Indian Women Face Increasing Cruelty From Husbands Amid Lack Of Economic Safety Net

Delhi remained on top as the most unsafe city for women, registering the highest rate of crimes against women across India (144.4) which is significantly higher than the national average.

Protest by the students of Jadavpur University and Presidency University against domestic violence.

The year 2022 was not a good one for women in India who faced a severe surge in crimes and violence against them throughout the year. The latest data by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) shows that at least 4,45,256 cases of crimes against women were recorded in 2022, a severe increase from 2021 and 2020. Put in perspective, that is equivalent to 51 FIRs per hour. 

As per the annual 'Crime in India 2022' report, the rate of crimes against women per lakh of the population was 66.4. 

The report noted that cruelty by a husband or his relatives makes up the highest number of such cases (31.4 per cent) followed by kidnapping and abduction of women (19.2 per cent), assault on women with intent to outrage her modesty (18.7 per cent), and rape (7.1 per cent). 

Delhi remained on top as the most unsafe city for women, registering the highest rate of crimes against women across India (144.4) which is significantly higher than the national average. Meanwhile, Uttar Pradesh recorded the highest number of FIRs of crimes reported against women, followed by Maharashtra, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and others. 

Violence against women, especially domestic and gender-based intimate partner abuse has long been cause for concern in India and successive laws against gender-based violence have failed to address such violence, especially at home. The situation seems to have become worse since Covid-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdowns which impacted women's employment and autonomy at a grassroots level. 

Women’s employment has a layered and manifold impact on domestic violence. Some studies, such as the 1997 paper titled 'The Effects of Domestic Violence on Women’s Employment' found a positive relationship between unemployment, lower incomes of women and gender based violence. On the other hand, studies positing the backlash effect of female empowerment find that relative increases in women’s earning abilities challenge the norms of male dominance within the household and may lead to increase in domestic violence directed at the female partner by the male. 

As per data in the Periodic Labour Force Survey Report 2022-23 released by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation on October 9, 2023, Female Labour Force Participation Rate in the country has improved significantly by 4.2 percentage points to 37.0 per cent in 2023, as per ‘usual status’ concept of measuring labour force participation. A study titled 'State of Working 2023' conducted by Azim Premji University researchers however noted that much of this growth was driven by distress and self employment and not economic growth. 

While more women moved into self-employment, earnings for this type of employment were only 85 per cent of what they were in the quarter ended June 2019. Multiple studies post Covid-19 pandemic and its ensuing economic censures shows a disproportionate impact on women’s employment. Women were more likely to lose their jobs during Covid and their return to workforce as opposed to their male counterparts was slower. Additionally, women were more likely to face penalty wage cuts, higher wage gaps and uncertain working  conditions, making them more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. 

India's female labour force participation rose to just under 33 per cent after the Covid-19 pandemic from 30 per cent before but remains low. The wage gap, while narrower than in the early 2000s, is still wide - as of 2021-22, women earned 76 per cent of what men did.

Moreover, LFPR of married women remains significantly low, making most of these women dependent on their male family members for subsistence and vulnerable to domestic violence. In 2022-23, the female labour force participation rate among married women aged 25 to 49 years dropped by a severe 5 per cent, recording a decline from 50 percent in 2004-05 to 45 percent in 2022-23. Much of this decline is concentrated in 25-29 age band. The social impact of the non-participation of married women in the workforce is significant, given their substantial representation among the working-age population. 

Since 2014, the BJP government has positioned itself as a champion of women with many women-centric schemes and policies to woo women voters. While addressing a post-Budget webinar on women’s economic empowerment on the occasion of Women’s Day in March this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed women as the “growth engine” of the Indian economy, stating that in past nine years, India has advanced with the vision of a women-led development. Women-led development has also been a key topic in the G 20 summit hosted by India.

Policies that alleviate economic stress, however, have failed to reduce gender-based violence (an index for gauging development) as the data pertaining to violence against women indicates. While women's participation in the workforce has registered a slight increase in India, women-led development needs to go beyond a superficial jump in labour force participation of “women-centric” freebie schemes that political parties use as electoral bait.