November 25 is International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The occasion has pointed attention to an important question — Just how emancipated are women in Uttarakhand after 15 years of its creationIJ And the answer is disturbing. Uttarakhand is facing a domestic violence crisis, according to a recent survey undertaken by the Uttarakhand State Commission for Women, every second woman in the State is a victim of some form of domestic violence.
The ill treatment ranges from physical and emotional cruelty to economic deprivation and sexual abuse. And this crime is not a demon raising its head only or mainly in rural, poor and uneducated households, as the urbane often like to believe.
Violent behaviour against women within homes appears ubiquitous in Uttarakhand. Upper castes or the backward, literate or unlettered, the lowbrow or the elite- one in every two women is being abused by her own family.
The paper's enquiry into the incidence of violence against women in Uttarakhand paints a grim picture. In the survey undertaken by the Uttarakhand State Commission for Women, 54 per cent women have reported that they are subjected to mental abuse by their husbands or other family members on a daily basis. Use of force and aggression against women is widespread with four in ten women admitting to being victims of physical abuse.
It is realistic to assume that this number is much higher in reality as many cases still go unreported for various reasons. And it is a false impression that homemakers are more exploited as facts show that working women too are being subjected to domestic violence continually.
“The responsibility given to women in homes is limited to only menial chores like buying vegetables, fruit and grocery while it is the men who do the more important tasks, an indication that decision-making power in homes still rests predominantly with male members,” states the survey report published by the commission.
"Alcoholism is one of the biggest causes of domestic violence. While in poor households, women are abused when they object to their husbands squandering the meager earnings on liquor, in the higher class it is because the men start neglecting their spouses. Also, extra-marital affairs have emerged as another leading cause of domestic violence," stated Sujata, Member Secretary of Uttarakhand State Commission for Women, in an exclusive conversation with The Pioneer.
She went on to observe that violence against women is rooted in gender discrimination and is also depicted in the high incidence of female feticide in the State. "Child sex ratio in the State is falling. In the 2011 census child sex ratio dropped to 890 against 908 in 2001 census while States like Haryana showed positive increase in this crucial human development indicator. The districts of Pithoragarh and Champawat are particularly poor in this regard. It is a worrying situation in our State as the status of women has not really improved in the fifteen years since the inception of Uttarakhand. Violence against women will not cease until women are seen as equals."
Sexual crimes on women in Uttarakhand are rising and Sujata attributes this to the exodus-like rural to urban migration. Sujata went on saying "Historically, so strong was the bond among hill dwellers of Uttarakhand that people would not marry their children in two adjacent villages because they believed people of their neighbouring village were their family-their brothers and sisters. However, with the alarming level of migration, men have lost that emotional connect with their native villages. Thus, when they visit their villages, they look at the women around with no kinship but as 'accessible females'.”
Another related factor is that since in such a large number of villages, almost all the young men have migrated to urban areas, there are the women, children and old people left behind. Thus, often when men visit their village, naive women start relying on these men for getting household related chores done and become victims of sexual crimes. Then there are increasing cases of sexual exploitation of girls from the hills being lured to bigger cities like Dehradun and Haridwar on the pretext of finding them employment. Sadly, in the last fifteen years the problems of women in Uttarakhand have increased."
The solutions clearly lie in an all-embracing systemic approach backed by genuine political will. As the world puts in the spotlight today the fragile issue of violence against women, it is a moment for the people and government of Uttarakhand to reflect and rescript the life-tales of its women.