Few Social scientists have studied wife-beating in India. But the scanty information that exists suggests that the problem, perhaps the commonest form of violence against women, exists in all sections of our society. And, as in the West, most wife-beaters grow up in homes where they or their mothers were physically abused.
By and large, battered wives get little sympathy in our society. The police normally take action only when the woman is seriously injured. Indeed, so strong is our reverence for marriage that in many cases even the victim's parents are reluctant to let her return to them. There are very few institutions that offers shelter to battered women; a major city like Bombay, for instance, has only three.
Consequently a battered wife has few options other than enduring her husband's cruelty. However, she can get a court injunction preventing the husband from entering the matrimonial home. One type of domestic violence unique to India is where recently married woman's husband and in-laws, frustrated at not getting enough dowry, either actually murder her or harass he so much that she commits suicide.
These are not isolated cases. To combat this evil, several changes in the law have recently been made. Today, if a woman commits suicide within seven years of marriage and if her husband or his relatives has harassed her during this period, the court may presume that they are guilty of abetment to suicide unless they can clearly establish their innocence.
This reverses the normal procedure under criminal las where an acused is presumed innocent until he is proved guilty. Under another amendment, if a woman's husband or in-laws torture her mentally or physically, they can be jailed for up to three years. Typically, husbands blame their wives for the violence. “If only she would change,'' the batterer says. Out of a bottomless need for control, however, he may want an endless list of changes.
Often, society also blames victim, asking “Why does she stay with him?'' The answers differ. Some battered women still love their husbands, at least between beatings. Some try to ignore the violence. “I couldn't believe it was happening to me'' a younger wife says. “When the bruises healed, I'd pretend everything was normal.'' As the beating continue, some women lose self-esteem. “He beat my face to a pulp,'' one wife recalls. “Then he pushed me in front of the mirror. 'Look at yourself!' he shouted. 'Who else would have you?'' Fear makes still other women stay. “If you try to leave'' a husband may threaten, “I'll find you and kill you.'' Many of the worst injuries and deaths happen as women try to get away.