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Sep 8, 2016

Violence in women’s own backyard

Mary Thomas

The latest 2015 National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) data shows that in over 95% of cases the rape victim or survivor knew the offender. From the total number of rape cases reported, 28.72% of perpetrators are neighbours and 34.76% are persons known to the victim. Between 2014 and 2015, though the number of rapes reported fell (from 36,735 to 34,651), the total number of persons known to the victim, turning out to be the perpetrators, has risen (from 32,187 to 33,098). In 2014, this figure was 86%. Girls and women are not safe even with people they know. 

The increasing number of states (including Union Territories) where all cases of rapes reported were by persons known to the victims is also worrying. In 2014, there were three states - Himachal Pradesh, Chandigarh and Lakshadweep. In 2015, this number went upto eight — Himachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Sikkim, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Dadar & Nagar Haveli, Daman & Diu, Chandigarh and Puducherry. The number of borderline states (above 99%) too has gone up. In 2014, there were two states; in 2015 this number shot upto seven.

The focus of attention of both the government and the civil society organisations have been more on the unknown than on the known. 

Women within their neighbourhoods experience violence ranging from molestation to kidnapping, from acid attacks to rape. It may have begun with staring and stalking which are perceived as harmless and a pleasurable activity for men and boys. In our experience of working in villages of Uttar Pradesh, sexual harassment is cited as one of the main reasons for girls not pursuing higher education. Girls and women fear that if they share these cases with their families they would further curtail and restrict their mobility, instead of reporting cases of harassment. These cases, if reported at all, rarely invite police action. In fact, what it definitely does is to trigger blaming and shaming the victim. “She must have done something” is a common refrain. These cases, hence, go unreported and unchecked. 

What is considered pleasurable for one half of the population becomes a barrier in education and access to opportunities of growth for the other half.

The fact that perpetrators reside in the same neighbourhood, there is a need to engage with families and communities to enable them to find ways to prevent it rather than restrict the mobility of women. As much as it is essential to work on redressal services to respond to women experiencing violence, there is an equal need to delve into the preventive measures of addressing violence. Violence needs to become everybody’s issue.  

We have to engage with boys and men not just to prevent them from being wife-beaters and bystanders to violence. They need to work on themselves. To change their own misconstrued definitions of masculinity where controlling women is seen as the only way to assert masculinity. To recognise, that patriarchy has done harm to them as well.  As the stalwart feminist Kamla Bhasin puts it — “Our men don’t need to change to support women, but to save themselves from being brutalised by centuries of exposure to patriarchy”.

Further, there is a need to recognise the intersectionalities and the blurring boundaries between public and private spaces of violence. Domestic violence is another such normalised crime committed by the known. National Family Health Survey 3 (NFHS) conducted in 2005-06 recorded that 40.6% of ever married women aged 15-49 years face some form of domestic violence. More recently, a multi-state study in 2013 by the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW) reported that 52% of its female respondents in India had faced some form of domestic violence ever in their lives, while 60% of male respondents admitted to have perpetrated violence on women.

As much as we need to engage with state machinery and the criminal justice system, it is important to create community driven mechanisms to ensure lesser social acceptance of violence within families and communities. An enabling environment is a pre-requisite to prevent violence.  It is important to engage with the known within our own backyard — after all girls and women are the most unsafe in known surroundings. 


Written by: Mary Thomas, Programme Coordinator- Women’s Rights, Oxfam India

Photo credit: Chinky Shukla


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