign a contract saying that he wouldn't use violence in the future.
The Government of India passed the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act in 2005, which provides survivors of abuse with a practical remedy through prosecution. Yet, as Devi's case demonstrates, this legislation is failing to protect women from violence and many Indian families, even from the upper and so-called 'progressive' classes, still refuse to stand with their daughters and fight against violence within their marriages.
It is vital to recognise the impact of domestic violence on women from all spectrums of society, and to work with women and men from all communities to prevent violence. We will only see real progress in addressing violence when women from all backgrounds are empowered to demand their right to a life with dignity - and without violence.
Dr Ranjana Kumari is director of the Centre for Social Research, an institution for the women and girls of India. Visit www.csrindia.org to find out more about the group and its activities.