For Women in India, a Tradition of Violence

By Harris, Gardiner | International Herald Tribune, January 14, 2013 | Go to article overview

For Women in India, a Tradition of Violence


Harris, Gardiner, International Herald Tribune


While a gang rape in India has drawn attention to high rates of violence in the country, rape is just one facet of a phenomenon that leads to the deaths of almost two million women a year.

Harassed for years by her husband and his relatives, an Indian woman ended up being kidnapped, raped, strangled and tossed into a ditch.

For more than a year, the woman's father has tried without success to get the police to arrest those who have been accused of killing her. The accused, who include the woman's husband, have been charged but remain at large.

The father, Subedar Akhileshar Kumar Singh, an army officer, believes that his daughter was killed because her in-laws were not satisfied with her dowry, according to an article published on Thursday in The Indian Express. Such crimes are seemingly routine in India, where researchers estimate that 25,000 to 100,000 women a year are killed over dowry disputes. Many are burned alive in a particularly grisly form of retribution.

While a horrific gang rape in New Delhi has transfixed India and drawn attention to an epidemic of violence in the country, rape is just one facet of a broad range of violence and discrimination that leads to the deaths of almost two million women and girls a year, researchers say. Among the causes are not only sexual violence but also domestic violence, family disputes and female infanticide, as well as infant neglect and poor care of the elderly that affect girls and women far more than boys and men.

Women have made enormous strides in India in recent decades. Their schooling now matches that of men, and they have moved forcefully into many industries, although their rate of participation in the work force is still far less than that of men. Women have also become leaders in Indian politics.

But women throughout India say that their gender makes them vulnerable to attack from a vast and growing sea of unattached and unemployed young men who view women's success as the reason for their failure.

"Women are breaking through and advancing toward greater attainment -- but in a society that continues to be patriarchal, that is increasing tensions," said Dr. K. Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India. "One of the manifestations of that tension is increased violence against women."

In a column in The Hindustan Times, Sagarika Ghose, an author and commentator, wrote, "A profound fear and a deep, almost pathological, hatred of the woman who aspires to be anything more than mother and wife is justified on the grounds of tradition."

For centuries, that tradition has been especially deadly for women who do not live up to its ideals or who reject them altogether. Using techniques pioneered by Amartya Sen, an economist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1998, researchers estimate that there are as many as 100 million "missing women," as Mr. Sen called them, in India. These are women who would be alive today if the death rate among women relative to that among men were the same in India as in more developed countries. The ranks of these "missing women" grow by nearly two million each year, studies by an American and Canadian research team concluded.

Some of those lives are ended before they begin: Indian women are far more likely to abort female fetuses than male ones. Still, such birth selection by gender accounts for, at most, 12 percent of the total figure for "missing women," the researchers found.

In many cases, the official explanation is that "missing women" died from accidents or injuries, but there is little reason to believe that Indians are especially clumsy or accident-prone, the researchers said. Instead, they believe that in many cases the official explanations mask crimes that led to death.

"Our guess is that a lot of these deaths are due to the dowry phenomenon, but it just doesn't get reported that way," said Siwan Anderson, an associate professor of economics at the University of British Columbia and an author of the studies. …

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