Who by fire

A ‘Lancet’ study lays bare the dimensions of domestic violence

Written by The Indian Express | Published: March 3, 2009 11:40:36 pm

There has been a series of public service television spots on domestic violence recently — Boman Irani knocks on a door,pretending he needs to make a phone call,a bunch of kids interrupt,claiming to have lost their ball. The ads seem to advocate some form of mute confrontation,but it is unclear what lies beyond. The issue of violence in the intimate sphere is still largely a knotty and unspoken one,despite its magnitude and pervasiveness,and the fact that it has galvanised the Indian women’s movement for decades.

Now,in a bunch of singeing statistics,a new Lancet study claims that most of the deaths among young Indian women are caused by burns,involving “kitchen accidents,self-immolation,or various forms of domestic violence.” Domestic violence,of course,is code for men inflicting pain on women,and while India isn’t the worst offender,Indian official statistics are laughably understated: the Lancet study has an estimate of over 1.06 lakh deaths due to burns among women between the ages of 15 and 34,six times higher than what the Indian police admit to (and about three times higher than fire-related deaths among men). And the police are the last word,given that we lack a national injury surveillance system.

We have domestic violence legislation,but it is hobbled by paltry budget allocations (ranging from Andhra Pradesh’s creditable Rs 10 crore to Madhya Pradesh’s Rs 2.92 lakh). Technically,we have a legal shield; but in practice,who knows and who cares? Unless a functioning structure of trained protection officers,medical and shelter facilities,legal aid and a receptive police machinery is put in place,the issue of domestic violence will remain as troubling and unaddressed as the public service advertisement against it.

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