Kochi: Atrocities against women in Kerala's financial capital, Kochi, are on the rise. Shocking reports of assault on women at their own homes by those dear and near to them are emerging from the city.
The number of crimes against women in the city police limits has been on the rise over the past four years. If 492 cases were registered in 2016, 1036 cases were registered till February 2019, which is approximately double the number. Among these, domestic abuse incidents have seen a steep rise compared to assault at public places that are relatively less.
Several of these domestic abuses are never reported before the law, according to the data with the volunteers and law-makers.
After substance abuse, dowry is a prime factor leading to domestic abuse.
The women are subjected to physical and mental harassment by husband or his relatives over 'poor wedding gift', euphemism for dowry, within 1 to 1.5 years of marriage.
These cases registered as per the IPC Section 498 form bulk of the cases filed in women-assault incidents.
Some of the ordeals endured by the women are shocking to say the least. Manjima, a native of Chavakadu in Thrissur, was allegedly forced by her husband and in-laws to abort her child. When she refused, they forcefully held on to her limbs and tried to give her a pill for abortion. Manjima then approached the police station near to her husband's house in Kochi. Though a case was registered, no arrest was made was as the husband and in-laws procured anticipatory bail. The conciliatory talks are on, and the case is yet to go on trial.
As both the complainant and the accused are staying in the same house, the case would turn weak. Therefore, the accused escape legal punishment irrespective of the extent of harassment.
Even if the victim approaches the police station, complaining of the physical and sexual assault, she is forced to return to the husband's house as there is no other option. They would be given a temporary protection order from the station. Before the start of the trial, the complainant would be forced to back out through threats and blackmailing by the accused.
Husband's relatives too are involved in several cases where women suffer. Most such cases are reported from West Kochi, where several family members jostle for space and power in the same house. In such cases also, dowry is the trigger for assaults.
The 'gift', money or gold brought in by the woman is seen as the source for starting a business for the husband's family. When this is deemed to be less, the woman is sent back. As her own family is unable to support her further, the woman returns empty-handed, and she is harassed and assaulted.
The women are tricked and abused under the pretext of marriage too. A woman from Binanipuram in Ernakulam was staying and working at a farm in Kochi city limits. A divorcee, the woman got romantically involved with a youth in the area. They started living together and the woman started giving financial assistance to the youth, who was jobless.
When they had a fallout, the woman sought the Rs 2.5 lakh she had spent on him.
However, the youth retaliated by sending his friends over to his house and threatening the woman. The youth then assaulted the woman, raising suspicions over the woman's relationship with this same set of friends. The woman approached the police, a case was filed against the youth and he was remanded.
In most incidents, the women either have no opportunity to raise a complaint or are unaware of the legal options. As the assault and show of power crosses the limits, the offenders bar the victims from speaking to others about the violations.
Women are not even aware of the extent of domestic abuse they are suffering. Sometimes, the women plead to the volunteers to rescue them from their appalling surroundings.
Some of these menfolk would not even desist from shouting at the complainant in front of panchayat members or other people's representatives. Counsellors said that in such situations, the police aid would have to be sought.
However, the police are often reluctant to file a case over such reports.
Another common offence is verbal abuse. The middle-aged women suffer silently. Housewives seek counselling only when they realise that the abuse would affect their children.
Volunteers of Snehitha helpline said they come across at least 15 such incidents every month in which no legal action ensues.
Help at hand
The victims find a patient ear in the volunteers, who come to check on them after hearing about the abuse. Volunteers of Snehitha Gender Helpline, an offshoot of the Kudumbashree, has vigilant groups at wards to find such cases. Every group will have five members.
Snehitha counsellor Kavitha Govind said that 213 cases of domestic violence were reported till the first week of December in 2019.
Snehitha has a 24-hour help desk. Eleven employees are on duty at the main office of the helpline.
The organisation has vigilant groups and legal service workers. It also has two counsellors and field workers.
The name and other details of the victims would be kept confidential. In extreme cases, the district offices are equipped to accommodate those rescued from abject situations. Seven people can stay there at a time. The victims can stay up to one month.
During this time, if the problem is not solved or no legal action is taken, the women and children are moved to the shelter home with the help of the CWC. In most cases, the women are also helped to find employment.
Those educated would be given help to find jobs and the illiterate would be given skill training.
The district office is at Kakkanad.
Snehitha Gender Help Desk
Kunnumpuram Road, Kakkanad, Ernakulam.
Phone: 0484– 2428745
Toll-free number: 180042555678