Gun violence can be part of the cycle of intimidation and aggression that many women experience from an intimate partner. Domestic violence is a feature of every nation, irrespective of social, economic, religious or cultural preferences and settings. At least one in every three women is physically abused at least once, usually by an intimate partner, with most experiencing multiple instances of abuse.
For every woman killed or physically injured by firearms, countless more are threatened. Most women who are victims of gun violence experience various types of abuse beforehand, including sexual, psychological and/or physical attacks. Patterns of attack are similar across cultures and often involve shooting family pets as a warning or bringing guns out for cleaning during an argument. Women are emotionally involved and economically dependent on those who abuse them, so it can be extremely difficult to escape the situation.
In intimate partner violence, legally held guns are just as dangerous as illegal ones. Despite the emphasis among law enforcement on illegal handguns and crime, legal firearms are the primary weapons used in domestic homicides. A recent Canadian study found that 40% of women killed by their husbands are shot to death; most (80%) are killed with legally owned guns. Indeed, a legally held gun in the home is much more likely to be used to intimidate or physically injure members than to be used against an outside intruder.
While gun related domestic violence occurs in peaceful settings as well as in conflict zones, domestic abuse increases during and after conflict. After a conflict officially ends, guns circulate in the community. Post-conflict stress, combined with economic prospects and a reduction in basic services, contribute to the dynamics of domestic violence after war. In Cambodia in the mid 1990s, as many as 75% of women in one study experienced domestic violence, often at the hands of men who had kept the small arms they used during the war.
On the night of 25th March, 2009, men armed with guns broke into a home at Dimapur, Nagaland and gang raped the daughter at gun point after tying all the family members up. The five miscreants attempted to kill the mother when they opened fire twice but miraculously she escaped. The trauma, the nightmare did not end there. They ransacked the house, looted cash and tortured the victims mentally and physically.
In another incident years back, a man in Wokha town of Nagaland shot his wife dead after a marital dispute. This created shock and furore in the state. But public memory is short lived.What happened next? I really don’t know. Did they have children? If so, do they live with a father who killed their mother? Did the law bring justice to the family or is it the rule of the jungle that reigns supreme?
Rape and domestic violence are on an alarming rise in Naga society. How do you explain the trauma and pain a mother goes through seeing her daughter being raped at gun point? These scenes are not out from movies but from real life situations in Nagaland. Rape of a pregnant mother, an 8 year old orphan child, rape in a moving vehicle etc were things unheard of earlier but not anymore.So much so to a point that people are becoming immune to such news of yet another statistical account in the newpapers.
For women, the greatest risk of gun violence is in their own home. The statistics are shocking. Women are three times more likely to die violently if there is a gun in the house. Usually the perpetrator is a spouse or partner, often with a prior record of domestic abuse. For every woman killed or physically injured by firearms, many more are threatened. Women are indirectly affected by gun possession in the home as it can be misused for violence and intimidation.
The 3rd National Family Health Survey (NFHS) in India found that among women age group of 15-49, 35 per cent have experienced physical or sexual violence, and that four in ten ever-married women have. In Nagaland, the case of ever- married women who have experienced spousal violence stood at 15.4%. This was a marked increase from 10.3% of the NFHS 2 of 1998/99.
Disarming Domestic Violence is the first international campaign aimed at protecting women from gun violence in the home. The main goal is to ensure that people with a history of domestic abuse are denied access to firearms, or have their licenses revoked. Of the nearly 900 million small arms in the world today, more than 75% are in the hands of private individuals – most of them men. Given this, women are paying a disproportionately heavy price for the multi-billion dollar trade in small arms.
The ongoing conflict in Northeast India is one of the reasons for the increased proliferation in small arms in the region which has indirectly lead to increase in the violence against women in the society. Having a gun in the house does not necessarily mean security for the family but it could also be a provocative weapon of torture against the women.
In the words of Professor Anuradha Chenoy of JNU, New Delhi, “In 99 per cent of the world’s wars, the decision to wage them has been taken by men; women have only supported “men’s wars”. Women are used by the state and non-state actors in different ways during conflict and in the practice of militarism without being conscious of it”.
According to the Naga Women Hoho presentation at Dimapur on Monday, 15th June, 2009- women’s role in decision making is minimal and irrespective of their role in conflict situation, women are still discriminated while instances of rape and domestic violence are on the rise. Yet in the NFHS 3 report on Nagaland, currently married women who usually participated in household decisions stood at 86.4% in the urban areas and at 86.3 % in rural areas.
Men’s violence to women is clearly a form of power; it arises from and is underwritten by men’s domination of women as a social group and it persists as a form of power in individual situations. Violence or at least the fear of violence is a part of every woman’s life. Each woman knows someone who has been a victim of a violent episode if she herself has not been involved in one time or another
A study by the World Health Organization (WHO) reveals that domestic violence by an intimate partner is the most common form of violence in women’s lives- much more than assault and rape by strangers and acquaintances. It says abused women were twice as likely top have poor health and physical and mental health; and its effects are long lasting. Over the past few decades, gender based trauma has emerged as one of the most serious public health problems facing women in this country. For most women, the greatest risk of physical, emotional and sexual violation will be from a man they have known and trusted, often an intimate partner.
Justice systems have historically overlooked violence against women, and human rights standards have tended to perceive the ‘private sphere’ as outside the scope of state interventions. While legal protections for women experiencing domestic violence exist in 45 countries, many of these laws are not regularly enforced, especially during periods of conflict where domestic violence incidents are likely to be seen as irrelevant to the broader issues of conflict.
The government should recognise that family killings are the only category of homicide in which women outnumber men as victims, and pledge to protect women in their homes. More initiative towards recognizing and rehabilitating the victims is needed, starting with provisions of basic psychological counseling services which are very rare in the present public health system of the state.