My topic is violence towards women in India and how it connects to Hinduism. My mother works with victims of rape and domestic violence, so this is an issue I have been exposed to from a very young age. As I started to do research, I didn't think I would find anything about how women being abused in their own houses could be defended by religion, but what I did find really surprised me. The most surprising aspect for me was the claim that the justification of women being abused was that she had done something sinful in a past life and this was her punishment, because being reborn is a heavy belief to Hindus.
This is a photo from the "Save Our Sisters" campaign, a women's empowerment initiative. The "Abused Goddesses" shows Hindu Deities with bruised and beaten faces as a campaign against the abuse of women in India. The campaign says, “Pray that we never see this day. Today, more than 68% of women in India are victims of domestic violence. Tomorrow, it seems like no woman shall be spared. Not even the ones we pray to.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/06/abused-goddesses-campaign-domestic-violence-india_n_3880515.html
In November of 2012, Leslie Morgan Steiner gave a Ted Talk surrounding the question that everyone asks her: "Why does she stay? Why does anyone stay with a man who beats her?" If you ask this to an Indian woman and an American woman, the responses will obviously be very different. In India, when women are young, they have to be the obedient daughter. They have to follow all of their father's orders, but as soon as her family finds a man for her marry, she is kicked out of the house, meaning she has nowhere to go. She then quickly has to transition from obedient daughter to obedient wife. In India, a woman's job is to take care of the house, meaning she doesn't earn an income for herself. Women in India, especially rurally, are seen as economic burdens, not assets. Sadly, this can be the case in America as well, but sometimes abuse is justified because the male/the abuser is the one financing the family. So another reason she doesn't leave is because she has nowhere to go, yes, but she is also financially dependent on her husband. Secondly, in India, martial rape is legal, so the government is doing almost nothing to protect women. They did try to pass a law banning domestic violence, but it failed. Typically, domestic violence in Hindu families happens in the forms of beating, bride burnings, acid throwing, eve-teasing, mental and physical harassment, dowry deaths, enforced slavery, verbal abuse, malnourishment, neglect, trafficking, forced marital rape, poverty related homicides and solitary confinement. Reading about this, it didn't come as a surprise when I found out the suicide rates of Indian housewives are outrageously high. Over 20,000 Indian housewives commit suicide each year. As mentioned before, abuse towards in India is sometimes justified by saying it's A) her dharma to be abused B) it is a punishment for sins she committed in her past life or lives.
Why should Americans know about Hinduism to understand?
In cases of domestic violence, it is hard to apply religion to such an absurd and terrible crime. But to be able to understand violence from a Hindu perspective gives a different a lens to see it. As mentioned before, I personally think that abusing someone makes you a bad person, regardless. I think that from a Hindu perspective, it is justified and though that is sickening to me, we as Westerners have to understand that.