Focus group discussions with male and female leaders from HD Kote
Sarada Mahesh | September 2018
Sangha members, male and female representatives from the village, and the panchayat sit down to talk about one of the most pressing issues of the village – domestic violence
In order to get a more detailed understanding about domestic violence in villages, particularly from those who are a part of the local governance measures, we held focus group discussions with three sets of participants — the sangha women, elected female representatives, and elected male representatives.
After taking their seats and introducing themselves, the six sangha women began sharing their experiences. Overall, they were able to identify the various incidents of violence against women which included, dowry harassment, domestic violence, financial exploitation (which is when the husband takes away the money from essentially the only earning member of the family — the woman — and uses it for vices such consumption of alcohol), and child marriage.
Society hunts for ways to repress women, they complained. For example, if a girl is sent to college and elopes with a boy, the family will blame her entirely, and will use this incident as an excuse not to send the girl back to school or to college. They wondered, “Is it not the boy’s fault as well? Speaking about public violence, the sangha women explained, “Sometimes a boy may like a girl and will try various ways to win her attention. If she does not reciprocate, he may get angry as it may hurt his ego. This leads to various forms of public harassment, which he may adopt to vent his anger.” There was also mention of private violence. They observed that women are more protective of their families, and they know that if they disclose their private affairs in public, their families might break apart.
This culture of silence is reiterated across various generations, making it difficult to talk about violence. When the topic of the role of institutions that are responsible for tackling these problems came up, the women grimaced. “Lawyers and police will interfere only if the matter gets ‘serious’.” ‘Serious’, here, meant that the victim is wounded or is fatal. “Otherwise they just dismiss it with a warning to the husband, saying that they don’t interfere in small fights,” the woman said.
The five elected female representatives also joined the discussion. They added that many families still preferred the boy child, which meant that girls who survived were looked at as a burden. We told them that one way of tackling these problems was if women learned on each other for support. Instead of labeling another woman as being “bad”, women should actually stand up for each other.
The women also spoke about law enforcement, and declared it to be ineffective. “The violence hasn’t stopped — isn’t that proof enough?” they questioned. Many women do not have the support of their families, which means that even if they decide to walk away from an abusive marriage, they have nowhere to go. The panchayat is helpless unless a woman gives her consent to register the complaint. “How much can we try to make her talk about the problem? We cannot coerce her,” the panchayat members explained. In an indirect yet related problem, the elected women in many panchayats either do not talk because they are suppressed or are puppets in the hands of their husbands. Thus, even when they have the platform to talk about pertinent issues such as these, they do not make full use of the opportunity.
Both the focus groups laughed off the idea of coming up with any sort of plan or project to end domestic violence. “It’s a continuous circle. We can’t end it, but maybe we can help reduce it.”
Finally, the six elected male representatives took their seats. After taking two minutes to explain the objective of the project, a hand was raised. “Why don’t you do this for men also? Don’t we also face violence?” One of them explained how once, when he went out, his wife forced him to take her video call, just so that he could prove he was at office and not elsewhere. “This suspicious behavior is also a form of mental torture.” It was then carefully explained to them that neither ideas were dismissed — that the behavior of women may also be contributing factors in the fights between the couple, and that men also faced violence by women.
With this assurance, the representatives began to explain that the doubtful attitude of men were what prevented them from letting the women leave the house, even for work. This burdens them to become the only source of financial support for the family, and the exhaustion and tension is vented out in the form of violence and abuse. They argued, however, that the problem of dowry harassment and violence has significantly reduced, particularly for women who are from slightly above the poverty line and who have the support of their families.
They reminded us of the fact that it takes two hands to clap. “In many cases, girls are also responsible for the violence faced by them — they are involved in love affairs with men, only to reject them in the end by misleading them. They should also be held accountable for their acts.”
When asked why women are not given a platform in the panchayat meetings to talk about these problems, the men shrugged. “Historically, women have never attended these meetings. Why should they do so now?”
So how are such problems tackled then? The men explained that they separately visit the woman’s house when the husband is not around and talk to her about her side of the fight. They then discuss the same with the man during the meetings, and try to come up with a feasible solution for the couple. However, the panchayats themselves face a lot of difficulty in these procedures, for example, it is difficult to know if a woman is lying or not.
“The blame should be put on the media — they show all of these movies where the girl falls in love and elopes with the boy. They should instead educate the children regarding the reality — the consequences of running away for example, the inability to adjust in this new life,” the panchayat members said.