The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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That men can say wife-beating is their social right suggests that the success of the women’s movement is engendering a backlash

Beat ’em up, keep ’em in place. This seems to be the motto of the male respondents in the study on domestic violence conducted by Oxfam. It would seem from the report on the study that most men consider wife-beating a social right, and violence the “natural” way of keeping control. Since Oxfam presented the “key” findings at a workshop, this is probably the general tone of the study, incredible though it may appear. It is all the more alarming since the study claims to have covered metros, small towns and rural areas, and questioned men and women from all socio-economic segments and income profiles. Such a response would not have seemed incredible even a few years ago. It is incredible now, because accepting this as the dominant attitude among men is also to accept that the women’s movement, with the special attention it has recently given to the issue of domestic violence, the active campaigns against wife-beating and torture, the growth of counselling centres, temporary shelters and avenues for legal aid, the ceaseless efforts to raise both awareness and vigilance, even the sensitization of the courts and, to some extent, the media, have had no effect at all.

Instead, the struggle seems to have been self-defeating. If most men covered by the study are expressing this kind of opinion, it argues a reckless arrogance that seeks to re-entrench what is worst in a male-ordered social relations. It may not be difficult to accept that deep down a large number of men feel this way still — and not just men either. Women, who have since childhood been taught the “woman’s place”, and have experienced violence and oppression as part of everyday life, whether in the natal or marital home, often opt for the line of least resistance, from ignorance, the lack of the mental or material wherewithal to fight with, or for whatever security, even privileges, that can be gained in exchange of suffering. Survival with the illusion of self-respect in society sometimes entails the acceptance and perpetuation of dominant attitudes. A survey of women had earlier shown a shocking percentage accepting husbandly violence as natural, deserved and even as an expression of love. Such deeply entrenched attitudes will take much time to change. But to proclaim it, knowing that condemnation is inevitable and justified, is completely different.

Women’s lack of education in India has been identified as one of the chief causes of their vulnerability. But how educated are the men whose answers have given the Oxfam report its amazingly boorish tone' Apparently, censuring acts of violence in general has nothing to do with wife-beating, because that is a “private” matter. Freedom for women is bad, they give the family a bad name, women have a role and any transgression of that role naturally brings down on them the deserved punishment. This reads like a bad fantasy by an ignorant medievalist. The issue is not a generic conflict between men and women, it is violence. Recent reports about husband-battering are multiplying too. By talking like thugs, the men in the Oxfam report are putting even their more vulnerable compatriots at risk. After this, it will be difficult to believe that men are actually capable of reason, and can, once in a while, desist from beating up their wives before they sit down to watch television.

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