When marriages become hazardous, should women's families keep 'adjusting'?

A few thousand women either kill themselves or are killed for dowry
When marriages become hazardous, should women's families keep 'adjusting'?
When marriages become hazardous, should women's families keep 'adjusting'?
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Marriage and love are more hazardous to the health of women than men in India. Last week, it claimed the life of 25-year-old Prateeksha, after she jumped off Tipu’s Drop near Nandi Hills on the outskirts of Bengaluru. Her family says she was being harassed for dowry by her husband and in-laws, who are now absconding.

One way of looking at women in India, and possibly elsewhere in the world, is that they could be the single largest group of displaced people. The cause of displacement here, are patriarchal cultural norms. While there are exceptions, the rule is that a woman moves to her husband’s house and follows not just their customs and family traditions, but also their house rules, which could be as simple as eating lunch at 3 pm instead of 1 pm or using different spices in cooking, but nonetheless alien to the new entrant in the house.

In more extreme cases, house rules include harassment, verbal and emotional abuse, physical and even sexual abuse.

The National Family Health Survey reveals the diseased nature of many families in India. According to the NHFS-III conducted in 2005-06, 31 percent of married women were physically abused, 10 percent faced “severe domestic abuse” such as burns or assaults with weapons. Another 12 percent of women said they had suffered injuries such as bruises, sprains, dislocation, broken bones or broken teeth, and severe burns.

Had Prateeksha been one of the women surveyed, she may have fallen under the category of 14 percent women who were emotionally abused. Her father told The News Minute that in the last couple of months, the harassment for dowry had increased.

In many cases, the violence could be public knowledge, where concerned neighbours often try to intervene, but little comes of it because whatever happens between a married woman and her in-laws is often brushed under the carpet because it is a “personal matter”.

For many women, marriage means emotional, physical, sexual abuse combined with demands for dowry. Prateeksha lived with such misery for close to four years. After her death, based on her father’s complaint, police registered a case under Section 498A (cruelty by relatives) and 304B (dowry death) of the IPC.

Marriage and love have proved fatal to far more women than men in India, as the annual reports of the National Crime Records Bureau show.

Cause of suicide Male Female
Marriage related issues 2362 4411
Non-settlement of marriages 490 606
Dowry 39 2222
Extra-marital affairs 227 249
Divorce 150 183
Illegitimate pregnancy NA 56
Love affairs  2441 1727
Total  5709 9454

(Source: Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India, 2014. National Crime Records Bureau) 

In case you did not notice, the figures on dowry in this section relate to suicides. Dowry deaths – under Section 304B of the Indian Penal Code are registered under the Section ‘Crime Against Women’ in the annual Crime In India report of the NCRB. If dowry deaths – all 8,455 of them in 2014 – are added to this, then dowry harassment would have claimed the lives of 10,677 women.

On a related note, the single-biggest crime against women is not rape committed by strangers, as the media hype would lead you to believe, but cruelty by a husband and his relatives. That figure rose from 94,041 in 2010 to 1,22,877 in 2014.

These figures are but a partial glimpse of just how much pain marriage has brought to women who have cruel people for a family. But for many communities, cutting across caste groups and religion, even parents who are supportive of their daughters do not have the courage to end a marriage where a woman is abused and harassed, or even manage to stop it through counselling.  

While the NFHS-III provides some insight into the type and extent of abuse, it also measured attitudes towards domestic violence and emotional abuse. A more or less equal number of women and men thought that it was all right for a man to beat his wife. The survey found that 54 percent of men and 51 percent of women thought men had the right to beat their wives if she did not put enough salt in the food, or disrespected her in-laws, neglected housework or the children.

The dignity and rights of individuals, especially women, are sacrificed at the altar of marriages where caste, economic status, economic arrangements, and so-called good families are considered important. The common refrain even among well-meaning parents of girls when trouble crops up is, “Every marriage has problems. You should adjust.” And they continue to give money to their daughters’ in-laws even if it means indebtedness for themselves.

Just how long should this adjustment continue? Till death do them part?

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