ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Experiences of Dalit Women

Redefining Domestic Violence

Domestic violence against dalit women has not caught the attention of social science researchers. The National Family Health Survey 2006 showed that the prevalence of violence is much higher against women belonging to the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes as compared to women outside these categories. This article is based on fieldwork done in parts of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Among the causes for domestic violence against dalit women were male alcoholism, the man's suspicious nature, dowry demands, husband's extramarital relations and the complex social situations related to inter-caste marriages. Dalit and tribal women, thus, end up facing caste discrimination and harassment outside the home and domestic violence inside.

Domestic violence against women is a universal problem. Also known as wife beating and dowry violence, domestic violence is defined by the United Nations (UN) Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (2003) as “any act of gender based violence that results in or is likely to result in, physical sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women including threats of such acts, or deprivation of liberty whether occurring in public or in private life” (Saumya 2010). Domestic violence was recognised as a criminal offence in India in 1983. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act of 2005 covers violence against married women (by husbands and others), and unmarried women by anyone (including boyfriends). Domestic violence occurs in all socio-economic and cultural population subgroups; and in all societies and there are countless studies on this subject. However, the domestic violence experienced by dalit women has not caught the attention of social science researchers till date. In the general discourse so far, the experiences of dalit women of violence in the family tend to be treated (i) as a legal issue by the law and order machinery; (ii) as violation of her human rights by women’s rights groups, dalit rights and human rights movements; (iii) as an insignificant issue compared to the violence that dalit women face in the public spaces (for example violence by the dominant castes such as killings, atrocities, stripping). Even in the activism and discourse around domestic violence, the specificity of violence faced by dalit women largely remains unrecognised.

The urgent need to study domestic violence against dalit women received momentum due to the National Family Health Survey – NFHS (2006) which showed that the prevalence of violence is much higher against women belonging to the scheduled castes and tribes (SC/ST) as compared to women outside these categories. The percentage of SC women facing physical violence is 41% while that of ST women is 39.3%, Other Backward Classes (OBC) women is 34.1% and that of other women facing physical violence at the domestic level is 26.8%. In terms of emotional violence, SC women account for 19%, ST women 19.5%, OBC women 16.9%, and other women 20.9%.

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