In the last few years, brutal, vicious attacks on women and young girls in India have been resonating in the local and international media, shocking and angering people the world over.
Elements of modernity such as wealth, urban development and wider education, including the promotion of women’s rights and freedoms, have never been standing more in contrast with the deeply-rooted, powerful patriarchal system that has always dominated village politics and traditional Indian culture.
Such ancient feudal and patriarchal structures still survive today, ensuring that women remain oppressed, obedient and marginalised.
We routinely read reports on alternative media and social media about these grim realities, but the quick-news cycle often fails to connect us emotionally with the victims and their unique stories, or to the people tirelessly working towards justice and social change.
With this report, we aimed to expose the roots feeding the subjugation of women in India and culture of silence, through few intimate stories of abuse, resilience and survival.
95% of incidents of violence in India are committed by men. To understand the mindset behind these rising numbers and how the traditional notions of hegemonic masculinity are affecting all of us in India and South Asia, we spoke to a number of families, activists and men themselves in folk schools.
How masculinity ends up crippling men, depriving them of the ability to express normal human emotions like love, pain and vulnerability is the focus of our paper. How they were raised by their families to suppress their instincts and conform to a certain stereotype of being male and how this manifested in their behaviour. Women bear the brunt of these attitudes.
Witch Hunting- a crime against human dignity: Reality and Intervention
In rural area, poverty and superstition are putting women at risk of persecution for witchcraft. Over 2000 people mostly women have been accused and killed in last decade.
It is impossible for Jagesari Devi (32), a tribal woman of Sonebhadra district, to forget the fateful day when she became a victim of witch hunting and her tongue was chopped off. She was branded a ‘dayan’ (witch) by a local ‘ojha’ (sorcerer). Though her wounds have healed, the scars remain forever. The unforgettable nightmare has rendered the Holi festival colourless for her.
“Am I really a dayan,” wonders Jagesari, and following this inhuman act of others, today she can neither speak properly nor can eat or drink with ease.
Witch hunting is still prevalent and brutally practiced in the twenty-first century in the rural part of India. Almost every other day, a woman is branded a witch or victimised for witch-hunting in the hinterlands of Uttar Pradesh, where Government and NGOs deliberately keep mum on that issue. PVCHR came to know through local dailies and activists that witch hunting are committed in the remotest corner of the State in Mayourpur block of Dudhi tehsil in Sonebhadra district of Uttar Pradesh.
To probe into the fact that women branded ‘witch’, then a squad of the psycho therapist from PVCHR reached Mayourpur and provided the psycho social support through testimonial therapy(a brief narrative therapy) to the victimized women. They badly need to regain their dignity and honour through a form of social recognition in which their private truth is openly recognised and becomes public truth, and their suffering is acknowledged and becomes part of social memory. A general silence often surrounds political repression, as if it only exists in the minds of the survivor, but the narratives of the survivors will preserve history.
Mayourpur, a place which is quite economically backward, where people have almost no access to the basic necessities of life be it education and health care. In this kind of situation, people tend to be steeped into obscurantism and superstition. And anything bad that might befall these villagers like bad crop, diseases, sudden and unexplained death of someone in the family, or drying of well tend to be considered the work of some evil ‘witch’. Thus begins a witch hunt to locate the person responsible. When daughter of Jagesari’s brother-in-law Sahdev died due to illness on August 1, 2010, she went to Sahdev’s house to condole the death, she saw that an ojha present there. He started branding Jagesari as a dayan (witch) and made her responsible for the death. The villagers gathered for the burial stood as mute spectators and her tongue was slashed as punishment.
Manbasia (45) is another woman who has been subjected to inhuman ordeal in Ghaghari Tola Sahgora village, under Babhani police station, in Myorpur block of Sonebhadra district. After the demise of a boy in the village, she was not only attacked with sharp weapons but also paraded naked in public on July 17, 2010. “I was not a dayan, then why was I paraded naked?” she questioned. Her husband Jodhilal said he had to mortgage his land for his wife’s treatment.
The frequency of such assaults and the dismal conviction rate, despite the existence of the Prevention of Witch Practices Act, has terrified victims into a silent acceptance of the cruelty. Some of the most common concerns in relation to witch hunting are that in very few cases have the authorities actually responded to the complaints, and witch hunting is severely under reported, poorly investigated and prosecuted with negligible rates of conviction. The police often do not register FIRs.
The easiest way to grab a woman’s property in rural hinterland is to brand her a witch. Unbelievable but horrifically true in 21st century India, women in the interiors of states are beaten, paraded naked, disgraced, ostracised and then robbed of their land by anti-social elements and sometimes even greedy relatives. Witch hunting is a tool to oppress the critical thinking and wider participation of women in decision making process in the patriarchal society. In our Bhojpuri language they are called ‘logical women’ as ‘Kan – Dayan’ (initial form of witch hunting).
However, the conviction rate for witch hunting crimes is dismal. The perpetrators, in most cases, are male relatives and their motive is to usurp the property of single women. The modus operandi is to disgrace and ostracise the victim.
The fact is that it is not superstition that is at the root of many of these accusations of witchcraft but socio-economic factors: land-grabbing, property disputes, personal rivalry and resistance to sexual advances. In many cases, a woman who inherits land from her deceased husband is asked to disown the land by her husband’s family or other men. If she resists, they approach the Ojhas and bribe them to brand her a witch. This strategy of branding a woman a witch is also used against women who spurn the sexual advances of the powerful men in the community.
PVCHR in collaboration of Savitiri Bai Phule Women Forum organized honoured these women on 10th March, 2011 on the death anniversary of Savitri Bai Phule known as Bharti Mahila Mukti Diwas (Indian women liberation day). The honour ceremony was organized in the Varanasi city and it was riskier in the village. The objective of the ceremony was to get them to resettle back into village.
PVCHR immediately intervened and sent the testimonies to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), New Delhi and Director General of Police (DGP) Lucknow to draw its attention towards this social evil and get victims of witch hunting some justice, Mr. Deepak Kumar, Superintendent of Police, Sonbhadra in a vide letter no. एस /शि – 26ए/11 dated 9th May 2011 directed to be vigilant in preparing a list of actors, who brand women as witch, especially the Ojha, Sokha and the others involved in this type of activity. It requested to hold regular meetings with an effort to create awareness against the practice of witch hunting. On the order of the National Human Rights Commission (Case no. 11772/24/69/2011-WC) three survivors Jagesari, Manbasia and Somari Devi received the compensation of 3 lakhs Rupees each from the State Government.
PVCHR On 25th September, 2011 PVCHR wrote open letter to Prime Minster of India and demand for a national legislation and special empowerment programme for the women in the witch hunting- prone area and awareness campaign to promote education and health.
Since 2001 PVCHR started using information technology for torture prevention advocacy after a news report with a title “Woman paraded naked in Karnataka.” According to the reported news she belonged to the scheduled caste community and resided in Onenur village in Bellary district of Andra Pradesh. The men were angry with the community, because she eloped with a Dalit boy the previous month. When the boy returned to the village, he put blame on the woman for instigating him. On the complaint NHRC took cognizance and called the report from concerned authorities.
Now we are using online social media as a cost – effective medium for the monitoring of the cases of human rights violations. PVCHR intervened on the news reporting of in the brutal case of witch hunting happened on 12 February 2012 in Tejpur in Sontipur District where Lakshmi Gawl was branded, murdered and buried. The day before this incident, another forty five year tribal woman was burnt alive on Sonari in Shibsagar District. On the order of the NHRC (54/3/16/2012-WC) the state Government of Assam provided compensation to the deceased women.The State Government has initiated various steps to eradicate the social evil of practicing witchcraft in association with the NGOs and Assam State Commission for Women to eradicate, control and create awareness on witch hunting in the State. It is also mentioned that a draft bill conferring right to protection against witch hunting has been prepared by a committee under the Assam State Commission for Women, which is under consideration of the Government. [i]
According NCRB India statistics that Crimes against women in India have increased by 50% since 2013. One is reported every minute. And
In Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, 4 in 10 women are illiterate. (2011 census of India)
Shabnam’s marriage doomed her. She was falsely implicated of an infectious disease by her in-laws, beaten by her husband, had to stay without food and medicine when pregnant and was cast away from her in-laws place time and again. A PVCHR initiative changed her life. She is no longer the broken, dejected and despondent mother of two, looking for sympathy. She excelled in her intermediate exams and is on the way to realise her dream of becoming a nurse. She is self-reliant.
Against all odds, Shabnam, a resident of Chaklal Mohammad, Naini, Allahabad, cleared the 10 + 2 (Intermediate) with 82.8% aggregate marks. She achieved highest marks in three subject Physics (95), Chemistry (85) and Biology (88), in her collegiate.
She came out of her deep grief to shine like a rare gem despite being a victim of domestic violence. Shabnam surmounted her pain. She measured the sky with a broken wing and a dauntless spirit. She’s an inspiration for countless hapless women.
She got married in March 26, 2009, with Walid, son of Kasim Ali, resident of village Anti ka Purwa, Antu, in Pratapgarh district.
Shabnam faced torture and persecution from her in-laws day after day under the pretext of an imaginary dangerous infectious disease. They pressurised and forced her to go back to her parent’s home.
Her parents were deeply hurt. Shabnam’s father, along with few other people, went to her in-laws house to talk about her. Her in-laws family said that they would accept Shabnam in only one condition, if and when she was totally healthy. In the presence of her in-laws she was again diagnosed in Kriti diagnostic Center, Allahabad. The report shows she was normal.
“I became very angry when my in-laws asked what is meaning of ‘normal’. During that time I was in utter agony that they wanted to prove that I was ill forcibly,” she rued.
Shabnam’s in-laws took her back to Pratapgarh. Then she went to Lucknow, where she spent five months with her husband and got pregnant.
“After five months they sent me back to my parent’s house, once again. I, with a heavy heart, hiding my tear and grief returned to my parent’s house. Several time I tried to contact my husband but he had changed his mobile number. I waited for my husband to call me for several months. I was in utter confusion about what to do. In Asha hospital, I delivered Aadil.
Everyone in the family was happy with his birth. We came to know that he had some congenital complications in his back. His operation was urgently needed; otherwise the poison would spread all over his infant body. Anyhow, my family managed the expense of his operation,” she informed.
In 2011, Shabnam was again called by her in-laws during the marriage of her sister-in- law. In the marriage ceremony Shabnam husband did not came and his in-laws sent her to Kullu, where her husband was living.
She said, “I was happy that God listened my prayer. I happily started to do the packing. I began my life afresh with him, there. For two or three days, he behaved very well with me. But, again he started to beat and abuse me. He did not care about my child. He yearned for a chocolate but was scolded or thrashed instead.”
Shabnam added that her woes did not end. It worsened. “During that time again I got pregnant. After hearing this my husband wanted me to abort the child. When I denied, he started beating me. With great difficulty, I saved my unborn child. During that time, I did not get proper food or medicine. I became very weak. I along with my neighbour once visited a hospital. The doctor diagnosed me as anaemic. I did tell him anything, as he did not care for me or my plight. On March 2012, he dumped me at Pratapgarh, at my in-laws place, with the excuse of too much expense, though I had no proper food or medicines. After 15 days, I returned back to my parents’ home. On October 20, my younger son Zia-ul- Haq was born, in a nursing home in Allahabad.”
Shabnam tried to contact her husband but she got no response from him. She was in a hopeless state. She did not want to become burden on her parents’ family. She was a mother of two small children. Their expenses were an added burden to her.
Meanwhile, perhaps fortunately, Shabnam’s father came in contact with Farhat Shaba Khanam, who is representing PVCHR, in Allahabad district. She provided psychosocial support through testimonial therapy to Shabnam. On the basis of her testimony, Shabnam filed complaint on August 6, 2012, under the Domestic Violence Act, 2005. Several summon were served but every time her in-laws reported that Shabnam’s husband was missing.
Farhat motivated Shabnam and her father for the educating and making her self-reliant. She got admission in nearby school and completed her high school. All the expenses were borne by her father. He is the retired military officer.
Shabnam, with a tear of happiness, confessed, “After my wedding, my world changed for worse. There was darkness all around. Dejected and despondent, I was broken. I didn’t know that I would be facing difficult times. Both my sons came at a time when I was at the lowest ebb of life. But, now I am self-reliant. I have my own dream and I will give proper love and care to both my sons. I wish to bring them up as good men, who would value women and look after their families.”
Hers has been a difficult life, full of hardships, pain, insults and shame. She, with the help of PVCHR, has surmounted her difficulties.
Shabnam’s dream is to to become nurse and serve the people. She’s the one, who has known deep pain. Perhaps life has prepared her to embalm the hurt, help cure people and reach out to them with deep compassion. Recently she received a laptop and thirty five thousands for her study from district administration after intervention of Chief Minister Office of UP on petition of PVCHR.[ii]
Tara: A story of domestic violence & re-victimization of victim with help of international media:
Tara says, “I was a branded as a witch and they asked me to leave the house along with children and they dragged me out. I started crying and asked my mother in law that where I would go with children. My sister in law said there was no space for evil spirits inside the house.
I had to spent days without food and whenever I got something I shared it with my children. One day my sister in law dragged me on road from near the house and I came to my mother’s house with children. Upset and in tension my husband climbed up a Guava tree.
I don’t want my husband to climb down the tree which he is living on due to my mother in law and my sister in law. I don’t want to stay with my in laws and once my husband gets down I will bring him to my parents house. My children are crying for their father and I am crying for my husband. Until I am able to live with my husband and children I will not get relief. I fear what my husband might be eating and when I try to eat something I cry.”
But it is mostly a story about the media’s chase for news with a sensational value of patriarchal mind set at the expense of the truth-value to whom Sanjay and his wife Tara became victims.
One of founder of PVCHR Shruti read the story published in media and she immediately doubts on patriarchal manipulation from local media people. After she shared the story and her doubt to the activist of PVCHR, immediately the activist went to verify the information and talked with Sanjay’, his mother Kushma Devi and also with Sanjay Sister Nisha.
After knowing the one side fact the activist went to meet with Sanjay’s wife Tara. She said that I was a branded as a witch and they asked me to leave the house along with children and they dragged me out. I started crying and asked my mother in law that where I would go with children. My sister in law said there was no space for evil spirits inside the house.
But without knowing the fact few media published “Man lives in tree for nine months – and won’t come down until wife says sorry for cheating on him.”[iii]
On the eve of international women day PVCHR shared the video “The Man in the Guava Tree: A Story on Media Ethics and Global Responsibility”[iv] and PVCHR supported survivors. Now both are living their life with dignity.
Trafficking of girls and women:
Women and girls are trafficked for bonded labour, sex slavery and forced prostitution. But not a single woman from upper caste is trafficked in India.
Radha (name change), 15, says that an improperly conducted medical examination in Varanasi after she was repeatedly raped in February and March 2012 is impeding her legal case.
Radha told Human Rights Watch that her abuser was the owner of a brick kiln factory in Uttar Pradesh, where she was forced to work as his maid for two months. Radha, who is originally from a tribal community in Jharkhand state, is among India’s vast population of trafficked children, who are especially vulnerable to sexual abuse. She told Human Rights Watch, “I was with my family when a woman called Shanti visited us and told me to come with her. She was from the same village so I trusted her. She said she was going to take me to a fair. But this woman had tricked me and forced me to go to the brick kiln factory. There I had to work for the owner, doing his cooking and cleaning, and also massage him. Two days after I arrived he forced himself on me. He used to give me a tablet, and then he would force himself on me. My room was next to where the owner worked and every time he wanted me, he would come to my room. He would come two or three times a day. I told that woman Shanti that I didn’t like it, and she said that “If you tell anyone, the owner will kill you.” One day I opposed it, and the owner beat me up brutally. I was so scared. The brick kiln owner was in his sixties, had no teeth, used to drink a lot, and force me to drink alcohol as well. When I refused, he used to hit me. I’m still in pain from the rapes. After two months there, in March 2012, Radha was able to escape and eventually make it to Varanasi where she was assisted by the People’s Vigilance Committee for Human Rights (PVCHR). They took her to the police and to a hospital, where a doctor carried out a medico-legal “two-finger test.”
On the basis of this degrading and unscientific test, the doctor stated that Radha had not been raped. As a result, the police have refused to listen to her complaint and investigate the man she said had raped her repeatedly.
Radha, with the support of PVCHR, challenged the doctor’s findings. In September 2012 the police in her home district in Jharkhand agreed that Radha’s testimony should form the basis of a charge against her alleged assailant.
Female foeticide is an extreme manifestation of violence against women. Female foetuses are selectively aborted after prenatal sex determination, thus avoiding the birth of girls. As a result of sex-selective abortion, between 35 and 40 million girls and women are missing from the Indian population. In some parts of the country, the sex ratio of girls to boys has dropped to less than 800:1,000.
The sex ratio has altered consistently in favour of boys since the beginning of the 20th century and the effect has been most pronounced in the states of Punjab, Haryana and Delhi. It was in these states that private foetal sex determination clinics were first established and the practice of selective abortion became popular from the late 1970s. Alarmingly, the trend is far stronger in urban rather than rural areas, and among literate rather than illiterate women, exploding the myth that growing affluence and spread of basic education alone will result in the erosion of gender bias.
The adverse sex ratio has been linked to the low status of women in Indian communities in all religions. The status of women in a society can be determined by their education, health, and economic role, presence in the professions and management, and decision-making power within the family.
Patriarchal practices on name of religion operate alongside other cultural and economic factors in lowering the status of women. The practice of dowry has spread nationwide, to communities and castes in which it had never been the custom, fuelled by consumerism and emulation of upper caste practices. In the majority of cases, the legal system has no impact on the practice of dowry. It is estimated that a dowry death occurs in India every 93 minutes. The need for a dowry for girl children, and the ability to demand a dowry for boys, exerts considerable economic pressure on families to use any means to avoid having girls, who are seen as a liability. “Freedom for Rs 200!”(£2.85) exclaim the large painted doors of Mukti Clinic in Varanasi. Ostensibly a maternal health centre, it is only one of the several prenatal gender determination clinics that have sprung up all over the state.
Heavily protected by local mafia, clinics such as these offer parents the option of aborting female foetuses right up to the fifth month of pregnancy and could be one of the biggest factors in the state’s abysmal sex ratio. A large body of academic and statistical work has illustrated that economic prosperity is actually one of the largest contributing factors towards worsening sex ratios.
Prosperity gives parents access to ultrasound machines that allow for gender determination and surgical procedures to eliminate female foeticide. However, as Mukti Clinic illustrates, a complete package of gender determination and subsequent abortion can cost as little as Rs 200 in the first month and Rs 950 in the fifth month – a period when abortions are rarely performed. A district wise examination of per capita income in the state only substantiates this prosperity-sex ratio thesis.
Reena is married to Jitendra Vishwakarma of Tendui village, under Jansa police station of Varanasi. She alleged that her husband, who is a compounder (medical assistant) by profession, took her to an ultrasound centre when she was pregnant. After learning that she was bearing a girl child in her womb, he gave her injections and medicines which led to miscarriage. She also alleged that her in-laws were torturing her for dowry since the beginning of her marital life.55 Taking serious note, the District Magistrate, A K Upadhyaya, instructed the police to lodge an
FIR against the accused and take necessary action. The Savitri Bai Phule Women Forum of PVCHR, an organisation of rural women working for the cause of women’s rights, has demanded the immediate arrest of the accused on charges of female foeticide and action against the ultrasound centre for sex determination under PNDT (Pre-natal Diagnostic Test) Act.
On the other hand, the health department is investigating the matter of sex determination. The instant wedding phenomenon in the eastern districts of Uttar Pradesh highlights the disturbing fact of the state’s very low sex ratio. The chatpat shaadis (instant marriages) can be seen as the point of intersection of two separate and disturbing aspects: the pull factor that makes men from western UP search for brides in the eastern districts and the push factor that makes the women accept these men.
While a ratio of 950 females per 1,000 males is considered normal in India, most countries tend to have more women than men. The national average in India, as per Census 2001, is 933. A state-wise break-up of the data ranks UP, with a sex ratio of 898 below in the rankings, only slightly better than Punjab, Haryana and Sikkim. The sex ratio of the population in the western districts of the state is below 900, while it is above 1,000 in some of the eastern districts.
“There are no women in western Uttar Pradesh,” said Motilal Rajbhar. Gita, Motilal’s daughter, is one of the most recent brides to have married a boy from Moradabad, a district in western UP with a sex ratio of 885. “So any boy from Moradabad who does not belong to the upper caste, who does not have a steady job, who is above 25 years of age, or who is looking to get married for a second time, cannot hope to find a local girl willing to marry him,” says Motilal.
Gunja, a 16-year-old from Sarai Mohana in Varanasi, and her parents took all possible precautions before marrying her off to a young man from Nandapur village in Agra district. Her parents met the groom’s parents, and even visited their house in Agra. However, it was only after she was married and went to live with her husband that the nightmare began. She spent the next six months practically captive in a one-room mud hut before her parents arrived and rescued her. She now lives with her parents and refuses to return to her matrimonial home.
Uttar Pradesh’s chatpat weddings are the latest addition to the larger national marriage market that functions along a complex and intricate network of brides, grooms and agents. States like Punjab and Haryana have taken to sourcing brides from states as far away as West Bengal, Assam, Bihar and Tripura, apart from neighbouring Himachal Pradesh. Chatpat weddings are usually arranged with the help of a local facilitator or dalal. The dalal, who is often a woman, is usually one who is either from Varanasi and has married someone from western UP or viceversa, and so has family in the villages of both the bride and the groom. Channoo Rajbhar is the dalal in Sarai Mohana and has got 30 young women from his village married off to young men from Moradabad over the past three years.
The dalal has to verify the antecedents of both sides and arrange the modalities and logistics for the wedding. “Since the weddings are usually conducted within days of the couple meeting, a lot of planning is required,” explains Rajbhar. “Pandits have to be arranged, a village feast has to organised, gifts have to arranged.” However, the ultimate responsibility rests with the parents. “We usually arrange a meeting of the parents; after that we are no longer accountable,” confirms Channoo.
The biggest draw of a chatpat wedding is the limited economic burden placed on the parents and no right of choice to girls under patriarchal hegemony. While each case is different, dowry is very rarely taken in such alliances. In fact, the financial insecurity of the marginalised community implies that the groom’s side often pays the lion’s share of the wedding expenses.
The dalal extracts a percentage of the costs as commission and these are entirely borne by the groom’s family.
PVCHR is a 21st century social change actor and a generator for global knowledge on preventive tactics against social injustice, torture and violence of women. PVCHR is hope and centre of empathy for survivors, so survivors are coming to office of PVCHR and activists of PVCHR in place of Government officials. Government needs to learn concept of hope, human dignity, honour and empathy.
PVCHR was founded in 1996 as a membership based peoples’ movement, to ensure basic rights for marginalized groups and to create a human rights culture based on democratic values. Since the establishment PVCHR take leadership role in advocating the rights of the most marginalized communities in 200 villages in Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and co-operating with local human rights activist of 99 organizations of 16 states in India.
Cuckolded Indian man lives in tree for nine months waiting for apology:
[x] They say we are dirty and Breaking Silence and third research Custodial Death Due to Torture [In process]