Day Sixteen |When the law against violence becomes violent

A critical question for feminists to ask when women turn to the law is whether a legal victory is always a triumph of the feminist worldview. Violence against women is ubiquitous in patriarchy.

Rachana Johri, Bindu K.C. and Krishna Menon

Resisting Violence

A critical question for feminists to ask when women turn to the law is whether a legal victory is always a triumph of the feminist worldview. Violence against women is ubiquitous in patriarchy. It pervades virtually all spheres of lives, happening most often in relational spaces. Without questioning the necessity of the law, it seems that the work of feminism must include a detailed analysis of the many moments in which women experience violence such as sexual harassment at the workplace and at educational institutions. 

Every violent act – whether it is a comment on the looks of a classmate, persistent messages from one student to another, or rape – constitute violence. Must all these be treated within a legal framework? And is ‘punishment’ the only imagination of justice? Perhaps more pertinently, does ‘punishment’ belong in a feminist approach to justice?

Continue reading “Day Sixteen |When the law against violence becomes violent”

Day Fifteen |Understanding dowry and dowry abuse in Australia

Manjula O’Connor, Jan Breckenridge, Sara Singh and Mailin Suchting

dowry abuse
Reproduced from Shutterstock via The Conversation

The practice of dowry usually involves the giving of money, property, goods or other gifts by one family to another before, during or any time after marriage. It is a universal practice. For example, Bombay Island – now called Mumbai – was a former Portuguese outpost which was gifted to England as dowry in the marriage of Catherine of Braganza to Charles II (and was later leased to the East India Company in 1668). 

In its modern day avatar, dowry as a practice has different customary characteristics across different communities. Dowry exchange in South Asian communities is characterised by the woman’s family providing goods (including but not limited to money, jewellery, furniture and appliances) to the man and his family. In North African and Middle Eastern communities, dowry is characterised by the man’s family providing goods (predominantly in the form of money or cattle) to the female and her family.

Dowry is an ancient practice most frequently associated with India, but in reality, it is a cultural practice globally. This blog mostly addresses dowry in the South Asian context. Dowry in ancient times originated as a form of ante mortem inheritance, meant only for the bride. In modern times dowry gifts are expected by the family of the receiver as well and has become a practice that is a product of patriarchy reinforcing gender inequality. Women activists have campaigned against dowry practices in India since 1961, recognising the toxic impact of patriarchy combined with greed, and growing evidence of serious violence, murders and suicides associated with dowry in India. 

The Australasian Centre of Human Rights and Health (ACHRH) has refined the definition of dowry as ‘substantial gifts’ in the context of a marriage, where the value of gifts is out of proportion to the income of either family and causes financial distress to the giver.

what about dowry abuse?

Day Fourteen |Gender-based violence: a glimpse of feminist dilemmas in the academy

Cat Wayland, Kamya Choudhary and Radhika Govinda

Feminist cartoon day 14

Artwork by Samia Singh and used with permission and produced as part of the Teaching Feminisms, Transforming Lives Project, a collaboration between Ambedkar University and the University of Edinburgh

The above image is a preview of a (web)comic focused on feminist struggles in the academy, that is currently under development. The (web)comic features 24 pages of beautiful original artwork by illustrators Samia Singh based in Punjab, India, and Shazleen Khan, in London, UK. It is based on roundtable conversations and panel discussions that took place at Ambedkar University Delhi, India in December 2017 and at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland in February 2018 as part of the ongoing Teaching Feminisms, Transforming Lives Project

Continue reading “Day Fourteen |Gender-based violence: a glimpse of feminist dilemmas in the academy”

Day Thirteen | Making connections: Gender-based violence and women’s workforce participation

Sumangala Damodaran

As early as 1818, a group of British women weavers, or ‘Lancashire girls’ were brought to India to train women workers or ‘introduce factory methods of work’ in the Bowreah mill in Hooghly in Bengal. In her captivating account of the presence of women in India’s industrial sector, historian Samita Sen quotes an account by Janet Harvey Kelman, who wrote one of the earliest and most remarkable accounts of Indian labour, and according to whom women were associated with the ‘tragedy’ that surrounded the ‘first efforts to introduce modern mill industry into India’. The British women were released from a prison on an island in the Atlantic into the custody of a certain McAllister, who was the manager of the mill. It is believed that all succumbed later to an epidemic in India.

The presence of women in the industrial labour force in India, particularly in the  and the jute mills of Bengal, has thus been acknowledged from the beginnings of factory labour in India. Not only were women part of the industrial workforce, they also were the subject of numerous debates and controversies around their presence, especially between the introduction of the Factories Act in 1881 that was to regulate the conditions of industrial employment and the First World War.

Expectedly, the debates centred around the supposed contradiction between women’s sexual and reproductive roles in their families and as workers. The anxieties expressed about women’s participation in industrial work and the fear at what this presence outside the home and the family meant was, in this case, mediated by the colonial discourse around the usefulness of the female colonized subject. The debates also encompassed genuine concerns for women’s working conditions and safety in the industrial sector.

More than a century and a quarter later, the Female Workforce Participation Rate (FWPR) in India fell to 26% in 2018 and is seen, alarmingly, to have declined continuously over almost three decades. If we consider the region of South Asia, the pattern is mixed; in some countries, such as Nepal, the figures are quite high, whereas in Pakistan and India, they are declining, in India’s case alarmingly. This is particularly so  when compared to the global level, where women’s global labour force participation rate of around 48 per cent in 2018.

If women are participating less and less in what is conventionally considered ‘work’ or what contributes to the output of the economy, both as paid and unpaid workers, could it have something to do with gender-based violence which is a major contributor to the resilience of patriarchy? As with the ‘tragedy’ of women’s employment from the example of the ‘Lancashire girls’ and their Indian counterparts in the mills of Bengal, how does patriarchy’s continuous reiteration of the contradiction between women’s reproductive and productive or ‘visibly productive’ roles relate to the threat of violence?

It is acknowledged in academic work as well as in policy initiatives that actual violence and the fear of it affects the extent to which women participate in political and social processes. How does the violence that women face within and outside households, in communities and in workplaces impact women’s participation in, access to and exit from work and the workplace?

These are questions that need to be examined from the actual experiences of women with work as well as of violence and it is necessary to develop analytical frames that look at both simultaneously as fundamentally underpinning women’s lives and existence. The literatures that exist around the two axes, of work on the one hand and violence on the other, tend to be mostly mutually exclusive. Violence as an active variable tends to figure only tangentially in analyses of work and the understandings of gender based violence tend to address the structural features of women’s lives as workers only in a limited way.

Gendered analyses of work point out how the complexities of women’s existence and the invisibility of their labour results in complex negotiations between reproductive labour and both paid and unpaid ‘productive’ labour. The threat of violence within the family and from social networks is often seen to keep women out of the labour market or confine them to sectors where their work is considered more acceptable, or remains invisible.

Economic and political conditions within countries, like slumps or political upheavals, are also seen to have social impacts that typically raise the risk and incidence of violence against women. Further, even if, as in many countries in South Asia, the FWPR is very low and also falling, at the same time, there are newer sectors – particularly in services – where women are being employed and seen to be ‘visible’, often having to transgress patriarchal restrictions within families and communities.

The insights provided from actual experiences of work and workplaces could be useful to understand the multifaceted dimensions of gender-based violence. Further, the lens of violence and the dispositions within individuals, families and communities towards women’s work thus could generate rich material that allows for a nuanced understanding of the gendered dimensions of work.

Sumangala Damodaran is a Professor of Economics, Development Studies and Popular Music Studies at Ambedkar University Delhi. As a development economist, her research and publications fall broadly within the rubric of industrial and labour studies. She is also a singer and composer.

Photo reproduced from Fibre2Fashion

Day Three | We, the Women Warriors, are Unstoppable!

Shalu Nigam

Shalu NigamImage reproduced with the  permission of Shalu Nigam

After a long wait, the National Crime Record Bureau of India has recently published its report pertaining to crimes in India  in 2017. According to this report, 104,551 cases have been filed under section 498A IPC, a criminal law dealing with `cruelty’ against married women by their husbands and in-laws. A further 7,466 cases have been registered under section 304B, which pertains to dowry deaths, while 10,189 cases have been registered under the Dowry Prohibition Act, a law that bans the giving and taking of dowry. In addition, 5,282 cases have been registered for abetment of suicide among women and 616 cases have been registered under the Protection of Women Against Domestic Violence Act, for breaching the civil orders granted under this law in favor of the victims of domestic violence.

The NCRB report further indicates that the conviction rate was as low as 9.5% under section 498A cases in 2016, but which rose to 15.9% in 2017. In cases pertaining to dowry deaths, the conviction rate is 41.1% in 2017. These figures indicate that majority of women who knock on the doors of the court are not receiving justice. Compounding this, violent men are being acquitted by the courts. 

This data shows that a large number of women are not safe in their own homes. They are being physically and psychologically assaulted, verbally and emotionally tortured, discriminated, sexually harassed, murdered, forced to commit suicide and attacked in numerous ways. Serious complaints of violence are normalised and trivialised, framed as ‘disputes’ or `ego tussles’. Myths and misogyny operate in  society and the courtrooms alike to deny justice to women survivors of violence.

 

The role of the Supreme Court 

 Despite the fact that a large number of women are approaching the police and the courts with their complaints of violence within homes, police are rarely arresting violent men and the courts are failing to hold them accountable. In some instances, the courts are actually making the problem worse. For example, in 2014, the Supreme Court decided the matter of Arnesh Kumar v State of Bihar. It delivered a sweeping statement that section 498A, a criminal law provision relating to domestic violence, is being ‘misused and abused by disgruntled women’ and directed for the dilution of the provisions relating to the arrest and bail of accused persons. 

Then, in 2017, in Rajesh Sharma v State of UP the Supreme Court passed a directive to police and magistrates that no arrests were to be made or coercive actions taken without ascertaining the veracity of the complaints lodged under section 498A. It suggested the formulation of Family Welfare Committees to scrutinise every complaint of domestic violence to ensure that no ‘false cases’ were registered. Without examining the on-the-ground realities, the court concluded that the law is misused by ‘vengeful’ women, and saw men as victims of this ‘cruel’ law. While himpathising (a term coined by Kate Manne) with the accused persons, the bench remarked that there was “violation of human rights of innocents”. In contrast, no compassion is shown towards the women who are abused, abandoned, burned, murdered, killed, raped and brutalised.

However, after protest by several women’s organizations and petitions filed in the Supreme Court, the Court heard the matter of Social Action Forum for Manav Adhikar v Union of India in 2018. It ordered the Family Welfare Committees be done away with, while retaining the provision relating to arrest and bail for the accused persons. Even earlier, the Law Commission and several other state institutions too, have recommended the dilution of the domestic violence laws.

The legal system provides a platform for women to raise their concerns; however, there is a lack of commitment in implementation. Over the years, concerted actions have been taken by state actors to dilute the provisions of law. The system is being manipulated to serve the logic of the patriarchy, protecting the interest of the dominant group while reinforcing the prevailing biased stereotypical norms. The state more broadly is treating domestic violence as a social crime and using manipulative tools –including mandatory mediation – designed to compel women to arrive at a ‘compromise’ or ‘settlement’ with the accused persons without any assurance for their safety (and that of their children), and without punishing the abusive men. In many other cases pertaining to domestic violence, dowry deaths and suicide by married women, the courts have granted immunity to violent men by placing weight on the principle of ‘family harmony’, and in the process, disregarding the constitutional rights of women as citizens.

 

We, the Women, are Warriors and We Will Persist!

Yet the survivors, who may be seen as powerless and vulnerable, through their sheer grit, are demanding justice, breaking the codes of prolonged imposed silence, shaking the system and forcing it to respond. They are not feminists or experts but they are everyday women who, with their own sense of justice, and with scant resources or little support, are seeking a violence-free life for themselves and their children. They are fighting battles not only against abusive men but also against the patriarchal structures within homes, misogyny in courts, and androcentric culture and sexism in society. In doing so, they are reclaiming ownership of their lives with persistence, courage and resilience.

The law is currently implemented in a way that means complainants are being revictimised in the process. Despite this, women are using the law to reclaim their rights and resist violence. Those who are registering their complaints are negotiating their rights and contesting their claims while challenging the stubborn patriarchy. While writing their own stories of emancipation, they are shifting the inegalitarian structure within families, creating democratic spaces within society and –  in fighting to seek freedom, or aazadi, from violence – they are demanding the recognition of their dignity. 

For the state, as well as national and international organisations working on the issue of violence, it is essential to focus on women’s autonomy and agency in a patriarchal society and to provide support measures that help them to attain socio-economic self-sufficiency while countering ingrained misogyny. Many women are compelled to stay and bear violence because they lack any other options. There is therefore a  need to create a mechanism whereby women can access support that is specific to their circumstances. Until then, through their tough persistent legal and social battles, the simple message women are giving is this: “We, the women warriors, are unstoppable; unless violence is eliminated, we will persist”. 

 

Shalu Nigam (@ShaluNigam) is an advocate, researcher and an activist working at the intersection of gender, law, governance and human rights issues. She is currently practicing at the courts in Delhi and is associated with the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Delhi, Indian Social Institute, Delhi, as well as the Centre for Women’s Development Studies, Delhi. She was awarded a Senior Fellowship by the Indian Council for Social Science Research, Delhi. She has published several books, the recent one is Women and Domestic Violence in India: A Quest for Justice. She has been a regular contributor to countercurrents.org and has published her essays in journals such as the Indian Journal of Gender Studies, South Asia Journal, Social Action, International Journal of Gender and Women’s Studies, Women’s Link, Legal News and Views among others. You can read some of  her work here and here