A few days after the December 2013 Delhi gang rape, between Christmas and New Year's eve, a video-journalist based in Chennai witnessed a shocking incident while returning home from a late night shoot.
Right in the heart of the city, a young man was beating up a woman who seemed to be his girlfriend. It was't just a slap or two, it was brutal violence. The guy, seemingly from a rich family, drop-kicked the girl several times, punched her face repeatedly and abused her and her mother, threatening more violence. All this, while the driver of his sleek sedan, which was parked on the road, watched in silence after he tried to stop his boss from inflicting violence, but was pushed away with a threat.
The journalist, who was returning home after having a few drinks, asked the driver of his cab to stop and shot the incident. He did not want to intervene then since he had been drinking, and thought he could add to the problem. Soon, other friends of the couple emerged and the girl was taken away.
The video-journalist was too shocked to just leave it at that. He gave the video to another journalist the next day. That journalist, along with another reporter and an activist, set out to trace the couple through the video.
After a long search, they were successful in tracing the families of both the boy and the girl.
What surprised the trio however was that the boy's family were shocked to know that their son could do anything like this. "I am ashamed you were born to me," the mother told the son, in utter disbelief. The son was meanwhile crying in fear, blaming the violence on alcohol and diet.
The girl's family on the other hand wanted the issue buried. They were angry and unhappy, but wanted this behind them.
Surprisingly, the girl who was beaten up asked the trio, "What is your problem? This is a personal issue."
Recalling the encounter with the young man’s family today, the journalist who recorded the incident says he can’t help but wonder whether the family would have believed him, if he did not have the video. They seemed to be from educated, privileged families which have a tendency to think "my son" is not capable of being violent. The attitude of the girl’s family is an indication of our attitude towards violence in general: We want incidents of violence buried under the carpet of the "personal issue", and live in a state of denial.
A report published by the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) however, shows that such incidents are far too common. More disturbingly, that it’s a short road from physical violence to sexual violence – half of all men who admitted to physical force against an intimate partner, also admitted to sexual violence.
The survey was conducted in five countries including Chile, Croatia, India, Mexico and Rwanda. In India, Delhi and Vijayawada were chosen as sites for the survey.
"Nearly one quarter of respondents in India report perpetrating sexual violence at some point, the vast majority against an intimate partner (wife or girlfriend)," the study stated.
Of the Indian men surveyed, 37 percent said that they had phsyically hurt their partner, and nearly half of these (18 percent), admitted to both physical and sexual violence against intimate partners.
Screenshot from report
Kavita Krishnan, womens’ rights activist and All-India Progressive Women’s Association secretary, says that "violence and discrimination are built into the very structure on which families" in the country are based on. She added that women don't just face violence and discrimination from their families but the society as a whole.
Some of "risk factors for men’s perpetration of sexual violence" in India, as stated in the report, include sexual aggression as youth, influence of alcohol, having children, engaging in physical violence against an intimate partner and witnessing violence between parents.
"In India, husbands and fathers are more likely to report sexual violence than men not in union or without children. Being employed and having more than a primary education are also associated with sexual violence perpetration in the India study sites," the report states.
According to the report, certain circumstances that children are exposed to often contribute to whether they will become sexually violent later in life. Among Indian men, 34% of those who were sexually abused in childhood and 36.8% of those who said were neglected during childhood said that they perpetrated sexual violence. The report also says that men who paid for sex were likely to indulge in more sexual violence.
Madhu Bhushan, a women's rights activist, feels that we as a society have become more violent today.
"Family is not a safe place for women because of the patriarchal set-up that we follow. But the society today has also become more aggressive, competitive and greed-driven. And families are prescribing to such values," she says.
"The factor of alcoholism, which can affect anyone, becomes an easy alibi. It is just a symptom of a larger issue," she adds.