The last few decades have seen monumental social changes in India. At this point of time, discriminatory social norms are no longer justified by the law of collective acceptance, but are rather seen for what they are: tools for suppressing oppositions to the social hierarchies that have existed for centuries. Women especially have been on the receiving end of this change. They have been empowered and enabled to resist and win against the age-old patriarchy. Education, employment, entrepreneurship and many other facilities have come to be more and more accessible, but to what end? The purpose of these was to develop the Indian society into a more egalitarian society, but when reports such as the National Family Health Survey 5 surface, it makes one question their success.
The survey includes several indicators to account for India’s demographic and social changes. This time around, in terms of domestic violence, the survey presented us with ugly, unexpected, and if one daresay, undesirable results. 18 states and union territories were surveyed and 33% of the female respondents justified husbands beating their wives. The very fact that victims of domestic abuse consider it to be justified while it is punishable under the law is disturbing. In Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka around 80% women considered domestic abuse to be within the rights of a husband.
Circumstances such as when the wife disrespects the in-laws, neglects the household and children, argues with the husband, goes out without informing him, refuses to have sex with him, is suspected to have been unfaithful to him and does not cook good food were the leading justifications for domestic abuse, provided by women themselves. These are all instances of a woman exercising her individual agency upon herself. Her rights, respect and personal choices come into picture, and yet, they are easily ignored and are painted with the red of rebellion. A woman who is independent and self-sufficient instead of being submissive and blindly dedicated to her husband and to her socially assigned duties is seen as “untamed” who is liable to be beaten up. Infact, the abuser here is lauded. The fact that abuse is perpetuated, and justified, especially by the abused themselves, shows the depth of the problem.
In Telangana, where there were the highest proportion of positive female respondents to the posed question (almost 85%), the government runs several schemes such as Ujjwala Homes, Swadhar Greh, Women Helpline, Sakhi- One Stop Centre and many others to aid women. In Kerala 50% of the women justified men beating their wives. It is imperative to point out that Kerala has the best female literacy and sex ratio in the country as per the Census of 2011. This brings us to the question of the effectiveness of education. Education should typically embolden a society, but how effective has it been in that area? Recently, a tenth grade board exam paper made sexist passes and implied that women must be obedient and that modernization was tearing away at the delicacy of womanhood. In cases such as these, a person is forced to wonder if the education we are providing is even in alignment with our goals.
One must also note that education spans beyond the classroom. What a child sees and hears embeds itself into his/her cognizance which has an overall impact on the society that comes into being in the future. Therefore, such results are detrimental, not only in terms of the present, but also in terms of what will be in the future.
What some might call the silver lining of the situation is that men are less in agreement. This one can claim to be a social victory. Changes have been brought and that has reduced the entitlement afforded to men, but what we must realise is that patriarchy is a social problem propagated not by a specific gender, but by all. For a woman, marriage is considered a major milestone whose value supersedes even her education. It is socially enforced that a woman’s place is with her husband and that he has all rights over her mind, body and soul. While willful submission to one’s partner with an agreement of shared respect and consideration is a part of marriage, loss of one’s freedoms
and agency of existence cannot be justified. Women are often told to adjust to violent and abusive situations. Their value is judged by their malleability in humiliating situations, which weakens their will. Their ignorance to institutional support is also a factor in play. This survey shows the degree to which patriarchy has been internalised by women, for it to have degraded their sense of independent being.
For a society to move forward, half of it cannot be carrying the deadweight of unjust norms. For years, patriarchy has been perpetuated, not only by the empowered but also by the suppressed, who have been manipulated to believe in their own inferiority. Being dedicated and devoted by love and regard for someone and being blindly tied to someone out of fear and manipulation are two very different things, both of which must be identified and moulded as per individual boundaries. Unquestioned acceptance and unwavering devotion often sanction exploitation, especially when maverick rationale is left out of the equation. One must be mindful of this, for the unhesitant compliance of today is bound to have re-emerging repercussions tomorrow.
- Apoorva Panda