An alarming finding of World Development Report states that globally rape and domestic violence account for about 5% of the burden among women in the age-group of 15-44.The term domestic violence is preferred to family violence. A physical act, catastrophic event or violent abuse can result in a range of symptoms known as posttraumatic stress disorders. Evidence proves that the impact of these disorders can often be far greater and last much longer than the act or event itself. In face of silence around the non-physical acts of aggression such as verbal abuse and denial of food, education and care there is little information available in the form of books or academic essays on the entire issue of violence against women despite the fact that statistics and reports made available by official sources and the media reinforce the view that this form of gendered violence is fast becoming a feature of daily living in contemporary India it is still in nascent stage in research. Further of what is available about half relates to violence within the family.
In Patricia Uberoi's opinion this silence is explicable by a certain hesitance in subjecting the family and its intimate relationships to scrutiny .At the same time if there is any data base on the nature and kind of violence that goes on behind locked doors it has become largely due to activities of NGOs those in women' s movement and the police. Patricia Uberoi feels that though the family is also a site of exploitation and violence sociologists appear to eschew issues of social pathology at least in regard to the family. Family is a cultural ideal and focus of identity, its inviolability as an institution being reaffirmed by an environment that limits interaction and discourse between the professional academic and the activist. The situation is compounded by the fact that familial concern with propriety, honor and reputation makes it difficult for those researchers interested in investigating violence within the home to gain access to those perceived as victims. A large percentage of available data on violence against women locates the family as a major cause of oppression and subsequent ill health and loss of identity. There is no doubt about the fact that marriage and the family is necessary stressors in the cause of mental illness among the Indian women.
Violence is an act of aggression usually in interpersonal interaction or relations. It may also be aggression of an individual woman against herself such as suicide, self-mutilation, negligence of ailments, sex determination texts, food denials and so on. Indian scholars in the field of women's studies have emphasized the dynamics of power and powerlessness involved in a violent act. It is coercive mechanism to assert one's will over another to prove or to feel a sense of power.
Those in power against the powerless or can perpetuate violence by the powerless in retaliation against coercion by others to deny their powerlessness. Govind Kelkar situates violence against women in the socio-economic and political context of power relations. According to him the view that violence is an act of illegal criminal use of force is inadequate and should include exploitation, discrimination, upholding of unequal economic and social structures, the creation of an atmosphere of terror, threat or reprisal and forms of religion-cultural and political violence. This definition of violence finds coherence in a hierarchical society based on exploitative gender relations. Violence often becomes a tool to socialize family members according to prescribed norms of behavior within an overall perspective of male dominance and control. Physical violence as well as less explicit forms of aggression is used as methods to ensure their obedience. At every stage in the life cycle the female body is both the object of desire and of control. In most parts of India women enter as strangers into an already structured world of consanquineally related men generates its own tensions and conflicts in loyalties and commitments. According to M S Gore two main causes of strain in the joint family are the evolution of a strong conjugal relationship and the difficulty of socializing the women members into developing a community outlook and a sense of identity with the family groups. In the present context conflicting identities are particularly significant for an understanding of the external dynamics of a group united on the basis of blood and living together with those from other families.
In arguing that the family more than the caste system is responsible for reproducing inequalities within society Andre Beteille feels that entire families work towards transmitting its cultural and social capital to its younger members despite psychological failures of many kinds. This inequality is embedded in oppressive structures of a family ideology committed to an age and gender hierarchy that is worked out within a household. Who shall have access to which scarce resource of capital is thus determined by the gender as well as the age of the family member.
The girl child is often the victim of such discrimination as families devise coping mechanisms on resource sharing. At every stage there is discrimination and violence particularly against the girl children and later women within the household either natal or conjugal. Marriage continues to be universally regarded as essential for a girl in India irrespective of class, caste, religion and ethnicity as control of her sexuality and its safe transference into the hands of the husband is given prime importance .The persistence of a dominant family ideology which enjoins a strict sexual division of labor and age and gender hierarchy means that young wives have to invest a considerable amount of time and energy in foraging new relationships not all of which are caring or accommodative. These take precedence over all the other relationships in the natal home. It is common saying that girl is a paraya dhan or another's wealth. It not only establishes the very notion of belonging but also that a girl is wealth which belongs elsewhere.
In the traditions of marriage the bride is a vehicle for the passage of valuables from her own kin to that of her husband. The unequal nature of marital relationship sanctified by significant gift exchanges, rituals and expectations establishes the parameters of subsequent intra-familial behavior patterns. Within this framework of matrimony and affinal relationships many women attempt to negotiate space for themselves to assert their personhood. It is often led to intra-couple discord over the roles and the woman's quest for her identity. An important part of the power relationship between spouses and their families related to dowry and its ramifications. In the Indian context the preference for structural asymmetry between the two families and the consequent burden of gift giving on the bride's family strengthen inequality. Madhu Kiswar feels that oppression of wives for bringing inadequate dowry is one more excuse for using violence against them and even without the additional attraction of dowry interspousal violence is endemic. The dowry payments in themselves do not transform girls into burdens but rather dowry makes daughters burden some only because daughters are unwanted to begin with. The middle class parents who say to pay lakhs as capitation fees for sons in medical or engineering colleges do not view them as burdensome but similar sums set aside for daughters' marriage are regarded differently.
Ranjana Kumari commented that dowry has become inseparably interlinked with the general status of women in the society. According to a survey done by her dowry related killings followed two patterns – first the young brides were either murdered or forced to commit suicide when their parents refused to concede to continuing demands for dowry. Second the murders were committed also on the pretext of complex family relations. The conflicts intensified because of the refusal by young brides to yield to overtures made by the father in law, uncle in law or brother in law. There were also cases where wives alleged that the husband was impotent. Ranjana Kumari also found that dowry giving and taking to be universal across caste, religion and income groups. Its role in perpetuating violence within the home is substantial. The fact is that dissatisfaction over dowry payments and subsequent prestations result in abuse of the wife not only by her husband but by other affines as well.
Abuse of wives and wife beating or wife battering is the most common form of abuse world wide irrespective of class, religion, and community and in caste background within India. It is not a woman's dependence that makes her particularly vulnerable a wife in a high status job may also be beaten. Battered women are also seen as lacking self-esteem and self-confidence and being apathetic and nervous. In a detailed discussion of wife abuse Flavia Agnes has rebutted the popular myths which surround the phenomena of wife beating in India such as middle class women do not get beaten, the victim of violence is small, fragile, helpless woman belonging to the working class and the wife beater is a man who is frustrated in his job, an alcoholic or aggressive in his relationships. According to the statistics provided by organization Saheli it is evident that wife beating was common among all social classes as it is a reflection of the power relationship between a husband and wife that mirrors a woman's secondary social status. However the pattern of violence differs from one class to another with the whole neighborhood being witness when a slum dweller beats his wife while a middle class professional 's physical oppression of his spouse is extremely private in nature. Marital rape is another area that is rarely spoken and discussed in India. It is a common occurrence in most marriages and goes unreported largely.
According to Meenakshi Thapan even in love marriages women have internalized notions of the perfect female body and of Feminity consequently they are often complicit in the mechanisms of oppression particularly those aspects which dealt with physical and sexual attractiveness. It is ironical that family which is considered as a refuge against all odds becomes an arena of legitimate physical and mental oppression of women. While the legal and police system have become more receptive to certain excesses much remains unstated, invisible and repressed.