Domestic violence in India

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Domestic violence in India includes any form of violence suffered by a person from a biological relative, but typically is the violence suffered by a woman by male members of her family or relatives.[1][2] According to a National Family and Health Survey in 2005, total lifetime prevalence of domestic violence was 33.5% and 8.5% for sexual violence among women aged 15-49.[3] The instance of violence was reported to be lowest among Buddhist and Jain women, and highest among Muslim women in India.[3] A 2014 study in The Lancet reports that the reported sexual violence rate in India is among the lowest in the world, the large population of India means that the violence affects 27·5 million over women their lifetime.[4]

The 2012 National Crime Records Bureau report of India states a reported crime rate of 46 per 100,000, rape rate of 2 per 100,000, dowry homicide rate of 0.7 per 100,000 and the rate of domestic cruelty by husband or his relatives as 5.9 per 100,000.[5] These reported rates are significantly smaller than the reported intimate partner domestic violence rates in many countries, such as the United States (590 per 100,000) and reported homicide (6.2 per 100,000 globally), crime and rape incidence rates per 100,000 women for most nations tracked by the United Nations.[6][7][8]

The Domestic Violence Act of 2005 of India legally defines domestic violence and the prosecution guidelines of those cases that are reported to the police.


Domestic violence, or intimate partner violence (IPV) as it is sometimes called, is a worldwide problem.[9] Domestic abuse includes physical, emotional and sexual violence of any form. A 1999 study examined the prevalence and characteristics of domestic abuse in five districts of northern India during 1995–1996. The study reported that in those five districts, lifetime prevalence of domestic abuse ranged from 18% to 45%.[1]

Definition and law[edit]

The Domestic Violence Act of 2005 provides victims of abuse with a means for practical remedy through prosecution.[10]

Domestic violence is currently defined in India by the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act of 2005. According to Section 3 of the Act, “any act, omission or commission or conduct of the respondent shall constitute domestic violence in case it:[11]

  1. harms or injures or endangers the health, safety, life, limb or well-being, whether mental or physical, of the aggrieved person or tends to do so and includes causing physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal and emotional abuse and economic abuse; or
  2. harasses, harms, injures or endangers the aggrieved person with a view to coerce her or any other person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any dowry or other property or valuable security; or
  3. has the effect of threatening the aggrieved person or any person related to her by any conduct mentioned in clause (a) or clause (b); or
  4. otherwise injures or causes harm, whether physical or mental, to the aggrieved person.”

2006 NFHS survey report on domestic sexual violence[edit]

The National Family Health Survey of India in 2006 estimated the lifetime prevalence of sexual violence among women aged 15-49, including instances of marital rape in India. The study included in its definition of "sexual violence" all instances of a woman experiencing her husband "physically forcing her to have sexual intercourse with him even when she did not want to; and, forcing her to perform any sexual acts she did not want to".[12] The study sampled 83,703 women nationwide, and determined that 8.5% of women in the 15-49 age group had experienced sexual violence in their lifetime.[13] This figure includes all forms of forced sexual activity by husband on wife, during their married life, but not recognized as marital rape by Indian law.

The 2006 NFHS study reported sexual violence to be lowest against women in the 15-19 age group, and urban women reporting 6% lifetime prevalence rate of sexual violence, while 10% of rural women reported experiencing sexual violence in their lifetime.[14] Women with ten years of education experienced sharply less sexual violence, compared to women with less education.[14]

By religion, Buddhist and Jain women reported the lowest prevalence of sexual violence in their lifetime (3 and 4 percent), while 5% of Sikh women, 6% of Christian women and 8% of Hindu women reported experiencing sexual violence. The highest prevalence rate (11%) of lifetime sexual violence was reported by Muslim women.[13]

A 2014 study in The Lancet states, "Whereas an 8·5% prevalence of sexual violence in the country [India] is among the lowest in the world, it is estimated to affect 27·5 million women in India [given India's large population]".[4] Further, the 2006 survey found that 85% of women who suffered sexual violence, in or outside of marriage, never sought help, and only 1% report it to the police.[4][15]

Data reliability[edit]

Renuka Chowdhury, former Union minister for Women and Child Development, stated in 2006, that around 70% of women in India are victims of domestic violence.[16] However her statistics were disputed by Save Indian Family Foundation, stating that Renuka Chowdhury talked about the reported dowry death cases and deliberately avoided mentioning the actual convictions in “dowry death trials” after false cases are dismissed in the courts.[17]


The map shows the comparative rate of violence against women in Indian states and union territories in 2012. Crime rate data per 100,000 women in this map is the broadest definition of crime against women under Indian law. It includes rape, sexual assault, insult to modesty, kidnapping, abduction, cruelty by intimate partner or relatives, trafficking, persecution for dowry, dowry deaths, indecency, and all other crimes listed in Indian Penal Code.[18][19]

Physical violence[edit]

Physical injury is the most visible form of domestic violence. The scope of physical domestic/intimate partner violence includes slapping, pushing, kicking, biting, hitting, throwing objects, strangling, beating, threatening with any form of weapon, or using a weapon.[20] Worldwide, the percentage of women who suffer serious injuries as a result of physical domestic violence tends to range from 19% - 55%.[2] Physical injuries as a result of domestic violence against women are more obvious than psychological ones, and can be more easily discerned by health professionals as well as courts of law in the context of legal prosecution.

Emotional abuse[edit]

Emotional abuse has been gaining more and more recognition in recent years as an incredibly common form of domestic violence (and therefore a human rights abuse) within the private home throughout developing nations such as India. Psychological abuse can erode a woman’s sense of self-worth and can be incredibly harmful to overall mental and physical wellbeing. Emotional/psychological abuse can include harassment; threats; verbal abuse such as name-calling, degradation and blaming; stalking; and isolation.[20]

Women who experience domestic violence overwhelmingly tend to have greater overall emotional distress, as well as disturbingly high occurrences of suicidal thoughts and attempts. According to a study by the National Centre for Biotechnology Information, suicide attempts in India are correlated with physical and psychological intimate partner violence. Of the Indian women who participated in the study, 7.5% reported attempting suicide. This correlation is supported by the high rates of domestic violence in India, although the rates differ greatly by region, individual socioeconomic status and other factors.[21]

Sexual assault[edit]

Further information: Rape in India

Sexual assault is another common form of domestic violence in India. Sexual violence can include a range of forceful and non-forceful acts including unwanted kissing, touching, or fondling; sexual/reproductive coercion; rape; and marital rape. In a 1995-1996 PubMed study conducted in Northern India, wife abuse appears to be fairly common throughout the region as a whole. 22% of the 6632 adult men surveyed reported sexually abusing their wife without physical force in at least one instance and 7% reported sexual abuse with physical force. Abuse was most common among men who also had extramarital affairs, and among those who had STD symptoms. Abusive sexual behaviors were also found to be correlated with an elevated rate of unplanned pregnancies.[22] In 2013, a court in Mumbai ruled that depriving a woman of sex is a form of cruelty.[23]

Regional differences[edit]

Domestic violence in India is prevalent in all castes, socioeconomic classes, religious groups and regions except North Sentinel Island and the Jarawa reserve.[24] However, there are very clear regional differences that must be addressed when analysing domestic violence rates and prevalence in India if policy measures are to be effective. In general, as inferred through various indicators, women in northern Indian states tend to have relatively less autonomy, limited inheritance/property rights, less individual economic opportunity, and higher rates of domestic abuse. On the other hand, women in southern Indian states tend to benefit from relatively less prevalence of disparity in these areas; making gender disparities in these regional differences unmistakably clear.[25]


Kerala, a state located in the southern tip of India, is often viewed as the ideal progressive leader in the women’s rights movement in India among states. Kerala maintains very high relative levels of female literacy and women’s health, as well as greater female inheritance and property rights. For example, a 1998 study conducted by Bina Agarwal found that while only 13% of all women in India with landowning fathers inherited that land as daughters, 24% of such women were able to do so in the state of Kerala.[26] This is important because it has been shown that measures to improve such access to property and economic independence through channels such as education not only directly improve women’s wellbeing and capabilities, but also reduce their risk of exposure to marital or any sort of domestic violence.[26]

Uttar Pradesh[edit]

The northern state of Uttar Pradesh experiences relatively high rates of domestic violence and gender disparities. Average physical abuse prevalence in Uttar Pradesh ranges from 18% - 45%, non-consensual sex rates range from 18% - 40%, and physically forced sex rates range from 4% - 7%.[27] The highest of these rates tend to occur in the district of Bandha within Uttar Pradesh, and these rates could likely be underestimates as they are largely the result of surveys of self-reporting by sampled men.[9] According to a 1996 survey of 6,902 men in Uttar Pradesh, up to 45% of men acknowledged that they at one point or another had physically abused their wife.[27]

Distribution of prevalence[edit]

In a 2000 multi-site household survey conducted in India, it was found that while overall approximately 50% of women surveyed had experienced some form of domestic violence throughout their married life, the rates varied significantly by specific location as well as overall region.[28] In rural areas and urban slums, that rate was approximately 55%, whereas in urban non-slum areas the rate was less than 40%.[28] Domestic violence is known to happen in upper-class families[29][30] as well as NRI families.[31]

According to a study made by Michael Koenig about the determinants of domestic violence in India published by the American Journal of Public Health in 2006, higher socioeconomic status tends to be protective against physical but not sexual violence.[32]


A map of the Indian dowry death rate per 100,000 people in 2012.[5]

According to Unicef's Global Report Card on Adolescents 2012, 57% of boys and 53% of girls in India think a husband is justified in hitting or beating his wife.[33]

Patriarchal social structure[edit]

There are three main aspects of the patriarchal household structure in India that affect women’s agency: marriage, active discrimination by means of abuse (marital or extramarital), and diminished women’s agency through limited economic opportunity through stifled opportunity for independence.[34] In all these dimensions, there is a clear relationship between strong patriarchal familial structures and limited capabilities and agency for women, which are strongly correlated with causal factors for domestic violence such as gender disparities in nutritional deprivation and a lack of women’s role in reproductive decisions.[34]

Dowry system[edit]

Domestic violence often happens in India as a result of dowry demands.[35] Dowry payments are another manifestation of the patriarchal structure in India. There are strong links between domestic violence and dowry, a cultural practice deeply rooted in many Indian communities, which is the money, goods, or property the woman/woman’s family brings to a marriage to now become under the ownership of the husband. This practice continues even today in India although banned by law since 1961, and in recent years dowry amounts have risen dramatically.[citation needed]

In a Srinivasan 2005 study published in World Development, results from a survey pointed to a negative correlation between dowry amount and inter-spousal violence, indicating the potential dangers of a wife falling short on dowry payments or expectations.[36] These dangers include not only common physical and emotional abuse such as hitting and continual degradation, but in some cases dowry death and bride burning as a result of the husband’s dissatisfaction with the dowry payment. In fact, 8391 dowry deaths reported in 2010, a steep rise from 6995 such reported cases in 1997.[37]

Under-reporting of domestic violence[edit]

There is widespread hesitancy amongst most Indian women who experience domestic violence to report or prosecute against such crimes.

Domestic violence is often not handled as a legitimate crime or complaint, but more of a private or family matter.[38] Caste, class, religious bias and race also determine whether action is to be taken or not.[39]


Other factors outside culture that demonstrate differences in domestic violence prevalence and gender disparities in India include socioeconomic class, educational level, and family structure beyond the patriarchal framework. A 1999 study published by the American Journal of Epidemiology identified so-called “stress factors” that are critical to understanding varying rates of domestic violence in other scopes outside of region-specific factors. These stress-related factors within the household include low educational attainment, poverty, young initial age of marriage, having multiple children, and other limiting engendered development factors.[9]


Women suffer many types of physical and emotional abuse as a result of illegal actions taken within the private home, and those who have experienced some form of domestic violence tend to have greater long-term mental disorders and drug dependencies than those who do not.[40] In India, reducing domestic violence is imperative not only from an ethical and human rights perspective but also because of obvious instrumental and immediate health benefits that would be gained from such reduction.[41]


Further information: Women's health in India

Serious health problems often result from physical, emotional, and sexual forms of domestic violence.[2] Physical health outcomes include: Injury (from lacerations to fractures and internal organs injury), Unwanted Pregnancy, Gynaecological problems, STDs including HIV, Miscarriage, Pelvic inflammatory disease, Chronic pelvic pain, Headaches, Permanent disabilities, Asthma, Irritable bowel syndrome, Self-injurious behaviours (smoking, unprotected sex)[27] Mental health effects can include depression, fear, anxiety, low self-esteem, sexual dysfunction, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or post traumatic stress disorder.[27] Fatal effects can include suicide, homicide, maternal mortality, or HIV/AIDS.[27]

Negative public health consequences are also strongly associated with domestic violence.[2] Social and economic costs have been identified as direct results of these public-health consequences, and it is argued that these justify state action to act in the interest of the public to reconcile these costs (specifically including costs such as worker earnings and productivity, public healthcare, and costs associated with the criminal justice system).[28]

Women's agency[edit]

The act of domestic violence towards women is a human rights violation as well as an illegal act under Indian law. It is therefore widely considered a threat to women’s agency through any lens, and there is a growing recognition in many Indian regions that the nation can reach a higher potential through obtaining greater social and economic capital than by reducing women’s participation in society. Domestic violence is one of the most significant determinants of this denial. Greater gender equality through greater women’s agency cannot be achieved if basic health needs are not being met and if cultural biases that allow for domestic violence in India persist.[27]

Legal efforts[edit]

Prosecution shortcomings[edit]

A 2000 study by the National Law School of India University reported that conviction rates for domestic violence are very low.[42]

New sexual violence legislation[edit]

On 19 March 2013, the Indian Parliament passed a new law with the goal of more effectively protecting women from sexual violence in India.[43] It came in the form of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, which further amends the Indian Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1973, the Indian Evidence Act of 1872, and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012.[44] The law makes stalking, voyeurism, acid attacks and forcibly disrobing a woman explicit crimes for the first time, provides capital punishment for rapes leading to death, and raises to 20 years from 10 the minimum sentence for gang rape and rapes committed by a police officer. The new law doesn’t address marital rape, rape committed by the armed forces or rape against men.[45]

Reformist lawmakers have argued that the higher age of consent could result in abuses and wrongful arrests in statutory rape cases. Additionally, critics point out that there is often a disconnect between law and practice in India.[46] For example, according to a 2012 United Nations report, 47% of Indian women marry younger than 18 (the legal marriage age is 21 for men and 18 for women).[47]

Gender discrimination under law[edit]

The Domestic Violence Act of 2005 has been used to prosecute domestic violence cases, but activists state that it discriminates against men.[48] In Karnataka, for example, the act cannot be used against women.[49] The Delhi High Court clarified that the Act could also be used to prosecute women.[50]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b Martin, Sandra; Amy Tsui; Kuhu Maitra; Ruth Marinshaw (1999). "Domestic Violence in Northern India". American Journal of Epidemiology: 150. 
  2. ^ a b c d Ellsberg, Mary, PhD. "Intimate Partner Violence and Women's Physical and Mental Health in the WHO Multi-country Study on Women's Health and Domestic Violence: An Observational Study." The Lancet 371 (2008). 17 Mar. 2013.
  3. ^ a b "Women's Empowerment in India" (PDF). National Family and Health Survey. Retrieved 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c Sexual violence and rape in India The Lancet, Vol 383, March 8, 2014, p. 865
  5. ^ a b National Crimes Record Bureau, Crime in India 2012 - Statistics Government of India (May 2013)
  6. ^ S. Harrendorf, M. Heiskanen, S. Malby, INTERNATIONAL STATISTICS on CRIME AND JUSTICE United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime (2012)
  7. ^ Intimate Partner Violence, 1993–2010, Bureau of Justice Statistics, US Department of Justice, table on page 10.
  8. ^ Global Study on Homicide 2013, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, page 12, ISBN 978-92-1-054205-0
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  13. ^ a b National Family Health Survey 3 - Domestic Violence pp. 501
  14. ^ a b National Family Health Survey 3 - Domestic Violence pp. 500-501
  15. ^ National Family Health Survey 3 - Domestic Violence pp. 522-524
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  17. ^ chowdhury, Renuka. "Renuka Chowdhury accused of fudging statistics". 
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