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Last Updated: Friday, 30 May, 2003, 04:46 GMT 05:46 UK
Domestic abuse hits India's elite

By Geeta Pandey
BBC correspondent in Delhi

A startling number of domestic violence cases are coming to light in India where the victims are women belonging to the country's elite.

Indian woman
Many women still will not talk about the problem
Many of the women are from the privileged English-speaking middle and upper classes often working in high-profile jobs.

Domestic violence is particularly acute in South Asia where traditionally women have been treated as the inferior sex.

Talk of domestic violence usually conjures up images of poor, illiterate women, unaware of their rights and economically dependent on their husbands for survival.

But with more and more educated women coming forward with their experiences, that view is changing.

Beaten up

Shruti's problems began three and a half years ago when she married Kumar.

My neighbours knew about it.. . but I never informed my parents
Shruti
The beatings and torture started soon after.

"He would literally beat me up, abuse me, abuse my parents. He would get drunk and there would be scenes whole night.

"My neighbours knew about it.. but I never informed my parents. I had a bad fracture [but] I told them I had slipped from the stairs."

Shruti is educated, speaks English and belongs to the upper middle-class.

She works for a well-known private firm in Delhi and makes enough money to live independently.

But she says she put up with all the abuse believing it was hers to bear for being born as a girl.

Striking back

It was only after Kumar sent her off to her parents' house and refused to take her back that she sought help.

Now, she has been doing the rounds of the Crime Against Women Cell, a special police unit to deal with cases faced by women.

Women's self-defence class
Some women are fighting back
Vimla Mehra is the police officer in-charge of the unit.

She says of the 1,000 complaints they receive each month, about a quarter are from women with backgrounds similar to Shruti's.

"Earlier, women from very high classes were not complaining, but now they are aware and do not fear the social stigma as strongly as they did earlier," she says.

The social stigma may be diminishing, but the number of cases is not.

One in five women in India has faced domestic violence.

You consider yourself to be an empowered woman. You consider yourself to be independent, strong and yet it still happens to you
Manjima Bhattacharya

And the provocation for abuse can be anything from suspicion about an extra-marital affair to a badly cooked meal.

"There are people who beat their wives only because she has not prepared the food they wanted or at the time they wanted or she has not spoken well to or behaved well with her mother or father-in-law or some other relative of her husband," says Ms Mehra.

Challenge

Some say the biggest problem is convincing the women that they do not deserve abuse.

"Most women who face domestic violence think it's a normal part of their life, it's a part of being a wife, daughter or a sister in law," says Manjima Bhattacharya, who works for Jagori, a group that uses music and theatre to spread awareness about domestic violence.

"So to convince them that it's not something that they have done that provokes such a response [is] quite a challenge.

"We get cases all the time of educated women who face domestic violence, who are in abusive relationships but it's just that their walls are much higher and much thicker and you often can't hear them speak about it. It's difficult for them to come to terms with it.

"You consider yourself to be an empowered woman. You consider yourself to be independent, strong and yet it still happens to you. So how do you come to terms with it?"

That is a challenge the government and society has to deal with.

While the government is debating legislation to reduce the level of domestic violence, activists say real improvement will come only if women themselves confront their abusers.

Some names have been changed to protect identities


SEE ALSO:
Wife raped in India to force divorce
25 Jul 02  |  South Asia
India's violent homes
19 Feb 01  |  South Asia
Country profile: India
24 Jul 02  |  Country profiles


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