India: Culture of Silence Around Domestic Violence Changing Slowly
Friday, March 30, 2012 11:35 AM

According to the National Health and Family Survey conducted in 2005 - 2006 by the Health Ministry, approximately 40 percent of married women in India experience domestic violence. Of these women, only one in four seek help, primarily from family members rather than the police or social services. Many of these women find that friends and family want to keep the issue quiet due to stigma or fear. Nita Bhalla, a journalist who wrote about being physically assaulted by her partner for the BBC, explained that she had to contend with what she called “the incomprehensible silence of others — family, friends, neighbors and even passers-by — who choose to turn a blind eye.”

In the six years since the Health Ministry data was published, some progress has been made. More women have begun to share their experiences and the courts have begun using the Protection of Women From Domestic Violence Act, which took effect in 2006, to issue protection orders for women threatened by violence. Since the law’s passage attitudes in the police department have begun to change as well. In Delhi, for example, surveys conducted by the Lawyers Collective indicate that the number of police officers who consider domestic violence to be only a family affair is declining. The hope is that changing attitudes and a better understanding on the part of police of what constitutes domestic violence may make it more likely that women will file complaints.

In addition to better police training, activists have suggested that the in-hospital crisis center approach be replicated in hospitals across India. Initiated in Mumbai in 2000 by Dilaasa, an NGO that has been training hospital staff to identify and treat victims of abuse, the approach has been successful in helping survivors in a country where there are very few shelters. Dilaasa’s experience over the past 10 years indicates that women were more likely to share their experience of violence with medical professionals than with the police. Thus, well trained hospital staff are important for ensuring as many women as possible have access to the support services they need.

Compiled from: When Home is No Refuge for Women, The New York Times (27 March 2012).