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

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Understanding Violence against Women

Violence can be visible or invisible or camouflaged in moral terms. It is always a coercive instrument to uphold or enforce cultural codes of honour. The articles in this special issue have discussed different forms of atrocities against women.

REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESnovember 3, 2007 Economic & Political Weekly90Understanding Violence against WomenMaithreyi KrishnarajViolence accompanies power. It is committed to prove or feela sense of power maintained as an instrument of coercion. Any individual or group facing the threat of coercion or being disciplined to act in a manner required by anotherindi-vidual or group is subject to violence. Though physical violence is pervasive against women, it can take other forms which generate an atmosphere of threat or reprisal. There are crimes specifically directed against women like rape, sexual harassment,sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, prostitution, domesticviolenceand pornography. The forms may vary between cultures and settings, but what is near universal is male violence far exceeds female vi-olence. During most wars and conflict situations, atrocities against women are ways of asserting power over the enemy – to show the other side cannot protect their women. WehaveourPartition stories, and more recently, the Godhra carnage.Dalitsubjuga-tion routinely takes the same form – by aiming at their women.Violence is almost always a coercive instrument to uphold or enforce cultural codes of honour. It can also be a show of resistance. There are frequent reports about male members of families kill-ing the girl or boy who has violated norms of caste marriage or contracting tabooed alliances like sagotra marriage. Upholding honour is both an individual and community concern. Breaches of caste hierarchy invoke stringent penalties on offenders – atrocities on dalits are retaliatory measures for their exercising what democratic rights bestow on them. Such upholding of so-called honour also relates to gender roles within marriage.Women have been the victims of patriarchal sexual practices through exploitation by landlords during caste riots, in marital rape, in state policies concerning reproduction, and of course, through wife battering. Feudal practices existed where landed gentry de-manded “first night privileges”. Domestic violence is part of this scenario of upholding socially sanctioned norms and practices. An important aspect of the norm is male privilege to women’s bodies within marriage. Rather than being exceptional it is sympto-matic of the sexuality of everyday life as women live itinthe context of marriage and family. Is violence a function ofcomplex patriarchal structures and, therefore, an uneven experience which affects women in different ways? Or is violence an essential aspect of a problematic of masculinity – a general masculine way of being for which one can construct a common grammar? Husbands (from narratives reproduced here as well as in many places) ap-pear to represent their familial, economic and social status and power as well as their sense of themselves as husbandsand men by controlling their wives. Masculinity expresses itselfinthe context of marriage through sexual demands.The family is complicit in this. It has a stake in male virility to pro-duce progeny. The studies which have been reported here, refer to Violence can be visible or invisible or camouflaged in moral terms. It is always a coercive instrument to uphold or enforce cultural codes of honour. The articles in this special issue have discussed different forms of atrocities against women.

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