Domestic Violence: Why Women choose to remain silent?

Why in News?

  • Just ahead of the International Day for Elimination of All Forms of Violence against Women (November 25), the brutal murder and mutilation of a young woman by her partner has drawn attention to intimate partner violence, also recognized under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 (PWDVA) as a kind of domestic violence.


  • Due to prevalence of patriarchy women have been discriminated not only in India but in most parts of the world.
  • According to The United Nations, one out of every three women experience domestic violence. The same UN report suggests that the most dangerous place for women is their home.
  • Gender equality and women’s empowerment are essential for the development and well-being of families, communities and nations.

Domestic Violence:

  • Domestic violence is any pattern of behavior that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner. It encompasses all physical, sexual, emotional, economic and psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person.

Domestic Violence can include the following

  • Physical Violence: Use of Physical force or hurting or trying to hurt a partner .it also includes denying medical care.
  • Sexual Violence: Forcing a partner to take part in a sex act when the partner does not consent.
  • Psychological Violence: Psychological violence involves causing fear, threatening physical harm or forcing isolation from friends, family, school or work.
  • Economic Violence: Making or attempting to make a person financially dependent by maintaining total control over financial resources.
  • Emotional Violence: Undermining a person’s sense of self-worth through constant criticism; belittling one’s abilities; verbal abuse. 

Analysis of Domestic violence cases and protection of women in India

  • Punishable offence: Domestic violence is a punishable offence under Indian law. It is a violation of human rights.
  • According to NFHS-5: yet, National Family Health Survey-5 (2019-21) reveals that we live in a society where violence against women persists to such an extent that 32% of ever-married women aged 18-49 years have ever experienced emotional, physical, or sexual violence committed by their husband, with more rural than urban women reporting experiences of domestic violence.
  • Protection of women from domestic violence Act 2005: Over 17 years ago the PWDVA, a progressive legislation, was passed, promising a joined-up approach, involving civil and criminal protections, to support and protect women from violence within the household, not just from husbands.
  • Unable to access the law: Despite the law existing on paper, women are still largely unable to access the law in practice. Its promise and provisions are unevenly implemented, unavailable and out of reach for most Indian women.
  • Very less percentage of women who seek help: The most disheartening reality is that despite almost a third of women being subject to domestic violence, the National Family Health Survey-5 (2019-21) reports that only 14% of women who have experienced domestic violence have ever sought help; and this number is much lower in the rural areas.
  • Despite of multiple laws, most women choose not to seek help: In a country where domestic violence is a crime, where there are multiple laws explicitly designed to protect women against violence, most women survivors of domestic violence never seek help.

Domestic violence

  • An interesting first-hand case study on “why women choose to remain silent”?
  • Subject: Research in Maharashtra, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu aims to better understand ‘help seeking’ and the everyday realities, obstacles, prejudices and fears that women experience around sharing and reporting experiences of violence.
  • Questions: Simple and well-meaning questions, “Why didn’t you leave earlier?” “Why didn’t you tell someone about the violence earlier?”

Thoughts and Response:

  • Women were hopeful that things would change, that they could change their husband’s behaviour, that he would listen to them.
  • Crucially women did not want to be a ‘burden’ on others, in particular their families. ‘My mother has a lot of worries, she has her own life so I didn’t want to add to her own worries, with mine.’
  • By naming the violence they experienced, women believed that they would become ‘a problem’ or a source of ‘tension’ for their families, in bringing them shame and dishonor, irrespective of the survivor’s level of education, caste, or class.
  • For migrant women, trans people or those with several sisters, or ill, older or deceased parents, it was felt even more acutely that the perpetrator’s violence was their individual responsibility to manage.

Findings of the case study on seeking help

  • Majority of parents asks to accommodate: The first group of women mainly turned to their parents who, in a majority of cases, insisted on their daughter preserving the family environment which they should do by ‘adjusting’ to, or accommodating their husband’s (and his family’s) needs better.
  • Minority cases where daughters’ welfare is prioritized: In a minority of cases, the daughter’s welfare was prioritized over the well-being of the ‘the family’ and steps were taken to help mediate or exit the relationship, and much more infrequently approach the police and lawyers.
  • Accepted as patriarchal norm mostly by women themselves: So ingrained are social norms about gender inequality that NFHS-5 data reports that women are more likely than men to justify a scenario in which it is acceptable for a husband to beat or hit his wife.
  • Sharing experience gives relief: For instance, one interviewee explained, ‘the way we are conditioned, it was hard to complain about any suffering’. Though survivors who did (finally) confide in relatives and friends about domestic violence described feeling a ‘sense of a relief’ and that a ‘burden had been lifted’, giving them new ‘hope’ that things might change.
  • Confession is powerful step, seek for help comes with mixed emotions: Whilst sharing experiences of violence was an incredibly powerful step for women, actually transforming their violent domestic experiences and accessing services and support provided by the state and non-state actors proved to be an arduous roller coaster of emotions, promises, uncertainty, fear and disappointment.
  • Financial dependence stops women form accessing legal justice: With few safe houses across India, the simple reality was that many women have nowhere else to go, and access to legal justice through the courts was a material possibility only for women with independent wealth and connections or those supported by specialist non-governmental organizations. So, for many survivors, transforming their situation depended on securing their economic self-sufficiency by pursuing new skills and livelihood opportunities.

Role of the police

  • Police were the part of problem than the solution: Women who reported experiences of violence to the police were cynical about the outcome. Though a small minority had positive experiences, for the majority of those we interviewed, the police were part of the problem rather than a solution to violence.
  • Police more likely to send women back to reconcile: Across the States, that the police were more likely to send women back to violent households to reconcile with the perpetrator or use violence against perpetrators as a deterrent instead of filing an official complaint or connecting women to protection officers and other service providers, as the PWDVA outlines they should.
  • Absence and under resourced Protection officers: Several States are yet to implement Protection officers. And where they are in post, they are under resourced, under-skilled and overworked, making their remit impossible.


  • Even whilst its legislature recognizes that domestic violence is a crime, and civil remedies exist through protection orders, managing the fallout of domestic violence is still being subcontracted to survivors and the family. That is the biggest crime being committed against women today. Women empowerment without social justice is a futile exercise, State must take appropriate social empowerment steps in this direction.
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