As violence against women in domestic spaces has been increasing in recent years, legal experts dealing with the cases are of the view that substance abuse and marital conflicts caused by extramarital affairs, which is worsened by increasing use of social media, are the main causes of domestic violence against women in Manipur, while some say it is an expression of gender inequality.
In the family court of Manipur, complaints of married women, who demand separation and maintenance from their husbands and in-laws following domestic violence is high, Advocate Lenibala says, speaking exclusively to the Imphal Free Press.
According to the Manipur State Commission for Women (MSCW) report, from September 16, 2021 till September 8, 2022, the commission received 85 complaint cases, out which 68 cases were successfully closed. Domestic violence-related cases top the complaint cases. Most cases before the family court get divorce even after special counselling, Lenibala says.
The National Family Health Survey (2019-2020) Report-5 also indicates a rise in violence against women in domestic spaces as 35 per cent to 42.8 per cent in Manipur.
In many cases of marital conflict, no income and no satisfaction from partners along with increasing use of mobile and social media have been cited as major reasons, Lenibala says.
The advocate explains that often the husband would trouble the wife when he needs money, beat her up and send her away to get money from her parents or force her to earn money.
Hence, joblessness or unemployment in the case of women creates a great risk of violence against them. It is a common issue that has been prevalent for decades, but new issues are social media’s negative impact.
A divorced woman and a mother of two, Premila (name changed) told this IFP reporter that “a mobile phone can easily destroy a relationship between a husband and a wife.”
As narrated by her, every day after dinner, her husband leaves home with his mobile phone and sleeps after 12 midnight. One day she found illicit text messages with another woman in her husband’s phone which destroyed her trust and hope in her husband, she says.
“It was October 13, 2020,” Premila said and continued: “I still remember the day. Suffering from gall bladder stone, I was hospitalised. At the hospital, my sister stayed with me, and my husband left his mobile phone at the hospital bed. A woman called his number and identified herself as his mistress,” said Premila.
Since then, the bonding with her husband was replaced by anger and conflicts. And, in 2021, when COVID-19 pandemic restrictions were enforced in the state and all were compelled to stay home together, the arguments and fights increased between them and her husband started indulging in violence increasingly. Her husband, who works at a cloth shop at Khwairamband Keithel, would even ask her money to recharge his mobile internet pack, she said.
“The demand for money increased and he started using WY tablets (drugs). I was totally frustrated and returned to my matriarchal home with my children,” said Premila.
Her mother-in-law came to take her back but her husband had not stopped using drugs. He had not returned home and stayed at North AOC with other drug users, she said, adding that his other woman was also a drug user.
When she learnt of it, she was afraid of leaving her children with a drug-user husband, so she divorced him and left with her children. Since then, she took to selling vegetables and fruits by the roadside to fend for herself and children, she added.
In another case in Imphal area, a victim said her husband forced his wife to re-enact porn scenes after watching pornography videos.
The internet has made access to pornographic content easier that lured and led men or women or even youth to commit crime. There are several unfolding narratives of marital rapes and intimate partner sexual violence as told to this reporter by the victims, seeking legal help.
It is not only men who indulge in extramarital affairs but women also have extramarital affairs, which cases are registered with the Women Action for Development (WAD), said Sobita Mangsatabam, secretary of WAD.
One of the reasons for intimate partner violence is ‘extramarital affairs’ leading to economic and physical abuse perpetrated by the husband upon the wife, said Sobita.
Violence against women is also an expression of gender inequality. Most of the domestic violence cases are not reported or opened in a proper forum due to lack of knowledge or women accept it as Karma and become victims.
Sobita explained that the society in Manipur is based on a patriarchal family system where man holds a dominant figure. Domestic violence due to dowry, harassment, rape, suicides and battering, now extra marital affairs are the forms of gender inequalities within the family system, she said.
Mostly women are deprived of their right to work in order to cut their economic status and make them subordinates and dependent on men.
Sobita said that in the state, surprisingly most women accept whatever is meted out to her as her karma. Most women choose to tolerate the crime of domestic abuse or violence, as most often they are committed by people close to them.
The WAD official said that self-discovery has to be facilitated to enable women to move ahead with confidence and dignity. It is important to acknowledge the vital role that subjective conditioning plays in the decision-making process, she said.
“Many may say that no income or other factors cause domestic violence but I will say that there is no specific cause for domestic violence. The cause of violence often is not known to anybody,” said Sobita.
To narrate violence against women in a family context, we have to go through the cultural factors relating to marriage, status of women and power structure relationship between men and women, she added.
Manipur society glorifies the image of a woman who has patience, tolerance and receptiveness to whatever is given to her by the husband. This is another reason that prevents women from walking out of the violent relationship, she said.
Domestic violence has a significant impact on the life and health, economic conditions of the victim and affects all age groups. It is spreading like a communicable disease, Sobita said.
Everyone should contribute to society to free women from violence, she said, adding the legislation should not be confined to books.
The government should make effective legislation to control violence against women, Sobita said, suggesting recruiting protection officers separately without any attachment to any other post for dealing with the life-threatening issue.
As per the National Family Health Survey report-4, Manipur’s cases of domestic and spousal violence have successively declined to 39.6 per cent from 53.2 per cent as per NFHS report-5, but remain a terrifying factor in rising domestic abuse. Sexual abuse experiences of women at the age of 18, however, have declined to 5.4 per cent in 2019-20 from 14 per cent in 2015-16.
According to NFHS-4, every third woman in India encounters some sort of domestic abuse from the age of 15. It also said that 31 per cent of married women have experienced physical, sexual, or emotional torture at the hands of their partners. The main concern is that only around 10 per cent of these women reported violence. Unreported crime is a big issue that must be addressed, and women must understand their rights as well as how to defend them. To address such incidents, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act of 2005 was enacted.
Recently, in a bid to curb domestic violence, a legal-awareness programme was organised by the District Legal Services Authority, Tamenglong at Longmai (Noney) Part–IV. During the programme, L Rina, secretary of the District Legal Aid Service, Tamenglong, appealed to the public to report cases of domestic violence to authorities concerned such as the magistrate, protection officer, service provider and police officer in time.
"Once we are aware of what amounts to domestic violence, cases of violence occurring within the family can be prevented to some extent," Rina said, adding that domestic violence affects not only women, but family members and community as well.