Green Eyed Monsters: Violence Against Women

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By Shuriah Niazi, Womens Feature Service

The central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh is witness to a growing number of cases of husbands torturing their wives on suspicions of infidelity. Driven by the desire to have their wives admit their ‘guilt’, husbands are known to force them to dip their hands into boiling oil; or subject themselves to illegally conducted narco tests to ‘prove’ their chastity. Ironically, the prize for actually passing the ‘test’ with flying colours could be a horrific death brought on by the ever-disbelieving husband.

Ashok Rathore, 50, of Indore was always suspicious of his wife, Sulekha, 43. Keeping tabs on her, Ashok had convinced himself that his wife was having an affair with a certain neighbour. The couple, who married in 1988, soon spent most of their time quarreling over the issue, with Ashok trying every trick possible to prove his wife wrong.

Desperate to hear her confess to her ‘crime’, Ashok convinced a local doctor to conduct a narco-analysis – a test where barbiturates or certain other chemical substances are administered to lower a subject’s inhibitions, in the hope that the subject will more freely share closely-held information and feelings. Ironically, when the illegally conducted examination threw up results in favour of the maligned wife, the enraged and disbelieving husband took her life. He shot her and then confessed to the murder before the police.

Says Vipin Maheshwari, Senior Superintendent of Police, Indore, “Ashok always felt that his wife was cheating on him. He wanted her to confess that she was having an affair.” Adds S.S. Udayvat, police officer in-charge, Junni Police Station, “The man accepted that he had compelled his wife to sit for the narco-analysis test. We are making every effort to find the name of the doctor who conducted this test.”

Narco analysis is not openly permitted for investigative purposes in most democratic countries. In India, it can only be conducted after the court gives permission for such a test. The Law Commission of India is, according to reliable reports, considering recommending a ban on this test as it violates basic human rights.

Rajbhan Yadav, 31, of Sihore village in Jabalpur district was also plagued with the thought that he was being cuckolded. Like Ashok, he too had made life miserable for his wife, Anuj, 26, with his constant doubts and nagging. However, unlike the rather ‘scientifically’ inclined Ashok, Rajbhan resorted to the traditional and horrific fidelity test: The hot oil dip. Anuj was compelled to dip her hand in boiling oil on the premise that if she were truly chaste, her hand would not be affected by the hot oil. When Anuj’s skin got burnt in the simmering liquid, Rajbhan concluded that she had truly cheated on him and he promptly threw her out of their home.

This was not the first time that Anuj had tortured his wife, according to B.B. Singh, Police Inspector of the Sehora police station, where Anuj filed a first information report (FIR) against her husband. Rajbhan was subsequently arrested.

These two cases are not mere incidents of jealous and doubting husbands but are reflective of the rising number of cases of violence against women within the home and outside it.

Gyanendra Gautam, Head of the Department, Sociology, Barkatullah University, Bhopal, believes that the media and cinema, while they cannot be wholly blamed for this trend, contribute to it by sensationalising such crimes. Programmes such as ‘Sach Ka Saamna’ and the likes also do not help. Gautam adds that the media has a social responsibility towards society and should think beyond television rating points (TRPs). His views are echoed by Abdul Jabbar, Convenor, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udhyog Sangathan (Bhopal Gas Affected Women’s Industrial Organisation), who also feels that crimes against women are the result of deeper social trends. He is deeply disturbed by recent instances of crimes against women in Madhya Pradesh and what they say about society in general.

According to a report released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 2007, the state topped the national list in the number of rape cases. During the year, 3,010 incidents of rape and 6,772 of molestations against women were reported. In fact, it is said that one woman is raped every three hours here. Adding to this ignominious trend is the fact that a total of 742 dowry deaths – the third highest number in the country – were reported from the state in 2007. Moreover, the state accounts for 5,2 per cent of the total incidents booked under the Child Marriage Restraint Act (1978).

So widespread are crimes against women in the state that Madhya Pradesh’s Home Minister Jagdish Devra makes no attempt to deny that there has been an increase in such crimes of late. The only way to fight the trend, he believes, is by improving the efficacy of legal action and taking steps to empower women.

There are government schemes that do encourage women’s empowerment – like the Usha Kiran Yojna, the Ladli Laxmi Yojna and even the 50 per cent reservation for women in local bodies. Elaborating on the Usha Kiran Yojna lawyer Prashant Pathak says, “The scheme has been envisaged to help women and children and protect them against all kinds of tortures, including physical, verbal, sexual, emotional and economic. Under this scheme, a help desk is being set up in every district, which would be manned round the clock so that an affected woman’s call can be promptly attended and her complaint immediately put before the officer in-charge for a quick redressal.”

But women’s activists are not convinced. Chandna Arora of the All India Women’s Council says, “There have been rising instances of atrocities against women and children and the state government has failed to control them. The authorities have to take strict action in order to check such incidents. Instead of making schemes, the government should be making a real effort to empower women.”

It’s time that his government worked towards achieving both outcomes.