18 Aug 2020 7:12 AM GMT
The World Health Organization defines 'Femicide' as the intentional murder of women solely for the reason that they are women. 'Femicide' is a hate crime term denoting the gender- based murder of a woman or a girl by a man [i] or in the context of a system made by males for the benefit of males in society. It need not be concentrated Genocide all at once but systematically...
The World Health Organization defines 'Femicide' as the intentional murder of women solely for the reason that they are women. 'Femicide' is a hate crime term denoting the gender- based murder of a woman or a girl by a man [i] or in the context of a system made by males for the benefit of males in society. It need not be concentrated Genocide all at once but systematically perpetuated over generations. Though perpetrated against women for centuries, this term 'Femicide' was coined only in 1976 by Diana Russell during the First International Tribunal on Crimes against Women in Brussels who defined it as the "misogynistic killing of women by men, motivated by hatred, contempt, pleasure or a sense of ownership of women, thus representing overall oppression of women"[ii], The spectrum of Femicide ranges from Female Foeticide, Female Infanticide, Genital mutilation related Femicide, Dishonour killings, Dowry deaths, Abetment to suicide, Intimate Partner killings, Murder with gang rape, Psychopathic serial rapes and killings, to killing by Superstition or witchcraft. It is not always necessary that Femicide be committed by male members only; in some episodes, female members may also be involved in a limited capacity or even as co-conspirators, abettors and accomplices in the commission of the crime (with the purpose of upholding the very system by which they are fatally disadvantaged). This research article focuses on the recent trends of Femicide across the spectrum incorporating global and Indian trends and also puts forth the remedial measures that can be adopted to prevent this ghastly crime of Femicide.
Causes, Objectives and Triggers of Femicide
Femicide encompasses all of the hegemonic masculine-social methods used to destroy females' rights, abilities, potentials and power to live safely. It is a form of abuse, threat, invasion and assault that degrades and makes women second-class citizens; the chief objective being, imbuing of continuous fear, frustration, isolation, exclusion and harm to females' ability to control their personal intimate lives'[iii].
Femicide can be well understood as a sub-set of Patriarchy, made drastic by the establishing of physical dominance and gender dominance fuelled by the notion that women are worthless (The Feminist Approach of Femicide by Cameron and Frazer, 1987).
As stated by Kantola, Orloff and Walby in their research studies, "The fundamental tenet of patriarchy is power; where power is distributed unequally between men and women, violence is the tool men use to keep women under their control."
According to a research conducted by Shalhoub-Kevorian and Daher-Nashif, Femicide is strengthened by the process of "culturalization" where the males plan the patriarchy, implement it and at the same time turn a blind eye towards women's needs and actively silence the abuse they face.[iv] This ignorance has been effectuated from centuries resulting in this abominable condition of women in this world.
The fact of high rate of women being killed by Intimate-partner violence in a family setting and high rate of men not killed in family settings forces researchers and readers to steer towards a sociological approach of looking at Femicide[v] and provide sociological background to the Femicide without which, the inquiry is incomplete.
Furthermore, it is very pertinent to include the findings of Camille Paglia - a Feminist academician that, "What feminism calls patriarchy is simply a civilization, an abstract system designed by men but augmented and now co-owned by women" which clearly depicts the status quo where even the women abet to such killing while submerged under the institution of Patriarchy.
The prevalence of Femicide has resulted in a trans-generational inheritance of such femicide as the whole society is stuck in fear. This trepidation is well illustrated by Dr. Hans Selye through his theory termed General Adaptation Syndrome or the theory of stress should we regard society as a living organism. In this theory, the organism goes through three stages of stress viz., Alarm (reaction), Resistance, and Exhaustion (hopelessness). A very significant case in point is that of the Democratic Republic of Congo where the people constantly fear violence against their daughters and crimes committed against them so much that they are facing chronic distress and are not able to recover their homeostasis. Femicide in these regions directly jolt the psyche of the society and thence, proves minacious and reflects a sense of disquietude in the society.
In order to identify those Homicides that would fall under the appropriate and accepted definition of Femicide, the following test and markers may be applied to aid in categorizing such killings.
Test of Femicide:
General markers of Femicide:
Female Foeticide and Infanticide
Foeticide means the destruction of a foetus at any time prior to birth. 'Infanticide' means the unlawful destruction of a newly born child and is regarded as homicide in law.[vi] One of the desolate illustrations of Foeticide comes from 'Disappearing Daughters: The Tragedy of Female Foeticide', a Book by Gita Aravamudan, where the author clearly describes a chilling modern technique of femicide by infanticide where the family members wrap the new born baby in a wet towel, inducing pneumonia and at the same time the medicines prescribed by the doctor are abandoned and the baby dies. There is statistical data backing up this illustration as well. According to a 2005 study reported in The Lancet, girls in central India had a five times higher mortality rate (per 1000 live births) from pneumonia than did boys in south India and four times higher mortality rate from diarrhoea diseases than did boys in west India.[vii]. While it may well appear that there is regional separation in respect of these inferences, what comes glaring out is the nevertheless higher mortality of female babies where their male counterparts seem to be surviving such disease across regions.
UNICEF provides yet another haunting image of the sex ratio and female infanticide. It states- "India is the only large country where more girls die than boys, with the inverse sex ratio at birth being 900 girls born for every 1000 boys. Globally 7 per cent more boys die under the age of 5 compared to girls but in India, 11 per cent more girls die under the age of 5"[viii]. For a long time, this dismaying sex ratio was considered to be a product of illiteracy and area distinction but the Census 2011 depicts a completely different portrait. It shows that the sex ratio in the 0-15 age group is 920 in rural areas compared to just 900 in urban areas for the age group 14-18 years, the difference between the boys' and girls' populations adds up to a whopping 77 lakh. Hence, female foeticide and infanticide is not only present in rural areas but also rampant in urban areas, breaking the stereotype and proving that it is not the result of illiteracy but of mental abrasion.
Furthermore, another disheartening affair is exhibited by the report published by The Telegraph-UK in 2012 titled- "India 'most dangerous' place in the world to be born a girl," stating that in India females are twice likely to die before reaching the age of 5 years.[ix]
A Supreme Court bench of justices Dipak Misra and Abhay Manohar Sapre in January 2015 took cognizance of this situation stating- "Decline in sex-ratio is a disturbing problem and the same is likely to affect the civilisation in entirety. Women are the basic pillars of human race in any society". The court has also reprimanded the States for their lackadaisical approach in curbing female infanticide and also issued directions for effective implementation of the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994. Furthermore, the Hon'ble Court observed;
On a scientific note, it is the 'x' chromosome that carries all the necessary genetic information for survival and since boys get a set of 'x' & 'y' chromosomes while girls get a set of 2'x' chromosomes, the female babies are in fact better equipped to survive famine like conditions, developmental disabilities and disease. Dr. Sharon Moalem – physician and geneticist in his book titled 'The Better Half: An Argument for the Genetic Superiority of Women' makes a case that women's more robust immune systems and longer lives are a result of their genetic advantage Therefore, the grim picture of India's sex ratio is not mere evidence of, but proof that there is deliberate elimination of females in the population.
Intimate Partner Killings
Intimate Partner killings are explicated as "the killing of women by male intimate partners,"and subsequently modified by Myrna Dawson and Rosemary Gartner to include "current or former legal spouses, common-law partners or boyfriends." Campbell and Runyan adapted the term intimate-partner femicide to clarify the nature of the victim-perpetrator relationship. The research around this subject began with the proposition that there is a causation or correlation connecting the socio-economic relationship between the victim and perpetrator and the crime that takes shape and, that there are identifiable 'factors within ecological settings which may be associated with the killing of women by male intimate partners' (Stout, 1992 a: 29). This manner of murder has been romanticised in mainstream society as a 'crime of passion' with the theme that the perpetrator is plagued by his very human shortcomings or succumbing to the 'heat of the moment'; a defence at time adopted with the expectation of an acquittal. The society may, to a certain degree, be generous with bestowing empathy on the perpetrator and treat him on par as the victim for himself being hurt by the loss of his 'loved one'/ partner. There is also a general assumption that these instances are isolated and have no common thread, worthy of study, to relate them thereby categorizing such crimes as a matter of luck and chance and not something to that extent, preventable.
The American Medical Association stated that, "one-third of all women's injuries coming into our emergency rooms are no accident. Most are the result of acts of violence. And frequently they occur over and over until the woman is killed." Intimate Partner Killings remain one of the foremost underreported offences committed against women. The main cause for of this is the offence is not visible, as violence is widely accepted as a legitimate part of family life by both women and men.
Global Trends in Intimate Partner Killings
The United Nations office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has revealed that in many countries, intimate partner and/or family-related homicide is the major cause of female homicides. Women killed by intimate partners or family members account for 58 per cent of all female homicide victims reported globally.
According to Stöckl et al. (2013), intimate partners commit at least 41 percent of all female homicides and 6 percent of male homicides. The scourge of Femicide is not unknown to Europe with France reporting 100 to 150 cases every year. A 2017 report from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) shows that the number of women and girls killed by an intimate partner or a family member every year (43,600) is four times higher than the total number of people killed by violent extremist acts (11,133).
In Latin America the problem is particularly tense with cities like El Salvador, countries like Honduras, Bolivia, Colombia reporting very high rates of Femicide – 2 a day in Colombia, 1 every 16 hours in Honduras. Another country where high instance of Femicide is noted is Mexico with numbers breaching the 100 mark per year and where 92% of the assailants are known to the victim. In South Africa, 1 Femicide murder occurs every 4 hours.
Alcohol and drug use are potential risk factors for intimate partner killing and attempted femicide. As discussed above, Femicide usually results from violent behaviour of men for years before it culminates in the murder of the woman or girl. It is not uncommon that often violent tendencies are fuelled by substance abuse. However, the relationship between alcohol and intimate partner violence has been disputed in the literature. In several descriptive studies of battered women, the percentage of batterers abusing alcohol ranges from 25% to 85% (Campbell, 1992; Moracco et al., 1998; National Institute of Justice, 1997).
Although Indian criminal law is not technically speaking, concerned with motive at all, 'intimate partner killing' is not identified as a manner of death in India and receives no specific attention as a phenomenon. In Indian criminal law, there is only Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code that punishes cruelty at the hands of the husband and/or his family/relatives and should such cruelty and intentional violence prove fatal for the woman in question, then the death would be prosecuted as 'murder'.
"The practice of dowry is a great slur and curse on our culture, democracy and land. It is unbelievable how often in our culture these tragic and condemnable instances of death by dowry occur" remarked judges in the landmark case of Sanjay Kumar Jain v. State emphasizing the need to end Dowry Deaths. Despite the fact that the act of giving and taking of the dowry was prohibited as early as 1961, the provision of 304-B of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) pertaining to dowry death was introduced in the IPC far later after much speculation and analysis by the 91st Law Commission Report, 1983 titled- "Dowry Death and Law Reform."
'Dowry' is defined in the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961 as "any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly by one party to a marriage to the other party to the marriage; or by parents of either party to a marriage or by any other person to either party to the marriage or to any other person, at or before or after the marriage." Under the said Act, the giving or taking of dowry is punishable by 5 years' imprisonment along with fine in the amount of the value of the dowry and the demand for dowry is made punishable by imprisonment of not less than 6 months and up to 2 years ordinarily accompanied by penalty in terms of fine. Despite these statutory safeguards, demand and harassment for dowry is rampant in India and pursued unhindered and unabashed in rural and urban areas, in and wealthy and middle to low income families. The notion of entitlement, needless to mention is what further entitles the husband and husband's family of such victim to kill her so that a more suitable wife who can bring satisfactory dowry can be next wed to the man. Women join these heinous crimes to gain status among the men who are at the top of the social ladder in this reading.
The ingredients for establishing offence of dowry death are- a) the death of the woman occurs by burns (bride burning) or bodily injury or otherwise than under normal circumstances, b) death occurs within 7 years of marriage, c) before death she was subjected to cruelty or harassment by husband or any relative of husband, d) such harassment or cruelty should pertain to the demand of dowry.Interestingly, while murder in India is sentenced with life imprisonment and/or death, dowry deaths have been afforded incoherent and discriminatory treatment as if it were not full-fledged murder because in comparison, the sentence is of minimum 7 years' imprisonment and up to death in some cases. It appears that the will of the patriarchal people is etched into the statute as well which has determined that female life lost by intentional killing due to cultural bias is, for reasons best known to the law makers, not as precious and therefore not as punishable as any other murder under any other murderous intentions. It goes to show that female lives are undervalued.
One of the major impediments in the data available on the dowry deaths earlier was the securing of evidence to prove dowry deaths. Therefore, a specific provision (113-B) relating to presumption of dowry death on husband and relatives was added to the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 for proof of certain essentials.
One of the major points of vexation is the low conviction rate in these cases. This can be illustrated by the conviction rates of the year 2016 where there were 10,000 cases registered but the conviction rate stood 15.3% which is very low for such a gruesome offence. This, in spite of being armed with presumption in law aiding the prosecution side and wherefore burden of proof is on the accused.
It is relevant to note that while all homicides in India have been on the decline since the early 1970s till date, demonstrating a noticeably downward slope, as indicated by available statistics, dowry deaths – the foremost form of Femicide practiced in India, has witnessed no such proportionate decline and continued to represent a stable trend over the period 1999 to 2016. This is demonstrated vide the graphs and charts hereto.
It should be pointed out that dowry murders are concentrated in particular states in India, with the highest incidences in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. A study reported in The Lancet made the revelation that in one year at least a staggering 106,000 women were killed by fires inside their homes in India. These statistics point to the rate of one woman being burned to death every five minutes (Ellsberg et al. 2008).
The dowry system is a result of a vicious cycle of patriarchy, avarice, dominance of the institution of marriage over women and inequality.
Honour killing, or rather 'Dishonour killing' is defined as "a Death that is 'awarded' to a woman of the family for marrying against the parent's wishes, having extramarital and premarital relationships, marrying within the same 'Gotra' or outside one's caste or marrying a cousin from a different caste". Honour killings take many forms, including: conspired and/or premeditated murder; stoning (public justice); women and young girls being forced to commit suicide; burning (a form of perceived 'purification') and women being disfigured by acid burns, leading to death.
The Global trend highlighting Dishonour killings is depicted by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) which estimates that 5,000 women are murdered by family members across the globe each year in Dishonour Killings. These are mostly the Middle East countries or the countries associated with Islam.
From the available data records, India has recorded an 800 percent rise in the Dishonour Killings rising from 28 in 2014 to 251 in the year 2015.
Furthermore, according to a poll done by the BBC's Asian Network, 1 in 10 of the 500 Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and Muslims surveyed said they would condone any murder of someone who threatened their family's honour. As far as India is concerned, "Honour killings" are mostly reported from the States of Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. The region of Bhagalpur in Bihar is also one of the known places for "Honour killings". Some incidents are even reported from Delhi and Tamil Nadu.
One of the main impediments identified and mentioned by the Law Commission through its 242nd report was that- "villagers give more importance to judgments passed by this self-appointed court than the judgments passed by the local legal court, often referred to as "Legal Panchayat".
Underlining the gravity of such offence, the Apex court in May 2011 through the judgement of Bhagwan Dass v. State of Delhideemed Dishonour Killings in the "rarest of rare" category of crimes that deserve the death penalty. It is to be noted that in India, the criminal justice system allows for a sentence of either life imprisonment or death in the offence of murder wherefore, only those cases wherein the manner in which murder was committed or wherein the motive is particularly cruel, bizarre and rare, shall be liable for the death penalty.
The 242nd Law Commission Report also recommended a Bill entitled "The Prohibition of Unlawful Assembly (Interference with the Freedom of Matrimonial Alliances) Bill, 2011 which prohibited a person or any group of persons from gathering, assembling or congregating at any time with the view or intention of condemning any marriage, not prohibited by Law and also sought to declare Khap Panchayats illegal and introduce a punishment for such conductbut the Bill failed to get majority in the Parliament and could not be passed and the Khap Panchayats still harass and victimizes girls and their families through arbitrary death sentences in cases where they marry outside their castes.
It is found that also men and boys suffer condemnation at the hands of this brand of mob justice for similar reasons. Men, just like women, are also known to be 'lynched' in like manner especially in rural areas of India. However, while the motive for the Dishonour killing of both genders may be identical in such cases, the "sentences" formally pronounced by the Khap Panchayats as aforementioned and the actual carrying out of the "sentence" is heavily disproportionate, to the detriment of women. This is mainly because there exists the notion of 'modesty' assigned to women and girls, the construct of societal and familial 'honour' attached to women and girls and, the concept of 'purity' and 'impurity' (in sexual and physiological terms) of the female body. It is these set of beliefs that are responsible for the want of Dishonour Killings in India and Asia.
Femicide by Superstitions/ Witchcraft
One of the bizarre forms that Femicide engulfs in it is the killing of women from superstitions. The killing of women accused of sorcery/witchcraft is reported as a significant phenomenon in countries in Africa, Asia and the Pacific Islands. The women often become scapegoats under the accusations of indulging in witchcraft or sorcery put up by men.
This pattern of violations includes violent murder, physical mutilation, displacement/banishment, kidnapping and disappearance, or subjecting women to exorcism ceremonies involving public beatings and/or abuses by shamans or village elders. In a study conducted in Zimbabwe, it was found that of the 42 cases of femicide involving women older than 50, most of the women had in fact been accused of witchcraft by male relatives prior to the killings. In Papua New Guinea, an estimated 500 cases involving the torture and murder of women accused of practicing sorcery and/or witchcraft have been reported. Here, suspected witches have been thrown from cliffs, tortured, dragged behind cars, burned, or buried alive. The response of the authorities also shows a slackened approach. In Zambia, for instance, the average sentence was one to two years for charges of killing a woman accused of witchcraft.
In India, 73 Witch-hunt deaths were recorded in 2017 as per NCRB data. This category of entirely avoidable crimes is seen predominantly as a rural affair and therefore, does not enjoy the limelight of the media. These crimes are also incidences taking place districts apart and therefore, the dots remain unconnected in investigations and thus do not as such find a place in the web of Femicide. Although, the fact that it forms a head of crime under NCRB records points to the necessary logical conclusion that in fact this form of Femicide deserves attention, study, awareness and eradication.
Genital mutilation related Femicide
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a pervasive destructive operation, during which the female genitalia are partly or entirely removed and/or injured for non-medical reasons. Most often, the mutilation is performed before puberty, typically on young girls between infancy and the age of fifteen. The unhygienic operations and the infections from the wounds can lead to death of innocent girls.
According to the UNFPA, infant mortality rates are higher in countries where FGM is practiced – a noteworthy correlation. Furthermore, "death rates among babies during and immediately after birth are also higher for those born to mothers who have undergone FGM". FGM is prevalent in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, especially Somalia, Egypt and neighbouring countries as well as among immigrants in Australia, Europe and the United States.
A 2018 Global Perception Poll carried out by Thomson Reuters Foundation that surveyed 558 experts on women's issues, found India the most dangerous country for women, even ahead of war-torn Afghanistan (2nd), Syria (3rd) as well as Somalia, a country that ranks significantly lower on human development indices due to, among other things, cultural and religious practices including Female Genital Mutilation, child marriage, physical abuse and female infanticide/foeticide.
FGM is practised in India's two million-strong Bohra community, a Shia Muslim sub-sect. Young girls aged six and seven are regularly being cut in India by untrained midwives and the procedure can prove fatal due to excessive bleeding, sepsis, shock or other complications. Preliminary findings show that 80% of 400 respondents of a Petition to end the cruel and gruesome practice, were survivors who have been mutilated in this manner. While the practice is well-documented the world over, in India, the Ministry of Women and Child Development reported in December 2017 that there is no official data or study which supports the existence of FGM in India. The secrecy comes wrapped in deceit and betrayal.
In 2018, a study published by 'WeSpeakOut' - a survivor-led movement, revealed that 75% of daughters (aged seven years and above) of all respondents in the sample, from the Bohra community, were subjected to FGM. This so called traditional practice whose reasons cannot be ascertained in any determinate manner, attempts to control women's sexuality and their experience of sexual pleasure, and is rooted in patriarchal ideas about the purity and modesty of women. It perpetuates harmful gender norms and some communities believe it is required for a girl's "proper" upbringing, marriage or to maintain the family's honour.
FGM is a recognised crime as per Indian law as it stands; a cognisable offence covered under Sections 320 read with 326 of the IPC dealing with Voluntarily causing Grievous Hurt by Dangerous Weapons or means which carrying a maximum punishment of life imprisonment. Yet, neither are cases of FGM frequent to report nor any arrests and convictions made in respect thereof which is logically unsustainable.
Murder accompanied with Gang/Rape:
Most forms of violence on women and girls take a "gang" form. Almost all dowry murders and 'witch' hunts are 'gang' style lynching. Most reported rapes by strangers are gang-rapes. The killing of infant girls and forced abortions of female foetuses are also almost always due to collective family pressure on women bearing children. This 'gang' factor is a critical indicator that this genocidal violence stems from a collective cultural identity. (Criminal conspiracy and common intention).
A glimpse into the social psychology of the rapist will reveal that often the underlying motive is to reduce the victim to a mere object for disposal of carnal urges. This treatment meted out to women at the hands of rapists is an extension of the notion that women's lives and bodies can be devalued at the instance of male members of the society.
In 2013, the criminal law in India underwent amendments whereby was introduced the death penalty, for rape that amounts to death of the victim or that leaves the victim in a vegetative state. In 2017, India recorded 227 rape cases that ended up fatal of which among the Gangrapes, 33% were convicted. Even more recently, in 2020, four accused of Gangrape and murder case were killed in an extra judicial manner by way of police encounter much before trial. This paints the picture that convictions are hard to secure in a criminal trial of such offences as the prosecution in extremely strained and investigation is not conducted with the highest degree of commitment.
It is imaginable how many more females would be added in the population had they not been eliminated or discarded by the various forms of Femicide. It is imaginable that larger numbers of females in the population would result in better safety for them as there would be a larger group interested in protecting themselves. It is imaginable that exploitation would be low because resources would be forced to be bent to satisfy the requirements of the group that is sizeable in number. In this manner, by the removal of safety checks in numbers, Femicide begets Femicide.
If it is emphatically imperative to end the prejudicial slaughter of the female population, then it must mean that measures commensurate to the seriousness of the crisis be engaged in order to wipe out this repugnant and pernicious practice. The following measures ought to be employed in order to flush the population with female members:
To give effect to the efforts of the various studies and research in this direction, it is imperative to consolidate precedents. In conclusion, it will benefit to refer to the work of Indian activist Rita Banerji that claims that "more than 50 million women have been systematically exterminated from India's population in three generations". This 'extermination' is a result of, among other things, female Foeticide and infanticide, dowry murders and honour killings.
It is curious to learn that men in India are murdered under the motives of disputes, rivalry, etc. Thus it is indicated that while women are being killed as per discrimination, "Androcide" starkly, is inflicted on men and boys (greater in number than female fatalities in the nature of Femicide) on account of their position of advantage in society. It would not be unfounded to suggest that it is partially in the interest of the preservation of the life of men itself that a portion of their power be given up to balance the equation.
Society acts as the agency of men to further their agenda of dominance of resources, privilege and entitlement; the propagation and preservation thereof. The same can only be upheld at the expense of women. Given that there is an implied admission on the part of the same society to operate on the high ideals of equality and respect for all and that society intends not to burgeon the aforementioned goal of patriarchy, nothing prevents society through its fair minded members and personas of ordinary conscience to disband the old order, re-purpose society to reject such employment at the behest of the principal and follow suit in service of all the higher ideals of its members so as to repopulate the nation with a healthy female populace.
Views are personal only.
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