Punching Bag Personified

 

She belongs to the poverty-stricken regions. Her chances of being born depend not on natural selection but on whether her parents want sex-selection. If the school is distant so will be her possibility of attaining education. It is unsafe outside; hence she will not go alone.


She will not have a job because parents don’t live off a daughter’s income. But even if her parents allow, there are few opportunities. Her groom will be chosen according to the amount of dowry her parents can give. Her spouse owns her and hence can beat her. She lives in her father’s house or her husband’s house, but she has no house of her own. She doesn’t have a choice of birth control and will have to undergo sterilization. Her health will depend on the easy access of treatment not on the quality of physician. The plethora of limitations characterizing a impoverished woman’s life makes one wonder if she is at all being seen an a person. Or whether she is a punching bag personified, being jabbed repeatedly with norms, tradition and regulations. Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state of India, is also characterized with a sex ratio (of 912 women per thousand men) lower than the national average of 943, according to 2011 census. While the national average, to begin with, is not something to be proud of, but an even dismal figure characterizing Uttar Pradesh, in itself speaks volumes about the condition of women in the state.

Within the impoverished regions and lower income groups of the state, there is a great acceptance and submission of women to violence. There exists a conception that a husband beating a wife is a personal matter between the two. People are unable to distinguish between their personal lives and a grave crime like domestic violence. Often women do not confront their husbands because they are inherently trained to respect them and are unable to picture domestic violence as violation of their rights. The objective of upholding a family for the flawlessness associated with the idea of commitment and the absence of preference for alternatives usually suppresses any flickering thought of confronting violence. These notions hinder women’s ability to come out in public even when they detest the violence. But most importantly, this gives husbands and in-laws the confidence to harass and torture women.

Even in cases, where the tolerance for violence ebbs and a decision is made for distancing from the perpetrators, in this case the husband, the outcome may not come without significant repercussions. These repercussions include forced separation from children, misery and destitution due to absence of livelihood options, and often further repression from a second partner. In the case of absence of support from parents and siblings the matters becomes worse. The notion, that the house belongs to the parents and brothers and not the daughters, puts women in an extremely vulnerable position. Even the legal provision in the constitution for Women’s Inheritance Rights which claim equal right of daughters to their parents’ (read fathers’) property is not sufficient in securing these women their integrity when they most need it. Further, apathy from the law enforcing institutions instills a sense of fear in the victimized women and the first steps for legal redress become most appalling.

Education and financial independence prove necessary but not sufficient tools to overcome harassment within families. It is necessary as it help women to meet their daily requirements of food, medicine and education for children. They provide a vital support system whether or not a woman faces violence. However, it is not sufficient as it may still not give women the ability to confront violence. An educated and financially independent woman is as vulnerable to violence as an uneducated woman, as is true in numerous cases. To be able to confront violence, more ground needs to be covered by the concerning institutions, governing organizations and law enforcement systems.

Even with women who have attained some level of education, there are few employment options. While there is a significant increase in the number of girls going to school, the quality is not believed to be adequate to assure a good job. Even graduate girls are married off and usually remain unemployed. The most common employment options are of becoming a tailor or a beautician and the most likely outcome is unemployment and marriage. In the case of violence from the upper class, the option of education and employment for girls becomes elusive. Most girls are sent to school as it is easier to find a better groom for an educated girl. The families are more concerned about cumulating money for dowry that for the education of girls. Even the families with little means are ready to offer whatever they can. Some people consider it a matter of prestige to give dowry.

When it comes to health, there is a preference for private clinics run by unregistered doctors over the government health centers. Government health centers are usually farther away, have long waiting lines and give prescriptions instead of medicine. Poor women, who do not have the means to travel, find it a hassle to travel further for medicines. The private clinics, in contrast, provide medicine immediately and for minor illness, these medicines are suffice and effective on most occasions. However, when these medicines or treatments provided by unregistered doctors don’t work, the repercussions are grave. These include incidences of miscarriage, mishandled abortions and death due to sterilization operations at the hands of unregistered doctors.

When it comes to birth control, women seem to be held more responsible than men. This is further, indicated by the huge targets set by state government for female sterilization operation than vasectomy. Men are usually reluctant to undergo vasectomy. The reasons vary from fear of operation to time lost in regaining health after operation to complications post-operation. There is lack of awareness about the fact that the operation for men is easier compared to that for women. While, the responsibility of birth control is unevenly distributed over the two genders so is the choice of method of birth control. The emphasis is too much on operations and there seems to be little knowledge of contraceptives.

While intensifying efforts on ground will help break misconception, there is an immense need for well research government intervention. Patriarchal notions that violate women require both engagement and legal confrontation wherever necessary. The engagement cannot however, be limited to women. The notions may bear their impact on women but they reside as much in a man’s psyche as they do in women’s psyche. The efforts cannot be successful without the inclusion of men in the process. Likewise the government services like education, employment opportunity, health facilities, law and order can only be improved through intensive engagement with the policy makers. The government too needs to make informed decisions.