Flavia couldn't believe it. Her eldest son, Vikram had lost his slipper and as a punishment, her husband had pushed Vikram and his two sisters out of the house. Two hours later, when Flavia opened the door to let the children in, her husband beat her senseless with a ladle.
As the horrified children screamed, “Mummy's dead'' their father threw a bucket of water on Flavia's face. It wan then, Flavia says, that she confronted the reality of her problem. The reason she gave herself – that she should put up with such periodic beatings for the children's sake – no longer served. Now, even the children were not safe. Wife-beating, so alien to our image of non-violence and respect for womanhood, is emerging as one of our least recognized and most appalling social problems.
Between January and December 1988 the bombay police registered about 240 cases of violence against women by their busbands. “It's sad but true'' admitted Ashutosh Dharmadhikari who formerly worked at the special cell for women and children located at the Bombay police headquarters, “that thousands of similar cases are never reported'' Instead of being a private problem, wife-beating is also becoming a matter of public concern.
Women who leave their homes, as Flavia had to, turn for support to already overburdened assistance programmes. Men who have committed assualt are so rarely reprimanded by the police and the courts that they are free to batter again and again. Children from these homes, unless they receive counselling, often become violent when they grow up or become ready victims.
Revealing Report :-
No one paid much attention to battered women until the early 1950's, when the then Saurashtra State appointed a committee under assembly speaker Pushpaben Mehta to study the high suicide rates among local women. Wife-beating and exorbitant dowry demands were found to be the two major reasons driving women to kill themselves.
Manu Subedar, a Bombay banker who happened to read the report, was aghast at its findings. He opened Bapnu Ghar, India's first shelter for harassed women in 1953 and after three years handed over its management to the State Women's Council. Today, about 40 similar centres for women have sprung up all over the country, mainly in big cities.
Bombay has three shelters which can accommodate about 230 women. In most cases, both partners are legally entitled to the family residence, unless divorce proceedings are under way and a court has ruled otherwise. But many a battered woman is scared that talk of divorce may earn her more beatings, ostracism from society and rebukes from her own family. Our cinema often reinforces such beliefs, portraying to make any sacrifice for his happiness. In most families the husband is regarded as a demi-god and few Indian wives dare think of leaving their spouses.
Police often regard husband-wife feuds as “social work'' or “domestic problems'' and not real work. Rarely do they see couples actually fighting and a man can't be arrested simply because someone is afraid of him. When Flavia went to the police station, the officer on duty told her “Your husband is an educated man. He will not be scared by our warnings because he know we can't do much.
“The police are, by and large, apathetic towards wife-beating cases'' says Flavia who has now separated from her husband. “The force consists mostly of men and some of them are themselves wife beaters!'' Laments a woman who was married to a police officer, “I bore the beatings from my husband for the sake of my child, hoping that things would change'' She waited in vain and today the couple is divorced. “Even if a woman files a police complaint against husband'' says social worked Shailaja Mhatre “her relatives try to persuade her to withdraw it in the name of family honour'' Many women themselves withdraw the complaint if their husband promise that they will stop beating them.