By Aparna V. Singh
Aparna is the Founder-Editor of Women’s Web, an online magazine for Indian women.
X% of women face violence from family members at some point in their lives. Y% of women believe that it is acceptable for their husbands to beat them in certain circumstances. Numbers, statistics, data. How often have we read, quoted and otherwise used such data?
In September, I had the opportunity to attend a seminar on Data in the field of Gender Violence, organized by Prajnya, a Chennai-based think tank that works in the field of justice and peace. Attending the seminar were largely folks from various non-governmental organisations (NGOs), academia/research and one odd representative from media and the police.
The topics discussed included the difficulties in gathering data in this field, in sharing it and indeed, in using it. In this post, I am only going to talk about one aspect of data that was discussed at the seminar.
This was the issue of how in many, many cases, incidents of violence against women never even make it to the records – and by records, I mean police records (usually in the form of an FIR) since that is the main source of such data in India.
One of the most horrible things I heard at this seminar was at a talk by Dr. Prasanna Poornachandra of PCVC, an NGO that works with victims of domestic and sexual violence, offering helplines, safe houses, counseling as well as legal aid. In her talk, she mentioned that at a prominent Chennai hospital that they work with closely (one of three that has a burns ward), there are 250 cases of burns victims every month – and get this, 90% of those are not accidents, but women (almost always women) set on fire by their husbands or other family members. Close to 250 women every month in the burns ward of 1 Chennai hospital.
But that is still not what I want to talk about here. What I want to talk about is the next thing she told us: Most of these women, by the time they are brought to the hospital – have already been ‘convinced’ not to reveal the truth, to claim that the stove burst, that they were careless, that they attempted to kill themselves. In many cases, they know that they will die, and they are still ‘persuaded’ to lie – for fear that the children they leave behind will be abandoned by the husband and his family. This is what gets recorded in the FIR filed by the police – an accident or a suicide.
Some of these women suffer for days in the hospital, and eventually, do reveal the truth to counsellors or other relatives. By then, it is an uphill task to get the case re-registered (I believe it rarely ever happens).
This is just one example of how victims of violence are victimized not just once, but repeatedly. A woman is burnt, but no one has done it. No one records it, and hence it is not a crime. A woman is in agony, but still remembers to lie – to prevent worse things from befalling her children.
As one participant at the seminar said, the data that we do see is only the ‘tip of the tip of the iceberg.’