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Women defy norms, get beaten in Rajasthan: Study

Rajiv Shah* | Ahmedabad

A new study by Oxfam India found an alarming 54.4 per cent of women were beaten up when they attempted to leave their house without permission and 86.4 per cent women were "harshly criticised" for the 'disrespect' shown to their male folks in the family. The study aimed to find crucial relationship between 'unpaid work' and sexual violence as a norm in rural Rajasthan.

Image for representational purpose only
The study titled 'On Women’s Back: India Inequality Report 2020' was conducted in five blocks of Udaipur district, Barwada, Salumbar, Sayra, Kherwada and Royda. It was part of Oxfam India's Household Care Survey 2019 that found 42.2 per cent women were beaten up for failing to fetch water or firewood for the family and 64.7 per cent were "harshly criticized" for failing to perform this 'crucial' household duty.

Further, the study concluded 41.2 per cent women were beaten up for failing to prepare meal for men in the family while 67.9 per cent were "harshly criticized"; 32.6 per cent were beaten up for leaving their dependent / ill unattended; 33 per cent were beaten up for failing to care for children and 53.4 per cent were "harshly criticized"; 26.3 per cent were beaten up for spending money without asking and 42 per cent were "harshly criticized"; and 24.3 per cent were beaten up for disobeying men in the family and 42.6 per cent were "harshly criticized".

Despite such rampant sexual violence, the report, authored by researchers Amrita Nandy and Diya Dutta with inputs from a grassroots organisation Aajivika Bureau stated "It was surprising to find that a majority of those we interviewed in rural Udaipur … mentioned that they had never faced sexual harassment…," even though they also revealed that the fear of sexual harassment was "the main cause for low participation of girls in school/college and women in labour."

Suggesting that this type of violence on women for their "unpaid work", that mainly involves household chores, has a huge impact on the economy, the report cited a World Bank estimate that "In India, women’s contribution to its GDP is one of the lowest in the world at 17 per cent."

The researchers selected Udaipur in order to do field study "because of its strong patriarchal culture, high levels of illiteracy and reasonable representation of traditionally marginalized communities such as Tribals (Scheduled Tribes), Dalits (Scheduled Castes) and Muslims."

Conclusions were drawn following seven focus group discussions (FGDs) in a participatory workshop mode and 74 in-depth interviews with mostly poor respondents with a monthly income of less than Rs 10,000.

Pointing out that the region was also selected because "heavy exodus of rural migrants from southern Rajasthan comprises 80 percent males," the report mentioned the available literature featured women only as having been "left behind", bearing "an increased burden of labour" and experiencing "greater autonomy with regard to decision making and mobility."

The report underlined that most of the literature on migration "is silent about these women’s lives, especially the nature and degree of intensive paid and/or unpaid labour performed by rural women."

It further added, "There is scant research on women migrants," especially in the context that "women in migrant household continue to perform a high degree of unpaid and underpaid work to keep the households afloat, exacerbated by the care work they have to perform for their sick and burnt out husbands upon their return from migration."

The report stated, "Rural women tend to justify men’s work as ‘hard work’ and women’s work as inconsequential" adding "At discussion with elderly women from the Dalit community in rural Udaipur, the women were expressly uncomfortable to talk about women’s unpaid care work as they thought it was natural, compulsory work and not worth wasting time discussing in a gathering."

Rajasthan, as against the national average of crimes against women (17.5 per cent), has a higher incidence (39.5per cent) and reporting of "such cases have seen a rise in the past decade since the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act became a civil instrument. Also, "Violence against women has another insidious but fatal face – the outright neglect of women’s health."

Noting that "such neglect is accompanied by a general lack of respect, contempt and verbal abuse by the husband and his family," the report even cited colloquial expressions in the local dialect suggesting so.

* The writer is Editor of Counterview. A version of this article first appeared here.