What India can learn from Australia on domestic violence?
One social parallel that can be drawn between two dissimilar countries like India and Australia is rampant family violence in both the countries. As Australia is fighting the menace vigorously, India can learn a few lessons from it, giving some relief to its about 500 million strong female population, majority of which go through the humiliation of domestic violence, sometime or the other, in their life.
An analysis by Australia’s National Research for Women’s Safety in 2012 revealed that one in five Australian women, aged over 15, experienced sexual violence and one in three experienced physical violence from an intimate partner. Every year 80 to 100 women are killed in the country by their former or current partners. 81 in 2014(ABC) News, 4 May 2015).
The situation is worse in India as the scope of violence against women here is vast–from pre-birth to death. A United Nations in India Report (2013), Masculinity, Son Preference and Intimate Partner Violence, stated that 34 percent women (aged 18-39) experienced physical, emotional and sexual violence in their family in previous one year. India's National Family Health Survey-III, carried out in all states (2005-06), found that nationwide 37.2 percent women experienced violence after marriage. 63 per cent of urban women suffered abuse indicating urbanization means more domestic violence for women. Delhi government’s women helpline receives about 13,600 calls in a month, nearly 90 percent of which are reportedly of domestic violence - women who are unsafe in their own homes (Hindustan Times, 14 September 2012).
In Australia, however, the debate and action on the issue of domestic violence has intensified recently after an incident in February 2012.
Luke Batty, an 11 year old Melbourne boy was killed at a cricket ground by his father who was separated from his former partner- Luke’s mother Rossie Batty. The tragedy underlined a pervasive social problem in the country with which a large number of women identified, pouring support for Rossie Batty’s public campaign against domestic violence. The government also set up a Royal Commission on Domestic Violence in Victoria that made 217 recommendations (April 2016) including an awareness programme targeting children and including it in school curriculum. The Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called family violence a national problem committing $100 million to fight it, while premier of Victoria committed $ 500 million in the current state budget to fund preventive and protective measures to combat domestic violence in the state (ABC News, 13 April 2016).
In India, however, no such government seriousness and financial support is seen despite passing of prevention of domestic violence legislation in 2005. After six years , in 2012-13 budget, the government allocated Rs. 20 crores for its implementation but the money remained unspent because there was no programme of action. Since then there has been a silence in government circles on the issue. In the 2015-16 budgets also, there are no financial provisions for preventing domestic violence. On the contrary, the ministry of women and child development, a nodal agency for women centric programmes, received 17,408 crores in the current budget over 17,352 crore last year – an increase of 0.32 per cent ( Government of India budget, 2012 and 2016), while Indian economy grew by about 7 per cent during this period!
Apart from raising serious questions about women’s share in economic prosperity of the country, it also signifies government’s indifference to women protection and welfare in the country. Irrespective of political party in power, the governments have been reluctant to increase spending on women empowerment programmes contrary to loud claims in international forums such as Commission on the Status of Women in United Nations (Maneka Gandhi, Minister for women and child development, Hindu, 16 March 2016).
It is a serious policy lapse as the protection of women at home has an enormous economic implications for the society.
A report of Copenhagen consensus on conflict and violent assessment (2014) estimated that the domestic violence costs the world $8 trillion annually. Given India’s about 3 per cent contribution in the world economy it translates into whopping $240 billion per annum. Even a little reduction in domestic violence in the country therefore, has a rich economic dividend and an adequate investment in this area makes a sound economic sense.
Socially, domestic violence is a ‘standalone’ problem which, Rossie Batty, the Australian of the year (2015), called ‘terrorism in family’. It requires to be confronted and prevented in real time to break a cycle. It is shown that the children who witness domestic violence are more likely to perpetrate or accept family violence when they are adults (UN Report on Gender 2012), thus perpetuating control, patriarchy and disrespect for women in a family. To break this chain there is a need of creating awareness programmers and institutional structure for which a liberal funding is urgently required.
Australia, as an economically developed country has recognized that material prosperity is no guarantee to a civilized and happy life if socially the family remains a violent and barbaric unit. It has realized that the domestic violence is a deep social problem that requires to be fought legally and socially matching words with financial commitments. India also should follow its example by heavily investing in women protection and development measures. Sooner it does, earlier it will reap the fruits of modernity that it aspires.
The writer is a Melbourne based human rights researcher and writer. Formerly he taught political science in Delhi University and was the national general secretary of People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) @pushkarraaj