Northwestern student researches domestic violence in India

Maya Ragavan is a Northwestern University medical student researching intimate partner violence in India

In India domestic violence kills more people than terror attacks, according to a survey by the United Nations. Emotional, physical, sexual and financial abuse runs the gamut of intensity in India, says Feinberg medical student Maya Ragavan.

The most common form, she says, is yelling while the more sensational include throwing acid at a woman.

“People will pour carotene on a woman and light her on fire,” she says.

Ragavan is volunteering for Actionable Research and Training in Health in Udaipur, an English-speaking city in Western Ragastan. She’s interviewing women to learn how they define abuse and how it manifests in Indian society.

India’s interdependent culture relies heavily on the family unit. People also live in joint families, so abuse can occur among family members — not just between husband and wife.

“Traditionally, it creates a hierarchy,” Ragavan says. “India is very patriarchal as well.”

According to the United Nations, 35% of women face violence in India, which ranks as the fourth most dangerous place for women to live. Common reasons for intimate partner violence include dissatisfaction with dowry, arguing with your partner, refusing sex, leaving the home without telling your partner, not cooking the right way, not caring for in-laws and even infertility.

India’s Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act of 2005, however, recognizes intimate partner violence as a crime.  The law provides rights, protections and services for victims of domestic violence.

Instances of cruelty recognized by the courts include:

  • Denying a woman food
  • Not allowing her to see her family
  • Locking her out of the house
  • Denying her access to her children
  • Keeping the woman at home and not allowing her to socialize
  • Abusing her children in front of her
  • Threatening to divorce her unless a dowry is given

“The local government, which is called the panchayat, is really key in enforcing laws,” Ragavan said. “Depending on where you are in this country, the panchayat will have a different attitude towards domestic violence.”

Ragavan wants to know what actions women would take if they were in these abuse situations and what resources are available to them. Ragavan aims to create an attitudes survey and use the data to improve domestic violence programming. She’ll stack up what she learns about attitudes in India with the Western perspective on domestic violence.

What would these women do in hypothetical situations involving physical or emotional abuse? What about abuse from a mother-in-law?

The answer to these questions will contribute to ongoing research in the struggles Indian women a face. Seema Sinah’s article in the Indian Times, “It’s tough being a woman,” looks at the dangers and how India compares to other countries.

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