There is a particular problem regarding gender inequality in India and Indian culture that has recently come to light in debates about domestic violence and the context of Indian culture.
It’s certainly not a problem isolated to the above but seems to crop up more and more; the argument that the more educated a woman is, the greater the risk she will be beaten, kicked, vilified or simply ignored out of spite.
One might posit an argument that on the face of it there is no longer gender inequality and that these deplorable cases of domestic violence that make it into the mainstream media are isolated to communities and societal gaps where ‘everybody is uneducated and cannot talk their problems out’.
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that’s just not the reality.
Cases that crop up time and time again – in India and in South Asia – show that the male cannot bear to be contradicted, ‘ridiculed’ and seemingly cannot bear to have his authority usurped by the woman.
Whether it is across region, community or class there has been incubation in society of this particular problem.
The central character in my forthcoming book on domestic violence in India and British Indian culture – The Butterfly Room – is a highly educated Indian male.
He is materially and financially well off, educated, respected and initially married his wife for her level of education, beauty, societal status and her polite deference to his own standing as a businessman.
But women don’t want to be deferential for the sake of being deferential. The problem is that some alpha male would rather communicate with their fists than have their authority undermined. This goes back to patriarchal attitudes.
In my opinion educated women are aware of their rights. They are no longer willing to follow commands blindly. When they ask questions, it causes conflict, which, in turn, leads to violence.
My book explores how that might happen in a British society but in many Indian states, working women are asked to hand over their paycheck to the husband and have no control over their finances. So, if they stop doing so or start asserting their right, there is bound to be friction. In the UK, the psychology employed may be different but the horrific end result can sometimes be the same.
Domestic violence experts say the problem in India stems from a cultural bias against women who challenge their husband’s right to control their behavior. Women who do this – even by asking for household money or stepping out of the house without their permission – are seen as punishable.
This process leads men to believe their notion of masculinity and manhood is reflected to the degree to which they control their wives.
Perhaps the problem within Indian culture is that men have always been taught to perceive themselves as the superior sex and it is this conditioning, she said, that makes them believe they have to control their wives, especially if they are considered ‘disobedient’.
Although men’s preoccupation with controlling their wives declines with age – as does the incidence of sexual violence – researchers from the International Center for Research on Women found that the highest rates of sexual violence were among highly educated men, just like the primary character in my book and it is this research that I used to create him.
Thirty-two percent of men with zero years of education and 42 percent of men with one-to-five years of education reported sexual violence. Among men with six-to-10 years of education – as well as those with high school education and higher – this figure increased to 57 percent.
Bear in mind this research is over ten years old! Imagine what the figures might be today.
A similar pattern was seen when the problem was analyzed according to income and socioeconomic standing. Those at the lowest end of the socio-economic ladder – migrant labourers, cobblers, carpenters, and barbers – showed a sexual violence rate of 35 percent. The rate almost doubled to 61 percent among the highest income groups.
Researchers have not determined why men with higher incomes and educations are more likely to be violent towards women. My book won’t solve that either but through research with survivors of this type of domestic violence, I hope I’ve addressed it so we can understand more about why it happens.
Equally disturbing is the finding that two of every five women in an abusive relationship in India remain silent about their suffering because of shame and family honor. The studies have also shown, nearly one-third of those Indian women who experienced abuse thought about running away, but most said they feared leaving their young children and had no place to go.
Activists felt that for intervention strategies to succeed attitudes about violence would have to change and the level of awareness, among both men and women, about the negative impact of violence had to be raised.
London-based Saurav Dutt is a poet-writer, independent film producer, screenwriter and socio-political commentator. His work has been featured in The Guardian, The Independent and Mail on Sunday. He is the author of several works of fiction and non-fiction. Saurav’s latest book, ‘The Butterfly Room’, is published in April and will be featured at the 2015 London Book Fair, BookExpo America, LA Times Book Festival and several other major book exhibitions. www.sauravdutt.com