Thiruvananthapuram: In a live programme, Kerala Women’s Commission Chairperson MC Josephine was seen making insensitive remarks to a victim of domestic violence, landing herself in hot waters as the clip went viral.
The programme, conducted live by Manorama News, was held so that victims could send their complaints directly to Josephine regarding the abuse that they were being subjected to.
However, things went south when a caller from Kochi told Chairperson Josephine that after being married in 2014, she has been subjected to domestic violence in her household. According to sources, Josephine had been irritable since the beginning of the call and had been complaining of background noises. After asking if it was the son and the mother-in-law who was abusing her, Josephine asked the caller if she had filed a complaint against them. When the caller replied that she hadn’t, Josephine blamed the victim, saying, “then you suffer.” Josephine asked the woman to consult a lawyer and take help from the court, or even complain to the Women’s Commission; however, she indicated that it would not be productive since the husband lived abroad.
After the clip went viral, several people demanded Josephine’s resignation. The chairperson defended herself by saying that she did not behave badly towards the complainant, and denied having said, “then you suffer.” She reiterated that she got calls of a similar nature on the daily which can make her susceptible to pressure, and also said that common people might not understand the situation completely and thus needed things to be said to them clearly and concisely.
This case of domestic violence is not an isolated one. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) 2019, a majority (30.9%) of all the 4.05 lakh cases under crimes against women are registered under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which deals with “cruelty by husband or his relatives.” However, these statistics are only of reported crimes. the recently launched National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) (2019-2020) shows the percent of women who have experienced domestic violence in each state: 44% of women respondents in Karnataka have experienced spousal violence, followed by Bihar (40%), Manipur (39.6), Telangana (36.9), Assam (32%), and Andhra Pradesh (30%). Lakshadweep (1.3%), Nagaland (6.4%), Goa (8.3%) and Himachal Pradesh (8.3%) have the lowest violence among all the states surveyed. Kerala recorded a percentage of 9.9%. The survey proves that most of these centres go unreported.
Recently, 24-year-old Vismaya, an Ayurveda medical student, died after allegedly being abused by her husband, Kiran Kumar, over dowry. Vismaya had sent Whatsapp messages to her family in which she shared photos of the alleged abuse where her husband had dragged her by the hair and stamped on her face. Vismaya was found dead on June 21 in her husband’s house, and had allegedly died of suicide due to the incessant abuse over dowry demands.
The case opened the discourse and debate about dowry and women being forced to “comprise” in abusive marriages. Kerala’s CM Pinarayi Vijayan called the incident a result of the “barbaric dowry system” and on June 24, announced that the state’s textbooks would be revised to remove words and phrases disparaging women and that steps would be taken to turn schools and colleges into more inclusive spaces. The CM said that the government was also contemplating including lessons on anti-dowry and gender equality in the syllabus.
In a statement released on June 23, Vijayan reiterated that gender equality was needed now more than ever and that a democratic society was built upon justice and equality.
"Textbooks must be audited from the perspective of gender equality. It must be ensured that our school campuses are spaces that embrace notions of gender justice. These matters will be taken seriously as part of the revision of our school curriculum," the Minister had said. “This process will even include the changing of words/phrases that go against notions of gender equality and justice. Efforts will also be made to inculcate constitutional values and develop civic consciousness among school students.”