Invisible Evils: Catacombs of Empowerment

By | February 16, 2021
Invisible Evils: Catacombs of Empowerment

Our society is marred by evils but more so by the invisible evils; evolving as catacombs of empowerment, suppressing every voice that exists to realise it. This article essentially swims through that shadowed world, where light doesn’t reach by focussing on two such invisible evils namely domestic violence and female foeticide.

The essay has essentially six parts where the first and last deal with the very context and its implication, second bashes the misconception of two worlds getting created with an imaginary veil in between, developed and not, the third studies the laws that are present regarding the both, fourth and fifth parts try to find where we lack and what could be done. The crux of the paper is that development is not equal to empowerment and that even in urban areas, real empowerment is a myth.

Keywords: Domestic Violence, Female Foeticide, unreported, crime, violence.

I. Introduction

Apparently, science has taken a leap from biggest of machines to a single chip, but I would still say that we live in a world where women’s life is as miserable as it could have ever been. We as a society or well-wishers of society live in a very misleading stagnant mentality that women’s development only would lead to the empowerment of women, but the truth is, that is where we all go wrong.

The simplest example would be, teach a bird how to fly and how to use its wings but keep it inside a cage for eternity. This exactly describes how women are right now. Developed but not empowered, and perhaps not the only reason why women empowerment is a myth, but a myth it is, considering the recent circumstances of our Incredible India where women are worshipped in the form of goddesses but then suppressed when it comes to a real living being.

While it would be so wrong saying that they are a weak gender, it would be a lie to tell that they show their strength every time they could, because apparently the society we stay in, still doesn’t accept women who are loud, who talk back, who achieve success in professions dominated by male, and are always considered weak for their physical built. But here is the pun, their own families tell them that women have to be strong and adjust in every situation that comes up. Adjust, and not speak up. There, at that point only, empowerment becomes redundant. Because no law and no legislation could empower a girl to fight her own family and still keep harmony intact and alive. ‘She’ always chooses to sacrifice her own dreams and adjust, so that she can fulfil the needs of her family.

We praise our mothers for being as giving as ever and then speak of empowerment, or is it so that empowerment is measured through ages? No. When ascertaining good match for marriage, elders tend to exclaim Ram Sita ki jodi’, but now we live in a society that expects a girl to be Sita while Ram is as rare as the ‘flower of patience’.

Our history has seen many notable women like Aruni, Gargi and Maitreyi, but the present is known for educated and working women who are praised for their works outside and tortured like anything in their houses. And they have to suppress every feeling of breaking out because they will be judged once they step out of their families and consequently, their profession too will be shattered.

So a vicious triangle decides their life, be strong and keep gulping down every wrong inside the family to go outside with a bright face and help the needy. Also what is worse, that most of the times women put women down, the best example being, a mother telling her daughter to not fight for her right and the mother-in-law slamming daughter-in-law every chance she gets. This ritual needs to stop from the roots, from the families, if women empowerment ever has to be realized. But then, we cannot say that nothing has been done by them to achieve this.

II. The Two Worlds

India being a country of diversities takes pride in all its differences but this also means no strategic streamline as to what is “empowerment” in the context of one and all. Hence it can be said that wherein one case an educated woman could be made to always stay subordinate, in another case an illiterate woman could stay free, independent and empowered. While men are praised when they do an act of kindness, women are taken for granted for it; whereas kindness should be a virtue of all human-kind.

Clearly, patriarchy is deep-rooted and has such a strong grip that a woman who tends to oblige only is accepted as she is more probable to ‘fit in’. When we keep Indian women as a topic of discussion, we talk of education, health, employment, representation and inclusion in the political process, economic participation, laws and their implementation, all of which are important of-course but the streak shouldn’t stop there.

If we are starting from the end, then we should reach the start and fix it too. This is the reason why we think we have created only two imaginary worlds for women: 

  1. Where they are developed in the forerunning factors as mentioned above and
  2. Where they know they cannot develop. But there is a union of these two too, that stays in the dark because apparently the victims themselves don’t want it out, and think that there is no point in struggling.

One of these unspeakable crimes is Domestic Violence that still remains the least reported in educated households because the victim women choose to stay silent instead, that isn’t leading to the whole struggle to empower women anywhere at all. The existence of dowry and the role it plays in the abuse of women adds an additional complexity to domestic violence in India.[1]

In a study conducted by INCLEN[2] between 1997-1999 at seven places: Bhopal, Chennai, Delhi, Lucknow, Nagpur, Thiruvanthapuram, and Vellore, a sample of 9,938 households from three strata – rural, urban slum, and urban non-slum were taken to ensure representation from every class. Results were as astonishing as ever.

Overall, about 50 per cent of women reported experiencing at least one of the behaviours outlined above at least once in their married life; 43.5 per cent reported at least one psychologically abusive behaviour and 40.3 per cent reported experiencing at least one form of violent physical behaviour. The reporting of any violence was highest by rural women followed by women in urban slum areas. Similar proportions of women (approximately 45-50 per cent) in rural and urban slum areas reported physical violence. Significantly fewer urban non-slum women reported either psychological or physical violence than rural or urban slum women.[3]

Clearly, repute is taking over rights, which is disheartening because right and repute should go hand in hand. The urban crime statistics for the year 2019 as given in a newspaper[4] after weighing crimes according to their intensities and nature states that Delhi tops the list of violent crime against women, also the same in Bengaluru is as high as in Delhi! Thus, going by overall crime rate that combines heinous crimes as well as petty offences, Delhi always stands out as the country’s crime capital while cities in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh where many crimes are underreported appear safe.[5]

A study mentioned ‘The state of Bihar, one of the least developed in India, with comparatively low levels of female literacy and autonomy (Jejeebhoy & Santhya, 2018), has the country’s highest rate of DV: 59 per cent of ever-married women are estimated to have experienced domestic abuse (Chaudhary, 2013; Chachra, 2017; “Bihar,” 2008).

Much of this information comes from a national health survey as well as statistics on dowry-related deaths, as many women do not utilize official reporting systems (such as contacting the local police) and do not feel comfortable disclosing their DV experiences to members of their community (Krishnan, 2017).[6]

‘Women makeup 48% of the Indian population but have not benefitted equally from India’s rapid economic growth. Female child mortality is still a grave concern, with over 239,000 girls under the age of 5 dying each year. India has amongst the lowest female labour force participation rates in the world. Less than a third of women – 15 years or older – are working or actively looking for a job.’[7] This is the current scenario after centuries of struggle that had to start with the falling of ancient age (2000BC to 500 BC)[8].

Notwithstanding, later (roughly 500 B.C.), the status of women started to decay with the Smritis (esp. Manusmriti) and with the Islamic intrusion of Babur and the Mughal realm and later Christianity reducing women’s opportunity and rights. Although reformatory movements, for example, Jainism enabled women to be admitted to the religious request, all things considered, the women in India confronted confinement and limitations. The act of child marriage has believed to be accepted and have begun from around 6th century.[9]

Medieval age witnessed the falling status of women to various social evils like ‘sati pratha’, ‘purdah’, etc. but also gave birth to many valiant women who fought not only for themselves rather for this great nation they lived in, Razia Sultana, Rani Durgavati, Nur Jehan, Chand Bibi, Jija Bai were among the notable names in the period. Later with the coming of British East-India Company, the nation saw valour in, Rani Lakshmibai, and her allies.

The pre-Independence era saw elites of social change like Dr Anne Besant, Savitri Bai Phule, sister Nivedita, etc. among others to Mrs Indira Gandhi, Sucheta Kripalani, Sarojini Naidu, Vijayalaxmi Pandit and many more after Independence.

Recently, too Indian women have not left any area of expertise unconquered, sports, writing, singing, acting, every single field has our women in very respectable positions, but even after all these, women are always expected to be the lower strata of gender.

No matter how vague it seems, reality has it, and the most disheartening part is only this, while professionally they have conquered everything, mentally they still are trained to be submissive, and what shadows all gleams is the fact that some girls die before coming out to see light (Female Foeticide) as India accounts for 45.8 million of the World’s 142.6 million ‘missing females’ over the past 50 years[10].

  • While there are many horrible crimes against women ranging from Rape to Dowry torture and murder to what not, Domestic Violence and Female Foeticide go majorly unreported unlike the others because in the first case, victims mostly are either unaware or choose to remain silent, while in the later case, the victim has no existence if no one takes a stand.

III. Related Legislations

A. Against Domestic Violence

Every third woman in India, since the age of fifteen faces domestic violence of some form also  31% of married women have faced physical, sexual, or emotional violence by their spouses. The major issue is that out of these hardly 10% actually reported this violence.[11] There are apparently three laws in India that directly deal with Domestic Violence, and these are:

  1. The Protection of Women From Domestic Violence Act, 2005
  2. The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961.
  3. Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.

1. The Protection of Women From Domestic Violence Act, 2005

The act is ‘to provide for more effective protection of the rights of women guaranteed under the Constitution who are victims of violence of any kind occurring within the family and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto’[12]. Hence, the act was an effort to protect women from domestic violence. Supreme Court of India discussed its scope in the case of Indra Sarma v. V.K.V Sarma[13] wherein it was stated that the DV Act is enacted to provide a remedy in Civil law for the protection of women, from being victims of such relationship and to prevent the occurrence of domestic violence in the society. [14]

2. The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961

This Act deals with the issues related to dowry[15] and its related offences in general and in a way also address the domestic violence, e.g. section 4.[16]

3. Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860

This section is considered the most substantive criminal law when it comes to addressing cruelties against women and fundamentally, married women.[17] The term ‘cruelty’ has been interpreted by the courts in various cases, to include both physical and mental torture like Inder Raj Malik v. Sunita Malik[18], Bhaskar Lal Sharma v. Monica 17(2009), Arnesh Kumar v. State of Bihar[19], etc.    

B. Against Female Foeticide

Female Foeticide is rampant across our country mainly for two broad reasons: firstly the preference culture and secondly the financial burden, because of the deep-rooted notion that a male child is an asset and the female child is a liability. Earlier in 1980s sex determination technologies in India were easily accessible to the common people that made it easier to determine the sex of the foetus and ultimately remove it if found to be a girl.

To fight the evil system the Government passed an Act in 1994 that due to various reasons and simultaneous amendments became ‘Pre-Conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) (PCPNDT) Act’ in 2004 to prevent and punish the acts of pre-natal sex determination and female foeticide.

IV. Where do we Lack?

There exist three degrees of gender-based violence:

  1. Primary; relates to violence within home or family,
  2. Secondary; relates to community-level violence ranging from Physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring within the general community including battery, rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment and intimidation in school or work, forced treatments and abusive medication, the exploitation and commercialization of women’s bodies which is related to increased poverty that is mainly a result of unbridled economic liberalism[20], and
  3. Tertiary that involves the violence perpetrated by the state.

Despite legislations, these acts of primary and tertiary degrees are un/ under-reported, because of:

  1. Lack of Awareness in some places (mostly rural)
  2. Lack of trust in police, authorities, etc. and legal mechanisms (general)
  3. Everlasting and non-ending litigation (in case of poor)
  4. Fear of loss of status and repute ( problem of the affluents, mostly) and most importantly,
  5. Mentality that is instilled at the very young age.

V. What can be done?

Apart from spreading awareness and better implementation of the laws, what can be done are as follows:

  1. Imparting the feeling of equal importance, what’s wrong and what is right, from the very young age in schools as a curriculum in an interactive and practical way so that children could actually understand the problem.
  2. Basic legal awareness in schools as a co-curricular activity on days of observance in form of competitions or plays, etc.
  3. Confidence boosting sessions at every block and district weekly or monthly for women of every section.
  4. Regular and surprise visits into homes of pupils by school teachers in village areas keeping their privacy in mind.
  5. Street shows, movies like Thappad and similar TV shows should be encouraged and used as a way to make the general public aware.
  6. Secret clubs by authorities that keep a check on clinics where ultrasounds are carried out should also be prioritized.
  7. Complaining should be made easy through the internet or a common phone number and should be distributed and updated every year.

VI. Conclusion

“In the event that you don’t raise the lady who is, however, the living encapsulation of the Divine Mother, don’t think that there is some other path for the country to rise,”

said the immense socio-religious progressive saint Swami Vivekananda, and true to his words, India is still developing, for decades. The sooner we realize how important the dignity of a human being, including that of a woman, is, the sooner all miseries of the society shall end. For that, we need to see what lies right below our nose and still escaping our sight and light because a voice needs light as well.


The author, Arunima Pati is Second Runner’s Up of 5th National Essay Writing Competition on Nation and Nationalism 2021.


[1] International Clinical Epidemiologists Network (INCLEN), International Center for Research on Women and The Centre for Development and Population Activities, Domestic Violence in India: A Summary Report of a Multi-Site Household Survey, 2000.

[2] International Clinical Epidemiologists Network (INCLEN), under IndiaSAFE project.

[3] Supra 2.

[4] The Sunday Times, 8 December 2019.

[5] KD Gaur, Textbook on Indian Penal Code, Seventh Edition, 2020.

[6] Portia Bajwa, Kelsey Foreman and Charlotte Sall, Exploring the Low rates of Reporting Domestic Violence in Bihar, India, accessible at: https://ssa.uchicago.edu/domestic-violence-india.

[7] The World Bank Feature Story, Working for Women in India, published on 8th March 2019, available at https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2019/03/08/working-for-women-in-india, accessed on 4th Feb 2021.

[8] P. Abishek,  Gayathri. J, A CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF STATUS OF WOMEN IN INDIA, International Journal of     Pure and Applied Mathematics Volume 120 No. 5 2018, 4853-4874 ISSN: 1314-3395, accessible at https://docplayer.net/111175240-A-critical-analysis-of-status-of-women-in-india.html

[9] Supra 8.

[10] The State of World Population 2020 report, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), 30th June 2020, available at http://m.economictimes.com/news/politics-and-nationa/india-accounts-for-45-8-million-of-the-worlds-missing-females-un-report/articleshow/76705756.cms  accessed on 4th February 2021.

[11] The National Family Health Survey (NHFS-4) report, Union Health Ministry, accessible at http://rchiips.org/NFHS4/India.pdf.

[12] Objective of Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act,2005

[13] (2013)15 SCC 755. [14] SCC BLOG, Law on Domestic Violence (Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005) accessible at https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.scconline.com/blog/post/2020/07/27/law-on-domestic-violence-protection-of-women-from-domestic-violence-act-2005/amp/

[15] An illegal system of fulfilling the demands of the in-laws of daughter by giving money, property or gold, etc.

[16] Penalty for demanding dowry.

[17] Supra 14.

[18] (1986)Cr LJ 1510, Delhi High Court.

[19] (2014) 8 SCC 273:AIR 2014 SC 2756.

[20]Bhartiya Stree Shakti, Tackling Violence Against Women:  A Study of State Intervention Measures (A comparative study of the impact of new laws, crime rate and reporting rate, Change in awareness level), Funded by Ministry of Women and Child Development,  Government of India, New Delhi, March 2017, https://www.wbhealth.gov.in/uploaded_files/PNDT/IMPLEMENTATION%20%OF%20THE%20PCPNDT%20ACT%20IN%20INDIA.pdf


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