Common Phenomenon of Abuse of Women in India

Categories: India CultureWomen

Abuse of women in India has been a commonality throughout the history of India and continues even today. Women experience violence everywhere across the globe in the forms of physical or sexual violence, partner-related or family-related homicide, and very rarely do they seek support, especially from the police. Asia, and its most populous country of India, are home to a great deal of such cases.

​One factor as to why abuse of women in India is so prevalent can be attributed to feelings of superiority and dominance as well as culture.

Such treatments can lead to traumatic psychological and sociological effects for the remainder of the victim’s life. Culture comes into play here as it can give insight to the population of how sexual acts and violence are or are not perceived. In India, marriages and sexual relations with girls who are not yet considered adults are considered acceptable by those who do believe in such actions as well as Khap Panchayats, who are the elders that determine marriageable partners.

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In such cultures, virginity of the woman is highly valued as it retains the importance of the family’s respect.

​Another potential contributing factor can be the female sex ratio in India. Essentially, it affirms that there are more men than women in the measured population. This can be proved to be a problem as greater competition among men can promote jealousy and sexual frustration thus leading men to act out in sexually abusive manners. It can be an attempt of the male population attempting to ascertain their dominance and maintain a level of infamy among their peers while discouraging any possible form of gender equality.

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Women seemingly have their sexuality in control by a male her whole life: first her father and then her husband, further confirming misogynistic attitudes based on a patriarchal foundation in India. It can be said that even cows receive fairer treatment than women.

​By having women’s subservience imbued in Indian culture, any resistance by a woman can appear to be a threat to a man’s masculinity and belief in the Indian way. Such resistance can typically provoke the man to act even more violent and abusive and in hopes of harnessing stronger control of their victim. Expanding on this idea, not only are the stereotypical “attractive, seductive” women victims, all women are in danger, and cases of rape by acquaintances are much more common than those by complete strangers. Based on India’s large acceptance of sexual acts, in opposition to the lack thereof in the Western world, men there may have an inherent bias to perceive sexual interests that may not actually be present. Another potential argument is the idea that such abusive cases can be results of a man’s “natural” urges based on evolutionary factors encouraging successful reproduction.

​With India being a largely sociocentric society, victims are not usually bound to open and discuss or report their trauma given the prevalence of shame in the culture. Fundamentally, the identities of individuals are combined into that of the family thus leading way to greater feelings of guilt and shame socially. This makes the role of the woman to be a partner in marriage for the unity of two families, as well as becoming a mother. The dignity, honor, and respect of the family is prioritized and encourages victims to stay silent on the topic of their trauma. To make matters worse, it is highly likely that said victims be blamed for the violence acted upon them. (Kalra, Bhugra)

​It can be said that such gender role differences start from childbirth in India. After marriage, women are expected to give birth to children right away, particularly to males. An inability to birth male children due to infertility or lack of luck can increase the risk of experience domestic violence. An increase in abortions of unborn female children has been realized. The husband and his family can even evict the woman and may inflict physical abuse of their own on her prior to sending her back to her family.

​There are many reasons why domestic violence of women has been growing in India usually spurring from the abuser’s demand to maintain power and control. More than the gender roles, patriarchal standards, societal acceptances, and preferences can contribute to such behavior. Based on the Duluth Power and Control Wheel with a focus in India, we can see what different tactics are used by the abusers to keep their victim entrapped. Such actions include using economic abuse to prevent a woman from working a job so she will be required to ask for money. She would have no idea nor access of the family income and she may even have her own money taken from her. Male privilege can be used to maintain superiority by making all big decisions, defining the roles played, and treating the woman like a servant. Coercion and threats involve making the woman grow fearful from making or carrying out of threats to hurt her, leave her, or commit suicide. This may be done to encourage her to drop any charges she may file or make her do something illegal. Intimidation through looks, gestures, and actions like destroying her possessions, flashing weapons, or being destructive also increases fear. Using emotional abuse involves name calling, manipulation, guilt-tripping, or making her feel bad about herself overall to put her down. Through isolating her in who/what/when/where/why/how she does, says, sees, reads, goes limits her involvement. Men may minimize the abuse by disregarding her concerns, deny it even actually happened, or blame the woman for the cause of it all. The children can be used to as a threat if they are taken away or having them relay messages.

​Many women were interviewed for such results and to participate in this study they had to sign consent forms and children were surely not to be exposed. Through the interviews, data was analyzed through reading, interpretation, and coding to develop themes and measure their frequencies. The average age of the women interviewed was about 31 years old, with a mix of those who were married, separated, and widowed. Most worked, while some were unemployed and one retired, but they did not make as much as their partners nor was their average level of educational achievement greater than high school. A quote from a woman regarding her husband includes: “I said [to my husband], “Why did you lie to me?” That girl [with whom husband had an affair] told me all… So, from that day on, he thrashes me every day; he made living difficult for me… He would start fighting right in the morning and fight ’til it was time to sleep at night. He stopped any physical relation with me. (Sita)”. Another woman regarding abuse by her in-laws goes as: “When I used to cook food, my mother-in-law would say, “Something is pungent. Use less salt on that. She would call me names and assault me. And when [my] husband had gone out, [my] brother-in-law used to come running at me to beat me. [My] mother-in-law also used to beat me. (Anna)”.

​It is truly unfortunate the way women in India are treated, not only by their intimate partners but even by their in-laws too. A lot of these situations are predicated on hardships incurred by low income and arranged marriages sought to strengthen both families involved rather than the idea of two people falling in love. Although women can go back to their own families and there are community organizations available to pressure men to stop their abuse, women are largely expected to endure and live in silence. Not wishing to bring shame to the families and having a lack of social and financial support forces dependence on such men and continues the cycle of entrapment. (Bhandari, Hughes)

​Abuse of women in India has gone on for generations thus establishing its credibility as a norm in society and culture especially since it would be odd for a woman to be independent and live a lifestyle other than a housewife. Famous Indian texts such as Manusmriti, otherwise known as Manu’s code, has been written and passed down exclaiming the female obligation to be subservient to males throughout their lives. As mentioned previously, first to their fathers when they are children, then to their husbands as adults, and finally to their sons once elderly. One of the most notorious actions proving woman’s commitment to her husband is sati, which has been declared illegal by the Indian government although some cases do still occur. Sati was very common in the past and can be described as setting fire to one’s self while burning the corpse of the husband simultaneously. Together they are burned in fire.

​At the individual level, there may be links as to why men abuse their woman based on their own childhood experiences of witnessing abuse by their father inflicted upon their mother. Studies have been conducted to estimate the popularity of family violence during men’s childhoods, to determine if men from such abusive households were more likely to have similar controlling attitudes and physically or sexually abusive tendencies in comparison to their counterparts having grown up in peaceful households, and how abuse could have been prevented if such parent-to-parent abuse was not witnessed growing up. Such studies involved asking whether men have heard or seen their mothers abuse their fathers, their fathers abuse their mothers, mutual abuse, or no such violence in their families. It also asked whether these men have physically hurt their wives, whether they have engaged in sexual acts with their wives even though they were not willing, and if they have ever physically forced their wives to have sex. Questions regarding their thoughts on the level of control they deemed agreeable such as whether beatings should be used, disobedience consequences, instructions, etc. were asked.

​The most common analysis among these men was that some form of parent-to-parent violence did exist as they were growing up, typically being more common among those of lower socioeconomic status and lower education levels and on the younger side. Some of these men themselves may have been abused as children from their own abusive parents. Witnessing and experiencing such actions, these men typically seemed to have more drastic levels of control opposed to the men growing up in non-abusive families. Certain variables could have affected this study though. Many men may underreport the severity of abuse dealt, inability to recall childhood events correctly, or even being able to recall their own abusive behaviors correctly attributed to emotional outrage. All the men surveyed were currently married and living with their wives thus disregarding the men whose wives have left them or the men with wives who have died from their hand although divorce and separation hardly occur in India. Also, forms of abuse such economic, emotional, and others such as those mentions previously were not focused on.

Violence prevention and intervention strategies are possible yet unlikely in India. It would require advocates of women’s rights, legal professionals, health care professionals, researchers and more. Given the level of how ingrained violence is within the Indian society, it likely would not be possible to arrest and punish each abuser. Although there are some laws set to prevent domestic violence currently, women are still largely prevented from being able to successfully escape their situation and bring down justice. A solution could be public education efforts to change societies’ accepted ideas about such violence. Another could be governmental involvement in helping to establish these public initiatives, including the possibility of health care institutions promoting healthy relationships, conflict resolution, and gender equality. (Martin)

Domestic violence laws put in place include the Anti-Cruelty statute, Section 498A focusing on dowry. Any man or any his siblings who are found responsible for encouraging or driving a woman to commit suicide, causing grave injury, or harassment when demanding dowry. This statute makes physical and mental cruelty against women a crime. However, the major downside to this was that police may disregard the situation if there was no demand of dowry. Women could legitimately be abused, yet without such a demand, there circumstance would be overlooked based on the specifics of the statute.

Another statute, known as the Anti-Dowry statute, section 304B focuses on the death of a woman within seven years of her marriage to her husband. If she faced cruelty or was harassed and there was demand of dowry prior to her death, the husband would be made a criminal. Similarly, faulty to the statute above, women would not be saved from their domestic violence unless dowry would be involved. Most abusers would not be criminalized due to this loophole.

However, women’s rights group went to work and began working on developing and passing a statute for domestic violence issues without regard for dowry demands. Unfortunately, passing through government brought about changes to the original form of this statute and disagreements were brought up on both sides. Finally, they were able to define domestic violence as conduct that “harms or injures or endangers the health, safety, life, limb, or well-being, whether mental or physical, of the aggrieved person or tends to do so and includes causing physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal and emotional abuse, and economic abuse.” It focuses on the protection of women’s right, not to be mistaken for the protection of women who have become domestic violence victims over time.

Unfortunately, there has been concern regarding the broadness of economic abuse women may undergo. Now, being deprived of economic and financial resources would be classified as abuse, but it became seemingly difficult to determine which resources women are entitled to by law. According to domestic law, women cannot be denied employment outside of their home by their husbands nor can husband’s take control over their finances. In this way, women maintain the right to earn a livelihood on their own making use of their right to life and liberty. In regard to international law, India has embodied the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights both supporting: “[A]ny distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.” Ultimately, India managed to improve equality and fairness for women through law, hopefully moving forward to dismantle the dominance of such a well-established patriarchy, firstly by ensuring protections and preventions and punishments of domestic violence. (Vyas)

​Given the history of domestic violence in India and how changes have come about, there are still believed to be very low rates of reporting of domestic violence in India. Being a largely underdeveloped country, domestic violence is one of the most common crimes occurring in India especially given demands for dowry and so women do not feel too comfortable sharing their experiences. Aside from this being a largely accepted social norm, women lack the proper awareness and education of their own rights and protections due to their low levels of education and self-sufficiency. They may not be aware of institutions in which they can report their domestic violence cases, or they may not know how to go about such a process. Even court visits can be delayed for years at a time.

​Now many women can face certain factors that can influence why they may or may not report their situations. Women may experience bits and pieces of domestic violence assuming it is not something they should worry about yet. Unfortunately, experiencing emotional abuse and not reporting it may just be leading women down a rabbit hole. When experiencing more severe forms of abuse, they become used to it and still will not go about making necessary reports. Fearing for their lives, the want to survive in any which they can so disregard the possible social stigmas and avoid the risks of reporting their abusers. Expanding on this point, husbands who drink alcohol bring greater fear to women who believe that making such reports would bring about even worse treatment through greater violence. (Bajwa, Foreman, Sall)

​To summarize the above information, women in India throughout history and as of recent are experiencing detrimental forms of abuse and more awareness is required on this topic. Many factors have allowed such treatments to occur and stay but hopefully changes will be brought about to influence the right actions to be made. Whether it be encouragement of reporting of such crimes to increase arrests and prosecutions or a lower number of cases occurring through decreasing acceptance of domestic violence as a norm. Over time more data can be collected and analyzed, and efforts can be made to influence both men and women of India to make better judgement and actions. Regardless of time and expenses, policies and interventions can be put in place to provide better insight and resources.

Cite this page

Common Phenomenon of Abuse of Women in India. (2022, Jan 03). Retrieved from

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