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Discarded Daughters: The Patriarchal Grip, Dowry Deaths, Sex Ratio Imbalances & Foeticide in India

Aysan Sev'er,1 University of Toronto

---------------------------------------------------------- ----------------------------------------------------------KEY WORDS: DOWRY, DOWRY HARASSMENT, DOWRY MURDER, INDIA, FOETICIDE, INFANTICIDE, SEX RATIO, PATRIARCHY

This work on dowry murders and sex ratio imbalances in India is embedded in a much larger study that compares and contrasts extreme forms of violence against women in India, Pakistan, Oman and Turkey. The portion presented here is a modest slice on India, based on secondary analysis of the news media, government documents and face-to-face interviews with 37 Delhi-based women's organizations, 12 International NGOs and interviews with 12 Delhi-based academics. First, I will review the historical roots of dowry, touch upon the increasing numbers of dowry deaths, especially in some central and Northeastern Indian states. I will also review the alarming increase in sex ratio imbalances and establish a conceptual link with dowry violence. I will end with summarizing what is already being done at the governmental and NGO levels, but also propose reasons why these efforts may not have been sufficient to curb or reverse the violence.

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India is a relatively new and vibrant democracy. With its numerous natural resources, an extremely large population (1.12 billion, CIA, The World Factbook, 2007) and emphasis on education, India is hastily taking its due place in a globalized world. According to 2006 estimates, India's GDP is worth $805.5 billion and per capita income is $3,800 US equivalent (CIA, The World Factbook, 2007). A rare positive artifact of the British rule of its recent past (pre 1947), the formal education in India is taught in the English language. This often advantages the massive and dynamic Indian workforce in an increasingly globalizing world, especially in information technologies. However, access to education is still gendered, with 73% male but only 48% female literacy rates (The World Bank, 2007). Yet, a perusal of the daily news media shows a much darker reality that coexists with the economic and the political gains the country has made (Prasad, 1994; UNIFEM, 2003a/b). That dark reality is dowry murders and other crimes against women and girl children that take place within the family realm (UNIFEM, 2004; ICRW, 2002; 2004a/b). The fol1 This work is generously supported by the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). An earlier version of the paper was presented at the International Sociology Association (ISA) meetings in Durban, South Africa (July, 2006). I thank my colleagues from the University of North & South Delhi and University of Jawaharlal Nehru for their generous help with interviews. I also would like to thank the directrs of numerous Delhi-based NGOs for helping me observe the difficult lives of countless women. Most particularly, I would like to thank the supervisors and directors of UNIFEM/Jorbagh, Shakti Shalini/Jangpura, Action India/Mathura, ICRW/Lodi Estate and CREA/Shantiniketan for sharing their extraordinary insights with me. All inquiries should be addressed to Aysan Sev'er, Department of Social Sciences, University of Toronto Scarborough, 1265 Military Trail, Scarborough, Ontario. M1C 1A4. E-mail: [email protected]



lowing are just a few of the harrowing stories that appear in Indian newspapers. These stories almost always report the death or a severe injury of a young bride, at the hands of her husband and in-laws. In retaliation to his dowry demands not being met, a medical doctor (Ajay Sharma) injected his wife and his daughter with the AIDS virus. At the time of reporting, the infected wife and child were hiding in an unknown place, trying to avoid the prejudice and hostility from their neighbours who consider AIDS as a curse (Times of India, May 5, 2004, p. 16). In 2001, Ruchi (22) married Rakesh Sachdeva, bringing in the agreed upon dowry. However, when Ruchi's father retired from the newspaper he worked for, new dowry demands surfaced. Apparently, the Sachdeva family wanted access to his pension. When Ruchi's father refused, Ruchi was murdered by blows to her head and face.

Amarjit was married to Raj Kumar in 1999, allegedly providing the dowry both families agreed on at the time. However, demands from Kumars continued and an additional 10,000 Rs2 were paid. However, when Amarjit's family was not able to pay more, Raj, his mother Simro, his brother Gurdip and sister Savita set Amarjit on fire (Hindu, May 24, 2004, p. 5).

In June, 2004, a five-day old bride Suchalitha (21), was murdered by her husband Rajkumar and his brothers. For dowry, Rajkumar had received 250,000 Rs and a Honda motorcycle, but was not satisfied by these payments. Along with his brothers, he tortured his new bride for more money, beat her up and set her ablaze (Deccand Herald, June 9, 2004, p. 5). In February, 2004, an 80-year-old mother-in-law, Manickyammal and her son Muniswamy (husband) were sentenced for rigorous imprisonment for coercing Shakeela (wife) to commit suicide. Shakeela set herself on fire and just before her death, she held her mother-in-law and husband responsible for dowry related harassment and torture (Deccand Herald, February 4, 2004, p. 5). In January, 2004, Jyoti Chandra and her little girl Shreya (4) were severely beaten. Jyoti's injuries included bruises



In cases like Jyoti's and Ajay's, sometimes daughters of the victim are also subjected to unimaginable torture. What is also disturbing is that these blood-curdling events never make the first pages, but get buried as short summaries which can easily fit into the dimensions of a credit-card. Women who die often remain nameless unless dowry harassment or murder involves prominent families (there are numerous such cases). The suffering becomes just another piece of information amongst reports of `pot holes on streets' or `the smell of garbage' in city centers. It is as if the society has been resigned to the occurrence of these crimes as unavoidable. Crime statistics at all India level highlight the seriousness of the problem. The severe underreporting of all crimes against women due to social and cultural taboos notwithstanding, statistics show that five women face severe cruelty in her home every hour and 18 cases of dowry deaths occur every day in India (CWDS, 2002, p. 27; Hitchcock, 2001; ICRW, 2002; Rustagi, 2004). Moreover, whilst total crime rates are falling in India, crimes against women in all categories (rape, molestation, sexual harassment, cruelty at home which includes dowry harassment, dowry deaths and abduction) are on the rise (CWDS, 2002; Dowry in India, 2004; Singh, 2004a). Table I provides official statistics on dowry deaths and husband's or husband's kin's cruelty. For all India, dowry death rate has risen from five per million population to seven per million population. Cruelty rates are even more discerning, rising from 31 per million to 45 per million. Amongst the states, with the few exceptions of Himachal Pradesh, Jammu/Kashmir, Maharashtra, Sikkim and Delhi which have remained unchanged in their rates, all other states and Union Territories have recorded substantial increase in both dowry deaths and husband or husband's kin violence. Since the 1980s, grass-roots women's organizations, local and international NGOs and legal reformists have tried to dismantle dowry practices in order to curb violence against women. As a result of these efforts, numerous political and legal changes to protect women have emerged. Nevertheless, official statistics link 7,000 women's deaths to dowry murders (CWDS, 2002). The official reports are only the peak of an iceberg. The actual numbers may be many fold since the majority of the

2 Rs (Rupee) is the official Indian currency. During 2004-05, when data for the present paper was collected, one Rupee equaled 3.3 cents (Canadian).

and lacerations as well as severe bites to her face. Her husband, Puneet, had bitten off chunks of flesh from Jayotee's face and had tried to bite off both Jyoti's and Shreya's fingers. Moreover, the little girl was brutally assaulted with a windshield-wiper which punctured her colon to the degree that she will be excreting through her stomach for a long time to come. It seems, Puneet wanted an additional dowry of 200,000 Rs, since Jyoti had given birth to a daughter rather than a son (Times of India, January 16, 2004, p. 5).



TABLE I. Official Statistics on Dowry Deaths & Cruelty by Husbands/Husband's Kin by State & Union Territory State Dowry Deaths Cruelty by Husband/Kin 1995 (rate) 2002 (rate) 1995 (rate)* 2002 (rate) ALL INDIA 5 per million 7 per million 31 per million 45 per million 362 ( 5) 452 ( 6) 2829 (40) 4666 (64) Andhra Pradesh Arunachal P. 0 ( 0) 0 ( 0) 1 ( 1) 5 ( 5) 44 ( 2) 40 ( 2) 485 (20) 843 (33) Assam Bihar 0 ( 0) 1021 (10) 0 ( 0) 1423 (14) 2 ( 2) 2 ( 2) 13 (11) 15 (12) Goa Gujarat 0 ( 0) 94 ( 2) 0 ( 0) 3886 (82) Haryana 218 (12) 288 (15) 426 (24) 1369 (70) Himachal P. 6 ( 1) 5 ( 1) 219 (40) 258 (45) 5 ( 1) 6 ( 1) 35 ( 4) 39 ( 4) Jammu & Kashmir 202 ( 4) 217 ( 4) 1488 (31) 1560 (31) Karnataga Kerala 21 ( 1) 31 ( 1) 787 (26) 2488 (80) Madhya Pradesh 417 ( 6) 584 ( 8) 2640 (37) 3012 (39) Maharashtra 471 ( 6) 395 ( 4) 8760(102) 7026 (77) Manipur 0 ( 0) 0 ( 0) 0 ( 0) 2 ( 1) Meghalaya 0 ( 0) 1 ( 0) 0 ( 0) 0 ( 0) Mizoram 0 ( 0) 0 ( 0) 0 ( 0) 0 ( 0) Nagaland 0 ( 0) 0 ( 0) 0 ( 0) 0 ( 0) Orissa 196 ( 6) 234 ( 7) 554 (17) 1208 (34) Punjab 130 ( 6) 193 ( 8) 133 ( 6) 562 (24) Rajastan 369 ( 8) 443 ( 8) 3202 (66) 5425(104) Sikkim 0 ( 0) 0 ( 0) 0 ( 0) 0 ( 0) Tamilnadu 94 ( 2) 197 ( 3) 345 ( 6) 620 (10) Tripura 7 ( 2) 17 ( 6) 57 (20) 113 (37) Uttar Pradesh 1850 (12) 2088 (13) 3165 (21) 5372 (33) West Bengal 89 ( 1) 257 ( 3) 3319 (46) 3777 (49) A. & N. Islands 0 ( 0) 0 ( 0) 2 ( 6) 8 (24) Chandigarh 1 ( 1) 7 ( 9) 18 (25) 42 (52) Dadra & N.H. 1 ( 6) 2 (10) 5 (30) 5 (26) Daman & Diu 0 ( 0) 0 ( 0) 0 ( 0) 5 (36) Delhi 160 (15) 122 (10) 95 ( 9) 88 ( 7) Lakshadweep 0 ( 0) 0 ( 0) 0 ( 0) 0 ( 0) Pondicherri 3 ( 3) 4 ( 4) 1 ( 1) 6 ( 7) Source: With reordering of data from CWDS, 2002, pp. 33-34 and 90-121. *Rates are shown in parenthesis.

killings are disguised as accidents and many bodies are ritualistically burned at funeral pyres before any official investigation can take place. Moreover, no one knows how many women continue to live under dowry threats, harassment and abuse. Amongst the limited political action and the circular political rhetoric, dowry continues to be a deadly business. In this paper, I will summarize the historical roots of dowry and the current debates about its continuing cultural relevance. I will also discuss the geographical distribution of the recorded instances of dowry murders. Then, I am going to review the reasons behind the emergence and escalating violence related to dowry. One of the dimensions I will stress is the close link between dowry and other patriarchal practices that vanquish the rights of women and girls. Most notably, I am going to highlight the practice of foeticide and female infanticide which are still rampant in India. My aim is to establish a link between how dowry and sex2 There were and continues to be strong taboos against cross-caste marriages. The hypergamy was usually in terms of subcastes where women with sufficient dowries married up.



selection practices form a deadly grid for the female population, young and old. Dowry: Dowry is a form of property women bring with them when they marry. In Punjab and numerous other patriarchal regions of India, it is called `dahej' or `daaj' (Oldenburg, 2002). Dowry often consists of money, land, animals and other gifts like jewelry or household items the bridal family is expected to present to the groom's family. The historical roots and justifications for the dowry practice are complex: Historical Roots: For centuries, the patriarchal, feudal and tribal regions that are now subsumed under the modern Indian state functioned within a rigid caste system. Casts represent an inflexible social stratification order where one's social location and opportunities are fixed at birth. Originally, dowry was a ritualized Hindu marriage practice confined to the highest cast (Brahmans). In fact, non-brahmanic groups were often forbidden from practicing dowry (Gandhi & Shah, 1992; Palriwal, 2003). The heavily (but not exclusively) one-sided traffic of gifts was justified as a matter of reaffirming the honour and status of the receiving family (Puri, 1998). Since arranged marriages were often hypergamous for the brides, acceptance into a family system which was higher in subcast2 than

the woman's own standing was also considered an honour for the bridal clan. In its earlier forms, dowries were paid in accordance with one's means and almost always constituted a one-time payment (gift) at the time of marital celebrations. Dowry was also considered as `streedhan' (translates to women's property, Gandhi & Shah, 1992, p. 52). Land and other productive assets were not expected to change hands, thus protecting the bridal families from a serious economic set-back (Palriwal, 2003). Large families with multiple offspring also insured that what was given out through daughters were to some degree recovered through the marriages of sons. However, since women married up, which meant that men married down (hypergamy for women), having daughters were considered a net loss for most families. A son that married `down' could not bring in enough to compensate for the dowry of a daughter who `married up'. Oldenburg (2002) accuses British colonialism for the degeneration of the dowry system. In pre-modern India where dowry was widespread, she charges, the concept of land ownership was not established. Although patriarchy barred women from inheriting either from their fathers or from their husbands, there was not much to inherit in the first place. Although women who left their fathers' estate lost the use of the fathers' land, they gained the use of their husbands' estate. It is only through British colonization and especially around the1850s when land was privatized and parceled out that already patriarchal households were transformed into haves versus have-nots. By taxing the land without regard to the uneven



harvest conditions, colonizers created a chronic indebtedness amongst the patriarchal households. The chronic indebtedness resurrected an old practice (dowry) as a mechanism to get out of dept. It is then that not only land, but women who married out of their father's households became commodified and marginalized (Oldenburg, 2002). Like Oldenburg, Gandhi and Shah (1991, p. 52) also blame colonization and the ensuing overlay of a market economy on an existing feudal system. They argue that in Punjab, dowry has been transformed from being seen as `greed' and avoided to being consistently utilized as a `status symbol.' In Bihar, the situation has gotten so bad that grooms are regularly put on display and brokers negotiate the best dowry from would-be bridal families (Gandhi & Shah, 1992). Defenders of dowry argue that women's position in a society has to be historicized. The original dowry system is seen as a form of insurance for women. Within this context, for example, that Oldenburg (2002) faults the British colonizers for transforming a once enabling social ritual for women into a practice that has turned to oppress them. Others reason that the wealth women brought from their fathers' house was to dignify their transition to the house of their husbands (Kishwar, 1999). Moreover, in case of a misfortune such as the death of a husband, women had some personal insurance vested in their dowry (steedhan) since Indian cultural practices were not kind to widows (MacFarquhar, 1994). In reality, however, the dowry system always was contentious. Bridal families almost always resented the diminished wealth through the marriage of a daughter and male siblings saw their sisters' dowry as a competition to their inheritance rights. Young brides who found themselves totally powerless within the patriarchal clan of their husbands, seldom, if ever had access to their own dowry. Thus, rather than engendering any kind of dignity and freedom for women, the dowry system often demeaned their worth both as persons and as potential contributors to their husbands' estate. The system was pregnant with conflicts and tensions between women and their families of orientation as well as families of procreation. Ancient Hindu sayings clearly capture the precarious position of girls/women: "raising a daughter is like watering a neighbour's plant," or "for fulfillment, many sons, for the sake of beauty, one daughter" or "a son spells rewards, a daughter expense" (Hegde, 1999, p. 512). For centuries, high levels of female infanticide in India reflect the undesirability of female children who were considered to be burdens to their families. More recently, the method of elimination of female children has been replaced by induced abortions (foeticide) (see Abortion, female infanticide, foeticide, 2004; Malhotra et al., 2003; Missing, 2003; UNICEF: India, 2007). Recent Developments in Dowry: The first voices of protest against dowry were raised during the Indian nationalist struggle. Gandhi saw dowry as a corrupt social evil linked to the cast system and asked women and men



to refuse dowry and break the system (Gandhi & Shah, 1991, p. 52). Albeit weak, ambiguous and not enforceable, the 1961 Dowry Protection Act was the outcome of this new awareness. However, in the mid-seventies, the Committee on the Status of Women in India noted some alarming changes in dowry practices. For example, the dowry practice had spread much beyond the upper Hindu castes to all Hindus, many Sikhs, Christians, Muslims and animists from all socioeconomic strata. In an extensive study conducted by Naik (1996), it was found that all respondents (with the exception of 1.3% non-responders) had either given or received dowry in their marriage arrangements. The spiraling of dowry has also been accompanied with new expectations. First, dowry expectations increased in size and the flow of dowry became even more one-sided than before. Moreover, land and other means of survival which were traditionally excluded from dowries became fair game. Second, what was once considered a one-time event, took on a longitudinal quality. The one-sided flow of gifts and other commodities became associated with not only marriage but also with other events such as holidays, anniversaries, births, etc. In fact, dowry started to dominate an entire duration of a marriage, starting from its proposal to rituals of birth. Third, marriage became the most important life event, overshadowing all other life-cycle rituals. Even death ceremonies, once considered the most important Hindu samskara (right of passage), became a distant second to the rights of marriage. Fourth, rather than accompanying sound marital choice/arrangements, the size of dowries became the most important incentive in men's choice of partners. Another noteworthy change in the dowry practice is associated with increasing consumerism. For example, rather than items of necessity for the newlyweds, gifts have shifted to elaborate, expansive commodities such as luxury cars, motorcycles, boats, summer cottages etc., in the lists of the wealthy. Microwaves, TVs, washing machines etc., form the dowry lists of lower caste/class counterparts, even in regions where running water and/or electricity are not available. Above all, the shift for consumerism has created an insatiable demand for hard cash. Thus, the already contentious dowry system has gained momentum in wiping out the well-being of bridal families, in increasing conflicts between siblings and in condemning women of lesser means to a life of solitude in a society that demands marital bliss. Young girls whose dowry is insufficient sometimes find themselves married off to men who are multiples of their own age, or men with severe mental or physical disabilities. A combined effect of all these changes is the further devaluation of girls. Moreover, expanding dowry demands have transformed girl children into an outright liability and dowry disputes into a fertile arena for intrafamily (against girl-children) and interfamily (against brides) violence. Why then, rather than shedding a controversial practice such as dowry, there seems to be a notable increases in its demand and link with violence? The answer to this question is complex. At the official level,



Official Response. The first dowry related legislation in India is the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961. However, this legislation was so full of loopholes that no case of dowry death has ever been successfully prosecuted under its coverage (Singh, 2004b). Between 1979 and 1980 which is often called a `dowry lehar' (wave), amongst thousands of others, two mothers lost their daughters to dowry violence. Satya Rani Chadha's daughter was 21 years old and a graduate of the Delhi University. She was married for nine months and seven months pregnant when she was killed. Above and beyond the mutually agreed upon sum, her husband demanded a motor-scooter which the Chadhas refused to provide. Shahjahan's daughter was only seventeen and married for less than a year when she was killed. In her case, the dowry dispute was over 10,000 Rs (personal communication with Satya & Shahjahan, Sept. 3, 2004). Although these two women did not know each other at the time, their shared grief, anger and loss united them within a noble women's movement against the dowry system. Other women who were victimized by dowry violence and women's NGOs joined them in their plight. The pursuant official response was significant (Singh, 2004a): · In 1980, a Joint Parliamentary Committee was struck to review India's dated and ineffective dowry legislation of 1961. · In 1983, a new panel provision on cruelty against women (section 498A) was introduced to the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Sections 498 and 498A dealt with cruelty by the husband and his kin and harassment for dowry. Moreover, women's suicide after being subjected to dowry harassment was considered as suicide abetted by the husband (Singh, 2004a). · In 1984, albeit diluted in its provisions, an amendment to the Dowry Prohibition Act was passed. This legislation defined anything given as an inducement to marriage as well as during and after marriage as dowry. Moreover, police were required to investigate all complaints about dowry harassment and the burden of proof that dowry exchange did not happen was shifted to the person being prosecuted, rather than expecting the complainant to prove that it happened. However, customary and traditional `presents' were excluded from the definition, thus creating a high level of ambiguity in enforcement (Singh, 2004a). · In 1986, section 304B on any unnatural death of a woman within seven years after marriage and section 113B on forced suicides of women within a seven year period after marriage were added

there is indeed a blatant condemnation of dowry as exemplified with federal anti-dowry legislation. At the social level, increased access to global markets has made dowry a fast track to consumerism. I will now review these two competing changes and their net effect on dowry practices.




to the IPC (Goonesekere, 2004; Singh, 2004a). Currently, the Government of India is cooperating with UNICEF to improve the status of children and women (UNICEF, 20032007).

Non-official Situation: Despite the undeniable gains made at the official level and despite the galvanized women's movement at the grass-roots as well as NGO levels (CEDAW, 2004 & not dated; ICRW, 2004a; Magar, 2003; UNIFEM, 2003b & not dated), the official gains hardly made a dent in the Indian dowry tragedies. Forces that work against the official gains are many: · Remnants of colonialism and its imposition of market economy on pre-capitalist structures have widened the already existing inequality gaps in India (Oldenburg, 2002). Even after independence from the British rule, Palriwal (2003) argues that the state supported the wealthy class without attempting land reform or uprooting feudalism. The result was concentrated wealth in the hands of a few. Newly found freedoms also whipped aspirations of the masses without any reasonable means to fulfill such aspirations (Pratap, 1995). · The stratification of a cast-based society which was traditionally impermeable from outsiders suddenly became permeable through the official renunciation of the cast system. However, the desire for stratification did not die (Oldenburg, 2002). Those ascending the capitalist ladder of wealth needed new symbols to affirm their recently acquired positions. Display of consumer goods and luxury items became the pastime of the newly rich. Since opportunities on individual initiative remained modest, consumerism through exploitation of the traditional means (dowry) became all the more attractive. Traditional securities provided by kin marriages were replaced with marriage to total strangers who brought in the desired wealth. · The emerging class system sometimes disenfranchised the earlier higher castes, creating families who wanted to preserve their status but who were reduced in wealth. Dowry became a tool to reassert their once unquestioned privileges despite the changing rules in the market economy. · Caught in the tension between celebrating modernity and capitalism and holding on to traditions to preserve their Indian identity, younger generations resurrected traditional marriage rules and dowry. As dowry spread, so did its size and obligatory character (CWDS, 2002; Dowry in India, 2004; Mandal, 2001). The following section of the paper will attempt to show some



cumulative outcomes of the above discussed changes in India and their negative effects on women and female children. I will also attempt to show the link between overall marginalization of women and girl children and dowry related violence. TOO EXPENSIVE? MISSING FEMALE CHILDREN Sex Ratios, Foeticide & Infanticide If the nature is allowed to take its course, viable female births are

Table II: Sex Ratios for Adult Population & for Population Under 6 Years in 1991 and 2001 State ALL INDIA Andhra Pradesh Arunachal Pradesh Assam Bihar Goa Gujarat Haryana Himachal Pradesh Jammu & Kashmir Karnataga Kerala Madhya Pradesh Maharashtra Manipur Meghalaya Mizoram Nagaland Orissa Punjab Rajastan Sikkim Tamilnadu Tripura Uttar Pradesh West Bengal Andaman & N. Islands Chandigarh Dadra & N. Haveli Daman & Diu Delhi Lakshadweep Pondicherri Adult Sex Ratio 1991(per/1000 men) 923 972 829 910 899 967 936 862 980 960 1049 926 931 955 947 911 865 972 883 908 860 978 940 867 907 2001(per/1000 men) 934 980 888 926 916 964 927 869 981 894 966 1071 917 923 981 974 932 899 976 886 925 858 992 947 895 929 830 763 779 682 813 943 1007 Population < 6 yrs 2001(per/1000boys) 927 964 961 964 938 933 879 820 897 937 949 963 933 917 961 975 971 975 950 793 909 986 939 975 915 963 965 845 973 925 865 974 958

Source: With some reorganizing from Rustagi, 2003, pp. 8-9 & 11.



equal to or slightly outnumber male births in a given population. This natural bias is due to a slight biological advantage of female infants over their male counterparts at birth and in early stages of life. Moreover, when all is equal, females outlive men, sometimes for as much as 5-7 years. In the developed world, these advantages translate into slightly more than 50% of the population to be female. In India, like in other developing countries, life is often hard, nutrition inadequate, healthcare scarce and health literacy low or non-existent for the masses. Under these circumstances, deaths due to preventable diseases are naturally high and life expectancy low (63 for men and 64 for women, The World Bank, 2007). However, sex ratio imbalance in India is mostly due to biased and discriminatory practices that disproportionally victimize females. As a matter of fact, socio-demographic statistics show that more than 50 million girls/women are `missing' from Indian population (Abortion, female infanticide, foeticide, 2004; Bahatnagar, 2005; Bagga, 2004; Gandhi & Shah, 1992; MacFarquhar, 1994; Missing, 2003). Sex ratios (number of women per 1000 men) in India show the predicament of women (CWDS, 2002; Rustagi, 2003; 2006). According to The World Bank (2007), women constitute only 48.7% of the Indian population and sex ratio at birth is 1.12 males per female (CIA: The World Factbook, 2007). What is more discerning is that the imbalance is on the rise in many regions of India. For example, in 1901, the sex ratio for all India was 972. In 2001, this ratio stands at 933 (Rustagi, 2003, p. 6). Although there is a slight recovery in some states since the mid-1990s (see adult sex ratio comparisons in Table II), this recovery is a reflection of the increased life expectancy of women. Particularly in Arunachal Pradesh, Haryana, Jamu/Kashmir, Punjab, Sikkim, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Andaman & N. Islands, the sex ratio is substantially below 900 females for 1000 males. In Chandigarh, Dadra & N. Haveli and Daman & Diu, the sex ratio alarmingly falls under 800. Even in the two regions where girls have traditionally outnumbered boys with a slight margin (Pondicherry and Kerala), the positive trend has been showing a reversal. As the last column of Table II shows, when we examine child sex ratios (under 6 yrs), we see that in 11 states, imbalance in sex ratios has actually risen. The following are some reasons behind the sex imbalances:3 Maternal Mortality Rates (MMR): The MMR for India is 540 per 100,000 live births (The World Bank, 2007), although there is lots of regional variability in these numbers (lowest of 28 in Gujarat and highest of 707 in Uttar Pradesh, see Rustagi, 2003). CEDAW (not dated) estimates MMR for India to be 707 per 100,000 live births since women also die shortly after deliv3 In this paper, I am omitting a discussion of suttee (wife burning). This is a historical tradition which may be as ancient as dowry itself, or may predate the practice of dowry. It is generally attributed to the mythical Goddess Sita who has walked through live ambers to prove her devotion and chastity to her husband , the powerful God Rama (MacFarquhar, 1994). In a society which has little space, social roles or social services for widows, throwing oneself (or being unwillingly thrown) to the funeral pyre of a widow's husband was a socially pathological way of measuring devotion. This practice has now been outlawed for more than two decades and occurs extremely rarely in remote regions. However, the status of widows is still low in India and widows continue to be treated as social outcasts.



eries. Factors that victimize women are poor nutrition both during and prior to pregnancy, frequent and unplanned pregnancies without women's consent or choice, anemia, tuberculosis, infections due to unsanitary conditions and lack of medical facilities and trained personnel during birth (Mukhopadhyay & Savithri, 1998; Rustagi, 2003). CEDAW (not dated) estimates that only 36% of women are attended by a skilled health professional during pregnancy, but 78% of births take place without the attendance of a skilled health personnel. Put in another way, 4/5 women are left to their own means or deliver with the help of untrained in-laws or neighbours. Infant Mortality Rates (IMR): India's 73 (per 100,000 live births) is one of the highest IMR in the world. In addition, there are substantial regional differences in these rates, ranging from western-like conditions in Kerala (13) to third-world conditions in Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Uttar Pradesh (97, 97 and 93 respectively). For the purposes of the present paper, what is of great importance is that IMR are gendered. As stark contrast to the natural survival advantage of girl children, baby girls in India are more likely to become victims of infant mortality. This over victimization reaches shocking levels in Haryana (20% more girls than boys die), Himachal Pradesh (17% more girls), Maharashtra (14% more girls), Uttar Pradesh (14% more girls) and Tamil Nadu (10% more girls, see Rustagi, 2003, p. 14). According to the World Bank (2007) estimates, 47% of Indian children under five years of age suffer from malnutrition. There are reasons to believe that a much larger proportion of these children are girls. Sharma (2001) estimates that between 1-4 ages, the number of deaths for female children is one-and-a-half times higher than the number of deaths among boys of the same age. She explains this substantial disadvantage as a product of malnutrition and medical neglect of girls. In addition to malnutrition, the higher than expected death rates of girl children may also be due to more sinister causes such as female infanticide (Abortion, female infanticide, foeticide, 2004; Rustagi, 2006; Sharma, 2001; Sethuraman, 2006; Singh, 2004b).

Female Infanticide: Mostly afflicting rural areas, female infanticide has been a hidden social ill in India. Although increasingly replaced by foeticide, infanticide still snuffs out the life of many female children shortly after birth (Abortion, female infanticide, foeticide, 2004; Sethuraman, 2006). Elimination techniques used are varied, ranging from poisonous berries, pesticides, uncooked rice, stuffing the infant's mouth with black-salt or urine, poison on mother's breasts, suffocation with a wet towel and starvation (Hegde, 1999; Jones, 1999). Parts of Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan are notorious for female infanticide (Rustagi, 2003, pp. 12-13).



Foeticide: In India, easy access to new reproductive technologies has advanced the blatant misuse of these technologies (Luthra, 1994; Sarna, 2003). Although India has passed legislation to curb the misuse (The PreNatal Diagnostic Techniques [Regulation] Act, 1994, see ICRW, 2004; UNICEF: India, 2007), selective abortion of female fetuses has reached a crisis proportion. The Indian Medical Association estimates that more than five million female foetuses are aborted annually (ICRW, 2004, p. 12; Luthra, 1994). There are other disturbing trends of abuse of technologies such as ultrasound and amniocentesis. Once basically confined to rich districts of the wealthy states, there is a visible proliferation of such technologies in the poor rural regions. Even in the disadvantaged rural sections of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar and Haryana, ultrasound clinics have mushroomed and have become `mobile' (ICRW, 2004). It is no longer necessary for the poor, rural populations to travel to urban centres for sex selection services; sex selection services at the back of a van or a pick-up truck now reach the poor, rural clientele. Moreover, more sophisticated sex selection techniques such as sperm separation and pre-implantation are increasingly made available to the traditional upper casts and the newly rich, despite the fact that these techniques are regulated by the state since 2003 (ICRW, 2004). The misuse of reproductive technologies to eliminate female pregnancies has reached such alarming levels that the state government of Gujarat was compelled to launch the `Beti Bachao Abhiyan (Save the Daughter) campaign (UNICEF: India, 2007). Gujarat has also started to more closely monitor the mushrooming sex selection technologies and even confiscated many machines used for that purpose. Nevertheless, what needs to be underscored is that the problem lies in the attitudes towards women, the lower status of girl children and the fear of the dowry burden. Confiscating machines will not resolve the violence against the unborn or girls/women, without a parallel change in dowryrelated attitudes and behaviour. DOWRY DEATHS & DOMESTIC CRUELTY & SEX RATIO IMBALANCES Up to this point, I reviewed a number of gendered social ills that afflict the Indian society and provided available statistical comparisons to back my assertions. It is now time to show the link between dowry deaths, domestic cruelty and unbalanced sex ratios. For this, I refer the reader to Table III which rank orders the states and the Union Territories on the variables of interest. Ranking is done from the worst (1) to the best (32) on each of the factors. However, readers need to be cautioned that even the best ranking (32) in any one of these factors is substantially below the general standards, especially in terms of adult and child sex ratios. In terms of dowry deaths and cruelty (which includes dowry harassment), most human rights and women's rights conventions would



Table III: Rank Ordering of the States & Union Territories on Relevant Factors1 State Andhra Pradesh Arunachal P. Assam Bihar Goa Gujarat Haryana Himachal P. Jammu&Kashmir Karnataga Kerala Madhya Pradesh Maharashtra Manipur Meghalaya Mizoram Nagaland Orissa Punjab Rajastan Sikkim Tamilnadu Tripura Uttar Pradesh West Bengal A. & N. Islands Chandigarh Dadra & N.H. Daman & Diu Delhi Lakshadweep Pondicherri


Dowry Deaths 11.5 28 19 4 19 19 1 22 22 14 22 8 14 28 28 28 28 10 8 8 28 16.5 11.5 2 16.5 28 6 4 28 4 28 14

Cruelty Husband/Kin 6 25 14.5 20 21 2 5 9 26 16 3 10 4 27 30 30 30 13 18.5 1 30 22 11 14.5 8 18.5 7 17 12 23.5 30 23.5

Adult Sex Ratio 27 9 17 13 23 18 7 28.5 10 24 32 14 15 28.5 25 20 12 26 8 16 6 30 22 11 19 5 2 3 1 4 21 31

Child Sex Ratio 23.5 19.5 23.5 14 11.5 5 2 6 13 16 21.5 11.5 9 19.5 30 26 30 17 1 7 32 15 30 8 21.5 25 3 27 10 4 28 18

The worst rate is ranked as 1, the best rate is ranked as 32. Tied rankings are calculated as the mean of the tied positions.

argue that even one such incident is a major violation of the `unalienable right to life' in a society. One should also keep in mind that there are substantial differences amongst the states and Union Territories. For example, according to Table I, 23 out of 32 states/Union Territories have official dowry death rates equal to or larger than one per million population which means that 9/32 show zero per million (not absolute zero). Readers might think that a few deaths per million might not be an alarming statistic until they are reminded that India has over 1.12 billion population and thus the totality of dowry related deaths is in many thousands. Moreover, deaths which escape official recording may be many fold of this troublesome figure. Despite the methodological problem of underreporting which plagues statistics on violence against women (Hitchcock, 2001), I will still use the available official information to rank the worst third (ranks 1 through 12) on each of the indexes of interest (Table III, dowry deaths, cruelty by husband/kin, adult sex-ratio and child sex-ratio). The picture that emerges can be summarized as follows:



1. 2. 3. 4.

The above categorization cannot establish any causal path between the interactive effects of the four measures of violence against girls/women, but a few cautious generalizations are possible: First, almost half of all states and Union Territories (15/32) rank high in either all four, or three or two out of four measures of violence against girls/women (categories 1 & 2 above). Only 8/32 states (25%) consistently fall outside of the worst top third rank on all four measures (category 4 above). Another way of interpreting these observations is to say that violence against Indian girls/women is not random, but more likely to cluster in certain regions. States that show dowry problems also seem to show problems in one or more other measures. What is also worth underscoring is the fact that all states/Union Territories that show the highest levels of problems (Haryana, Chandigarh, Delhi, Daman & Diu, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Rajastan and Uttar Pradesh) are located in some of the most affluent North-east and North-central regions of India. In contrast, some of the lowest levels of violence in all measures seem to be found in the southern tip and North-eastern regions (Assam, Karnataga, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tamil Nadu, Lakshadweep, Pondicherri), which are much less affluent than their Northern counterparts. In a way, the level of violence against women in India is not due to relative or absolute poverty, but seems to be exasperated by the relative affluence of the region. All violence measures taken together attest to the continuing low status of women and girl children in Indian society. Low Status of Women In India: Many scholars trace the low status of Indian women to the 2000 years-old writings of Manu, which still shape the contemporary gendersocialization process. According to Manu, females must be subjected to

States which fall within 1-12 ranks (worst top third) in at least three of four measures are: Chandighar, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Rajastan, Uttar Pradesh, Daman & Diu and Delhi. States which fall within 1-12 ranks (worst top third) in at least two of four measures are: Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tripura and Dadra & N. Haveli. States which fall within 1-12 ranks (worst top third) in one of four measures are: Arunachal Pradesh, Bihar, Goa, Jammu & Kashmir, Kerala, Nagaland, Orissa, Sikkim, West Bengal and A & N. Islands. Out of the 32, there are only eight states or Union Territories that fall outside of the worst top third ranking on all measures (dowry death, cruelty, adult sex ratio and child sex ratio). These states are Assam, Karnataga, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tamil Nadu, Lakshadweep and Pondicherri.



their fathers when they are young, should obey and serve their husbands in adulthood and be subservient to their sons in case they are widowed. Manu orders that women should never be independent (cited in Wadley, 1988). The docility of Indian women is also emphasized through psychological analyses of violence against them (Gandhi & Shah, 1992; Mandal, 2001; Rastogi & Therly, 2006; Roy, 2000). In analyzing the low status of women in India, Singh (2004a) highlights the state's failure to enforce existing legislation against dowry and dowry harassment. Bahatnagar (2005) and Roy (2000) also underscore the same issue. For example, dowry cases rarely reach the courts, first and foremost for underreporting. Reasons behind underreporting are multilayered, but again linked to women's docility where female victims and their families remain in a tapestry of silence: "The single largest factor which contributes to women's undoing is her submissiveness. She totally accepts her environment because she has internalized acceptance and submission as a goal in her life" (Gandhi & Shah, 1991, p. 85). Others find fault with Indian marriage customs. Gandhi and Shah (1991) see marriage as a "compulsion" which dominates all Indian women's lives as well as the Indian society as a whole. Insistence on marriage is so powerful that in South India, it is believed that a girl who dies before getting married will `haunt' her natal house. To appease her restless soul, parents arrange a symbolic marriage before the cremation of their dead daughter's body (Gandhi & Shah, 1991, p. 93). What do such customs say for girls/young women who are not able to find suitable partners because of dowry demands? Preoccupation with marriage also has implications for mothers of sons. Mothers of sons whose self worth gradually erodes after reaching the end of their reproductive years seek some appeasement to their decades of sacrifice. As Gandhi & Shah (1991, p. 59) observe, bargaining hard for sons (dowry) and taking reflected glory from `his value' in a symbolic way, becomes a measure of the value of the mothers who brought them up (also see Rastogi & Therly, 2006). Once married, a woman is expected to stay married, regardless of the violence in her life. Natal families are often reluctant to see a married woman return home. Daughters are persuaded by their own parents "explicitly or implicitly, to bear everything stoically" (Rastogi & Therly, 2006, p. 70). Kishwar (1999, 1991) argues that the pressure to keep the marriage going at all costs is the real killer rather than dowry or the lack of it. However, blaming the women themselves or blaming their natal families for the violence should not misdirect the critical gaze away from the failures of the state. This fact is also recognized by the United Nations (1999, p.4) when its commission on human rights concludes "The State, through legal and moral regulation, plays an important role in family life, as well as an important role in determining the status, rights and remedies of individual family actors.... [Its] laws validate and entrench the dominant ideology and the women's position within it." In India, it is clear that the dowry prohibition attempts of the 1980s have not been



accompanied by a serious political will to improve the status of women in or outside of marriage. The dowry prohibition attempts have not dismantled inheritance biases against women, not put a stop to dowry exchanges, are not focused on prevention and have not made the prosecution of cases easy for victims. The state has also failed to deal with the unnatural death of female foetuses, infants and children. Indian feminist and activist literatures carefully document examples of police bias, indifference and corruption, especially in crimes committed against women (Goonesekere, 2004; Poonacha & Pandey, 1999; Elizabeth, 2000; Singh, 2004a; Visaria, 1999). There are chilling examples where police refuse to lay charges, alter reports, temper with evidence and sometimes even use physical and sexual intimidation to further subjugate and silence the victims (Gandhi & Shah, 1991; CWDS, 2002). Many perpetrators easily escape justice. For example, in 1997, out of the 1,133 cases of `unnatural deaths' of women in Bangalore, only 157 were treated as murder, while 546 were considered `suicide' and another 430 were written off as `accidental' (Hitchcock, 2001). Even when cases reach the courts, victims and their families are caught in a web of patriarchal biases and delays and convictions are very few (Hitchcock, 2001; Rustagi, 2003). Non-clarity and elasticity of the sections of the IPC, hard to reinforce anti-dowry legislation and inability to deal with misuse of reproductive technologies set the stage for failure. It should also be noted that judges and lawyers themselves are not immune to cultural biases. LOOKING TO THE FUTURE: FORCES FOR & AGAINST CHANGE In this paper, dowry violence was not seen as a social evil on its own, but as an evil that is deeply linked with other gendered evils such as violence against and life and death disadvantages for females. In a country where patriarchal, feudal and patrilocal marriage rules reign, girls are still seen as a burden on their natal families and as an intruder on their families of procreation. Women, especially mothers-in- law, are socialized to stay silent, accept and also enforce discriminatory rules. In many cases, they themselves become the abusers and perpetrators of heinous acts (Rastogi & Therly, 2006). Moreover, the following confounding factors make a unitary stance against gendered violence difficult, if not impossible: 1. India has 15 official languages (CIA: The World Factbook, 2007), subsumes more than a hundred languages and dialects, has at least five separate religious groups (Hindu, Sikh, Moslem, Buddhist, Jain) and still visible remnants of an entrenched cast hierarchy. The sheer number and the magnitude of social problems of a relatively new democracy with over a billion population are often insurmountable. 2. Given the size of the country, the regional variability is overwhelming.



Costs associated with travel and communication are prohibitive. In India, there are also security issues surrounding free travel and women traveling alone are at a heightened peril. 3. Absolute poverty for a very large segment of the population exhausts efforts. Despite its natural richness and beauty, many parts of India are one step ahead of natural disasters, epidemic scares and racial/ethnic/religious unrest. As mentioned above, almost half of India's children are malnourished (The World Bank, 2007). 4. Despite its gargantuan information technology jump into the 21st century, in many regards, India remains a traditional society. This traditionality is especially strong when it comes to family customs and rituals. Even Indian feminists, scholars and activists seem to seek solutions within the existing gender hierarchies and family customs rather than in their critical analysis or possible annihilation. On the positive side, India is producing a highly educated workforce and at least, in the urbanized areas, women's paid labour force participation is on the rise (28% of the workforce, The World Bank, 2007). Eapen & Kodoth (2003) see the Indian women's salvation in their improved formal education and in their paid labour-force participation. These two indexes, in the long run, may create a slightly more balanced playing field for Indian girls/women in and outside of family relations. A second positive development is a vibrant grass-roots women's movement in India which is also buttressed by the national and international NGOs (Action India, 2004; Gandhi & Shah, 1992; Magar, 2003; Malhotra et al., 2003; UNIFEM, 1998; 2003a/b and not dated). As the 3rd point, with its

mega population, massive manufacturing and information technologies and nuclear power status, India is now under the global gaze. It is quite possible that the state's historical shortcomings and failures in protecting its female population may be catapulted into a higher level of commitment and action under this global scrutiny. Let us hope that the positive developments will help remedy the continuing disadvantages of Indian women.




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