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Inside four walls

A lot of crime in the capital takes place behind closed doors, as women are subjected to domestic violence, very often due to dowry demands. It’s when a wife loses her life that such atrocities come out in the open

A high-profile case in July put the focus back on domestic abuse and dowry-related crime. The case gained prominence because it involved a couple seemingly perfectly matched. The woman, an air hostess in Lufthansa, the spouse, an investment banker, who lived in south Delhi’s Panchsheel Park. All of the indicators pointed towards the good life. If anyone thought so, that’s where people’s understanding of domestic abuse is skewed.

Domestic violence is not something confined to the slums, where the husband comes home after a hard day of labour to his one-room hutment, where his wife and kids await. This story reminds us that domestic abuse is a problem and can be of all families, with entrenched patriarchy, and a culture which has for too long backed this kind of practice.

The case of 39-year-old Anissia Batra, has now been shifted to the Crime Branch. She allegedly jumped off from the terrace of her residence following an argument with her husband Mayank Singhvi. But it was not this one argument. It had been a marriage of abuse, which started just two days into the honeymoon, when they went to Dubai.

Anissia was reportedly tortured for dowry, despite her parents — her father, a retired major general in the Army — having already given Singhvi a BMW.

Days before her alleged suicide, her father, RS Batra had filed a complaint with the police, alleging his daughter was being tortured by her husband and in-laws.

An FIR was lodged after the death with Hauz Khas police station under IPC section 340 B (dowry death).

Figures provided by Delhi Police show that dowry-related cases are not decreasing but increased as society supposedly develops a more modern outlook. While cases under the Dowry Prohibition Act were at eight up to July 15 in 2017, they have come up to 13 in 2018.

Furthermore, and shockingly so, dowry deaths under section 304B were at 71 in 2017 till July 15, and this year already stand at 86.

A police officer speaking to Patriot wanted to highlight that this did not mean more occurrences, but simply more reporting.
Haus Khas police station this year has received four dowry-related cases till date. The one before this was in June of a woman complaining of being tortured physically and mentally by her husband, father-in-law, mother-in-law and sister in-law. The case before this, in April, saw the wife accuse her husband of drinking and beating her up, burning her with cigarettes and demanding dowry, which went on nine years into the marriage.

This last example brings to us the stark reality of domestic violence that may not even be dowry related. An inspector at the station tells us that they receive two complaints almost on a daily basis. Yet most of them don’t become a case, as the women don’t file an FIR; they rather want the husband to be warned and then let off.

The inspector puts this down to the woman wanting to save her marriage: “They want it to last no matter what.” But the inspector adds that a physical abuser hardly ever gives up his ways. Yet if the woman doesn’t want to pursue it, the police just have to verbally sort out a dispute.

Ruchika Jain, who works with the Family Counselling Centre at Mongolpuri, points to alcoholism as the number one reason why people become abusive — she says at least 80% of the cases that come to them stem from this. She encounters cases very frequently: mostly they end up counselling the family and sending the husband to Ram Manhohar Lohia Hospital or Safdarjung Hospital to get counselling and medication for the drug or alcohol addiction. She says that there is a dearth of rehabilitation centres for such men.

Many a times, Jain says, women come in fear of what their husbands may do if they found out about a complaint. “They don’t want the husband to get to know. So, we have to make them understand that without the complaint being brought to his notice, how can he be expected to change?” They provide the women with some confidence, sharing knowledge of the laws in place that can help her if the need arises.

“Instead of breaking the marriage we want to counsel them”, she adds, echoing the sentiment expressed by the police. But she adds that if the girl wants and seeks legal help for a separation or divorce, then they go ahead with the necessary steps.

Delhi Commission for Women Chief Swati Maliwal tells Patriot that while the major reason for domestic abuse prevailing in our society is patriarchy, she highlights three reasons for why it can still thrive. One, that domestic abuse has been normalised; second, when someone does raise their voice there are no repercussions faced by the person meting out the abuse – much like what the police told us, about the telling off they give. And third, the economic issue, that women are not independent and the court are not able to provide them proper maintenance under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.

This is not to say, however, that well-to-do working women are not facing the exact same issues. Maliwal adds, “I have met CEOs of companies who have told me that they have been abused by the spouse, or their husbands have cheated on them” but they don’t take any action. And why is that? “Because of societal conditioning of the woman in this manner”, that it is normal to be abused. This is why she wants girls to be taught in schools that abuse is not normal and they would raise their voice when it happens. Women who stand up and speak with courage on abuse still don’t get justice, this Maliwal says needs to change. She adds that the slow conviction rate adds to women’s anxieties about filing a case. “It takes years for cases to proceed”, says Maliwal, adding that the system is designed “to scare the women”.

The need for speedier hearings and justice, she adds, would only serve as a beacon of hope for other women, to be able to seek relief. Right now, the outlook by men is “Kuchh bhi karlo, kuchh nahi hoga”.

Our country has seen the deeply entrenched dowry system, which seems to have very deep roots in our soil. Despite its abolishment in 1961, the highly unjustifiable custom continues to wreck women’s lives. It has led to countless deaths, and constant torture. It is safe to say that even as they go about their daily routine, many women face taunts, fists and even death.

Proof that the dowry system is so deeply ingrained comes from a father of three daughters. He tells us about his experience while trying to find a spouse for his youngest daughter. “They want a fair, beautiful wife, with good morals, who’ll look after the family, know all the household work, and also earn at least S5 lakhs per annum. They don’t see how ugly their son is, how he earns just S3 lakhs, and doesn’t even make a cup of tea”.

While he says this with a laugh, one can see how disturbed he feels on encountering such men and families. “They’ll also want hard cash after the alliance is about to be clinched. I don’t know when this society will change. They want us to buy their son,” he laments.