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Domestic violence in India


Domestic violence in India

Domestic violence in India is endemic.[1] Around 70% of women in India are victims of domestic violence, according to Renuka Chowdhury junior minister for women and child development.[2]

National Crime Records Bureau reveal that a crime against a woman is committed every three minutes, a woman is raped every 29 minutes, a dowry death occurs every 77 minutes, and one case of cruelty committed by either the husband or relative of the husband occurs every nine minutes.[3] This all occurs despite the fact that women in India are legally protected from domestic abuse under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act.[3]

However the aforementioned statistics are strongly contested by Save Indian Family Foundation, stating that Renuka Chowdhury talked about the reported dowry death cases and deliberately avoided mentioning the actual convictions in “dowry death trials” after false cases are dismissed in the courts.[4]


  • Background 1
  • Forms 2
    • Physical violence 2.1
    • Emotional abuse 2.2
    • Sexual assault 2.3
  • Regional differences 3
    • Kerala 3.1
    • Uttar Pradesh 3.2
    • Distribution of prevalence 3.3
  • Dynamics 4
    • Patriarchal social structure 4.1
    • Dowry system 4.2
    • Hesitancy to report cases of domestic violence 4.3
    • Other 4.4
  • Effects 5
    • Health 5.1
    • Women's agency 5.2
  • Policies 6
    • Domestic Violence Act of 2005 6.1
    • Prosecution shortcomings 6.2
    • New sexual violence legislation 6.3
  • Results of Women Protection Cells 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9


Domestic violence, or intimate partner violence (IPV) as it is sometimes called, is a worldwide problem.[5] Cultural and household stress factors contribute to the prevalence of domestic violence, and it has been argued that these factors need to be thoroughly addressed through such channels as the institutionalisation of routine screening for warning signs of domestic violence by health professionals, legislation (along with feasible mechanisms for enforcement), and support and empowerment stemming from women’s groups.[6]

In 2010, a movie based on Domestic Violence titled Bell Bajao was released with the support of the Ministry of Women and Child Development which won an award at the Cannes Film Festival.[7]


Physical violence

Physical injury is the most visible form of domestic violence. The scope of physical domestic/intimate partner violence includes slapping, pushing, kicking, biting, hitting, throwing objects, strangling, beating, threatening with any form of weapon, or using a weapon.[8] Worldwide, the percentage of women who suffer serious injuries as a result of physical domestic violence tends to range from 19% - 55%.[9] Physical injuries as a result of domestic violence against women are more obvious than psychological ones, and can be more easily discerned by health professionals as well as courts of law in the context of legal prosecution.

Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse has been gaining more and more recognition in recent years as an incredibly common form of domestic violence (and therefore a human rights abuse) within the private home throughout developing nations such as India. Psychological abuse can erode a woman’s sense of self-worth and can be incredibly harmful to overall mental and physical wellbeing. Emotional/psychological abuse can include harassment; threats; verbal abuse such as name-calling, degradation and blaming; stalking; and isolation.[8]

Women who experience domestic violence overwhelmingly tend to have greater overall emotional distress, as well as disturbingly high occurrences of suicidal thoughts and attempts. According to a study by the National Centre for Biotechnology Information, suicide attempts in India are correlated with physical and psychological intimate partner violence. Of the Indian women who participated in the study, 7.5% reported attempting suicide. This correlation is supported by the high rates of domestic violence in India, although the rates differ greatly by region, individual socioeconomic status and other factors.[10]

Sexual assault

Sexual assault is another common form of domestic violence in India. Sexual violence can include a range of forceful and non-forceful acts including unwanted kissing, touching, or fondling; sexual/reproductive coercion; rape; and marital rape. In a 1995-1996 PubMed study conducted in Northern India, wife abuse appears to be fairly common throughout the region as a whole. 22% of the 6632 adult men surveyed reported sexually abusing their wife without physical force in at least one instance and 7% reported sexual abuse with physical force. Abuse was most common among men who also had extramarital affairs, and among those who had STD symptoms. Abusive sexual behaviors were also found to be correlated with an elevated rate of unplanned pregnancies.[11] In 2013, a court in Mumbai ruled that depriving a woman of sex is a form of cruelty.[12]

Regional differences

Domestic violence in India is prevalent in all castes, socioeconomic classes, religious groups and regions except North Sentinel Island and the Jarawa reserve.[13] However, there are very clear regional differences that must be addressed when analysing domestic violence rates and prevalence in India if policy measures are to be effective. In general, as inferred through various indicators, women in northern Indian states tend to have relatively less autonomy, limited inheritance/property rights, less individual economic opportunity, and higher rates of domestic abuse. On the other hand, women in southern Indian states tend to benefit from relatively less prevalence of disparity in these areas; making gender disparities in these regional differences unmistakably clear.[14]


Kerala, a state located in the southern tip of India, is often viewed as the ideal progressive leader in the women’s rights movement in India among states. Kerala maintains very high relative levels of female literacy and women’s health, as well as greater female inheritance and property rights. For example, a 1998 study conducted by Bina Agarwal found that while only 13% of all women in India with landowning fathers inherited that land as daughters, 24% of such women were able to do so in the state of Kerala.[15] This is important because it has been shown that measures to improve such access to property and economic independence through channels such as education not only directly improve women’s wellbeing and capabilities, but also reduce their risk of exposure to marital or any sort of domestic violence.[15]

Uttar Pradesh

The northern state of Uttar Pradesh experiences relatively high rates of domestic violence and gender disparities. Average physical abuse prevalence in Uttar Pradesh ranges from 18% - 45%, non-consensual sex rates range from 18% - 40%, and physically forced sex rates range from 4% - 7%.[16] The highest of these rates tend to occur in the district of Bandha within Uttar Pradesh, and these rates could likely be underestimates as they are largely the result of surveys of self-reporting by sampled men.[5] According to a 1996 survey of 6,902 men in Uttar Pradesh, up to 45% of men acknowledged that they at one point or another had physically abused their wife.[16]

Distribution of prevalence

In a 2000 multi-site household survey conducted in India, it was found that while overall approximately 50% of women surveyed had experienced some form of domestic violence throughout their married life, the rates varied significantly by specific location as well as overall region.[17] In rural areas and urban slums, that rate was approximately 55%, whereas in urban non-slum areas the rate was less than 40%.[17] Domestic violence is known to happen in upper-class families[18][19] as well as NRI families.[20]

According to a study made by Michael Koenig about the determinants of domestic violence in India published by the American Journal of Public Health in 2006, higher socioeconomic status tends to be protective against physical but not sexual violence.[21]


According to Unicef's Global Report Card on Adolescents 2012, 57% of boys and 53% of girls in India think a husband is justified in hitting or beating his wife.[22]

Patriarchal social structure

There are three main aspects of the patriarchal household structure in India that affect women’s agency: marriage, active discrimination by means of abuse (marital or extramarital), and diminished women’s agency through limited economic opportunity through stifled opportunity for independence.[23] In all these dimensions, there is a clear relationship between strong patriarchal familial structures (which tend to be stronger in northern India than in southern India) and limited capabilities and agency for women, which are strongly correlated with causal factors for domestic violence such as gender disparities in nutritional deprivation and a lack of women’s role in reproductive decisions.[23]

Dowry system

Domestic violence often happens in India as a result of dowry demands.[24] Dowry payments are another manifestation of the patriarchal structure in India. There are strong links between domestic violence and dowry, a cultural practice deeply rooted in many Indian communities, which is the money, goods, or property the woman/woman’s family brings to a marriage to now become under the ownership of the husband. This practice continues even today in India although banned by law since 1961, and in recent years dowry amounts have risen dramatically.

In a Srinivasan 2005 study published in World Development, results from a survey pointed to a negative correlation between dowry amount and inter-spousal violence, indicating the potential dangers of a wife falling short on dowry payments or expectations.[25] These dangers include not only common physical and emotional abuse such as hitting and continual degradation, but in some cases dowry death and bride burning as a result of the husband’s dissatisfaction with the dowry payment. In fact, 8391 dowry deaths reported in 2010, a steep rise from 6995 such reported cases in 1997.[26]

Hesitancy to report cases of domestic violence

There is widespread hesitancy amongst most Indian women who experience domestic violence to report or prosecute against such crimes. A major reason for this reluctance is the patriarchal structure that is the framework for the vast majority of households in India and the misconception that it is almost always the woman’s fault for provoking domestic abuse that such abuse occurs. The results of this hesitancy to report cases is clear in that reported data overwhelmingly tends to underestimate actual prevalence occurrences of domestic violence.[13]


Other factors outside culture that demonstrate differences in domestic violence prevalence and gender disparities in India include socioeconomic class, educational level, and family structure beyond the patriarchal framework. A 1999 study published by the American Journal of Epidemiology identified so-called “stress factors” that are critical to understanding varying rates of domestic violence in other scopes outside of region-specific factors. These stress-related factors within the household include low educational attainment, poverty, young initial age of marriage, having multiple children, and other limiting engendered development factors.[5]


Women suffer many types of physical and emotional abuse as a result of illegal actions taken within the private home, and those who have experienced some form of domestic violence tend to have greater long-term mental disorders and drug dependencies than those who do not.[27] In India, reducing domestic violence is imperative not only from an ethical and human rights perspective but also because of obvious instrumental and immediate health benefits that would be gained from such reduction.[28]


Serious health problems often result from physical, emotional, and sexual forms of domestic violence.[9] Physical health outcomes include: Injury (from lacerations to fractures and internal organs injury), Unwanted Pregnancy, Gynaecological problems, STDs including HIV, Miscarriage, Pelvic inflammatory disease, Chronic pelvic pain, Headaches, Permanent disabilities, Asthma, Irritable bowel syndrome, Self-injurious behaviours (smoking, unprotected sex)[16] Mental health effects can include depression, fear, anxiety, low self-esteem, sexual dysfunction, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or post traumatic stress disorder.[16] Fatal effects can include suicide, homicide, maternal mortality, or HIV/AIDS.[16]

Negative public health consequences are also strongly associated with domestic violence.[9] Social and economic costs have been identified as direct results of these public-health consequences, and it is argued that these justify state action to act in the interest of the public to reconcile these costs (specifically including costs such as worker earnings and productivity, public healthcare, and costs associated with the criminal justice system).[17]

Women's agency

The act of domestic violence towards women is a human rights violation as well as an illegal act under Indian law. It is therefore widely considered a threat to women’s agency through any lens, and there is a growing recognition in many Indian regions that the nation can reach a higher potential through obtaining greater social and economic capital than by reducing women’s participation in society. Domestic violence is one of the most significant determinants of this denial. Greater gender equality through greater women’s agency cannot be achieved if basic health needs are not being met and if cultural biases that allow for domestic violence in India persist.[16]


Domestic Violence Act of 2005

The Domestic Violence Act of 2005 provides victims of abuse with a means for practical remedy through prosecution.[29]

Domestic violence is currently defined in India by the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act of 2005. According to Section 3 of the Act, “any act, omission or commission or conduct of the respondent shall constitute domestic violence in case it - (a) harms or injures or endangers the health, safety, life, limb or well-being, whether mental or physical, of the aggrieved person or tends to do so and includes causing physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal and emotional abuse and economic abuse; or (b) harasses, harms, injures or endangers the aggrieved person with a view to coerce her or any other person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any dowry or other property or valuable security; or (c) has the effect of threatening the aggrieved person or any person related to her by any conduct mentioned in clause (a) or clause (b); or (d) otherwise injures or causes harm, whether physical or mental, to the aggrieved person.”[30]

The Domestic Violence Act of 2005 has been reportedly used against men in some cases, though the vast majority of cases involve abuse of a woman.[31] In Mumbai, men alleged that women were misusing the Domestic Violence Act,[32] while in Karnataka, the act cannot be used against women.[33] The Delhi High Court clarified that the Act could also be used to prosecute women.[34]

Prosecution shortcomings

According to 2000 study by the National Law School of India University, it was observed that there were an extremely low number of convictions in a large sample of domestic violence cases in various Indian courts. The study cites the need for more systematic and thorough record keeping throughout all levels of the Indian court system, as well as the imperative need for more clarity in current legislation that provides a very unclear definition of what domestic violence even is. This allows for cultural biases, social (patriarchal) institutional structures and gender disparities to cloud the nature of many of these cases, and is a major reason why the vast majority of husbands charged with any form of domestic abuse tend to be acquitted.[35]

New sexual violence legislation

On 19 March 2013, the Indian Parliament passed a new law with the goal of more effectively protecting women from sexual violence in India.[36] It came in the form of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, which further amends the Indian Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1973, the Indian Evidence Act of 1872, and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012.[37] The law makes stalking, voyeurism, acid attacks and forcibly disrobing a woman explicit crimes for the first time, provides capital punishment for rapes leading to death, and raises to 20 years from 10 the minimum sentence for gang rape and rapes committed by a police officer. The new law doesn’t address marital rape, rape committed by the armed forces or rape against men.[38]

Reformist lawmakers have argued that the higher age of consent could result in abuses and wrongful arrests in statutory rape cases. Additionally, critics point out that there is often a disconnect between law and practice in India.[39] For example, according to a 2012 United Nations report, 47% of Indian women marry younger than 18 (the legal marriage age is 21 for men and 18 for women).[40]

Results of Women Protection Cells

Domestic Violence Act does not have the authority to end the marital relation. The power of social pressure is not enough to pressurize couples to work out their differences and special woman cells have been established to exercise a similar influence. Panchayats and social pressure was previous means to solve petty issues, as seen in Lok Adalats, Para-legal services (neither parties win or loses cases summoned). Women Protection Cells receive their functioning power from the police and act accordingly after receiving an application and both parties are summoned. This is often seen as an indicator that the marriage cannot be retrieved . These cells have a low rate of being able to retrieve marriages submitted for mediation.[41]

See also



  1. ^ Ganguly, Sumit. "India’s Shame". The Diplomat. Retrieved 27 April 2012. 
  2. ^ Chowdhury, Renuka (26 October 2006). "India tackles domestic violence". BBC. 
  3. ^ a b "India tackles domestic violence". BBC News. 2006-10-27. Retrieved 25 April 2012. 
  4. ^ chowdhury, Renuka. "Renuka Chowdhury accused of fudging statistics". 
  5. ^ a b c Rosenthal, Elizabeth (6 October 2006). "Domestic violence plagues women worldwide, study says - SFGate". The San Francisco Chronicle. 
  6. ^ Martin, Sandra; Amy Tsui; Kuhu Maitra; Ruth Marinshaw (1999). "Domestic Violence in Northern India". American Journal of Epidemiology: 150. 
  7. ^ "Campaign against domestic violence in India wins Cannes trophy".  
  8. ^ a b Committee on Health Care for Underserved Women. Intimate Partner Violence. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Feb. 2012. Web. 17 Mar. 2013.
  9. ^ a b c Ellsberg, Mary, PhD. "Intimate Partner Violence and Women's Physical and Mental Health in the WHO Multi-country Study on Women's Health and Domestic Violence: An Observational Study." The Lancet 371 (2008). 17 Mar. 2013.
  10. ^ Vizcarra, B. Partner Violence as a Risk Factor for Mental Health among Women from Communities in the Philippines, Egypt, Chile, and India. National Centre for Biotechnology Information. Department of Psychology Universidad De La Frontera, Temuco, Chile, 2004. 18 Mar. 2013.
  11. ^ Martin, S. Sexual Behaviors and Reproductive Health Outcomes: Associations with Wife Abuse in India. PubMed, National Centre for Biotechnology Information, 1999. 18 Mar. 2013.
  12. ^ Sameervel, Rebecca (November 6, 2013). "Depriving wife of sex is cruelty, Mumbai court rules". The Times Of India (Mumbai). Retrieved 2013-11-06. 
  13. ^ a b Fernandez, Marilyn. "Domestic Violence by Extended Family Members in India : Interplay of Gender and Generation." Journal of Interpersonal Violence 12 (1997). 18 Mar. 2013.
  14. ^ Jejeebhoy, Shireen. "Wife-Beating in Rural India: A Husband's Right? Evidence from Survey Data." Economic and Political Weekly 33 (1998). 18 Mar. 2013.
  15. ^ a b Panda, Pradeep, Bina Agarwal, Population Council, New Delhi, India, and Institute of Economic Growth, University of Delhi, India. "Marital Violence, Human Development and Women’s Property Status in India." World Development (2005). 18 Mar. 2013.
  16. ^ a b c d e f Innocenti Research Centre. Domestic Violence Against Women and Girls. UNICEF, 2000. 18 Mar. 2013.
  17. ^ a b c International Centre for Research on Women. Domestic Violence in India. International Centre for Research on Women and The Centre for Development and Population Activities, 2000. 18 Mar. 2013.
  18. ^ Williams, Matthias (8 June 2009). "Domestic abuse plagues India's upper crust". New Delhi, India: Reuters. Retrieved 31 May 2012. 
  19. ^ Pandey, Geeta (30 May 2003). "Domestic abuse hits India's elite".  
  20. ^ Yadav, Sanjay (14 March 2011). "Case against NRI husband for dowry, domestic abuse".  
  21. ^ Koenig, Michael. "Individual and Contextual Determinants of Domestic Violence in North India." American Journal of Public Health (2006). 18 Mar. 2013.
  22. ^ Sinha, Kounteya (2012-04-25). "57% of boys, 53% of girls think wife beating is justified". New Delhi:  
  23. ^ a b Malhotra,, Anju, Reeve Vanneman, and Sunita Kishor. "Fertility, Dimensions of Patriarchy, and Development in India." Population and Development Review 21 (1995). 18 Mar. 2013.
  24. ^ "A situtational analysis of domestic violence against women in Kerala". Kochi: Rajagiri College of Social Sciences. September 2005. Retrieved 25 April 2012. 
  25. ^ Srinivasan, Sharada, and Arjun Bedi. "Domestic Violence and Dowry: Evidence from a South Indian Village." World Development 35 (2007). 18 Mar. 2013.
  26. ^ Bedi, Rahul. "Indian Dowry Deaths on the Rise." The Telegraph [New Delhi] 27 Feb. 2012.
  27. ^ Roberts, Gwenneth. "The Impact of Domestic Violence on Women's Mental Health."Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 22 (1998). 17 Mar. 2013.
  28. ^ Ackerson, Leland, and S. Subramanian. "Domestic Violence and Chronic Malnutrition among Women and Children in India." American Journal of Epidemiology 167 (2008). 17 Mar. 2013.
  29. ^  
  30. ^ India. Parliament in the Fifty-sixth Year of the Republic of India. , Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005. Act. No. 43 OF 2005.
  31. ^ Bhagria, Anupam (29 October 2009). "Amend domestic violence act to plug its misuse against men, demands NGO".  
  32. ^ Inamdar, Siddesh (2009-10-26). "Husbands allege misuse of Domestic Violence Act".  
  33. ^ B.S. Ramesh (20 July 2010). "In Karnataka, Domestic Violence Act can't be used against women".  
  34. ^ "Domestic Violence Act: Women can now be prosecuted".  
  35. ^ Elizabeth, V. Patterns and Trends of Domestic Violence in India, An Examination of Court Records. National Law School of India University, 2000. 18 Mar. 2013.
  36. ^ Gates, Sara. "India Rape Law: Parliament Passes Strict Sexual Violence Legislation." The Huffington Post., 21 Mar. 2013. Web. 19 Apr. 2013.
  37. ^ India. Lok Sabha. THE CRIMINAL LAW (AMENDMENT) BILL, 2013. Vol. Bill No. 63-C of 2013. 2013.
  38. ^ 21, Mark Magnier March. "India Passes Rape Law That Sets Age of Consent at 18." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 21 Mar. 2013. Web. 19 Apr. 2013.
  39. ^ Magnier, Mark. "Critics Say India Rape Law Opens Way to More Abuse." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 21 Mar. 2013. Web. 19 Apr. 2013.
  40. ^ United Nations Population Fund. "Marrying Too Young." United Nations, 2012. Web. 19 Apr. 2013.
  41. ^ "Failure of Woman protection cells". Rohtak, India. 29 June 2013. Retrieved 17 May 2014. 
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