Though incidents of atrocities on women has presently drawn maximum attention all over the world and corrective steps are taken by way of legislations and other social means to remove the problem of inequality in the society on the basis of sexuality, we in this country are confronted, for over last two decades, with more number of bride deaths in matrimonial houses. Interestingly we get some similar reports from developed countries also. Friedman, M.D.A.(1979), observed that “If child abuse was ‘discovered’ in the 1960s, then wife battering seems to have emerged as a problem a decade latter”. Wives at home and women in general are viewed as subordinate, to their male counterparts since the unknown past, till today.

In a family environment, minor difference in opinion or dispute is not only common but should be taken as a normal way of family functioning. Thus, we should be in a position to differentiate between “dispute” and “brutality” or cruelty.

Status of a woman in the society –

CRUELTY ON WIVESAs has been mentioned in the first paragraph, she is viewed as a subordinate to male. For the same job a female labourer is paid less than a male. A woman is not entitled for certain jobs. Female education has received worldwide importance only during the last few decades. We still find very low percentage of female representative in different legislative bodies of different countries. There was a tendency to keep the woman confined at home or push her in a club or theatre as a performer and if she was not under the guardianship of a ‘superior’ male then in some cases even she could be made to lead a life of prostitute to earn her livelihood.

In India, the condition is still worse. Forgetting the past ‘Sati’ cult where a widow had to die a violent death by being burnt with the dead body of her husband, the still existing dowry system and hurdles of marriage for the second time by a widow, sufficiently establish the greater importance attached to the husband in our society. The feeling given to a married woman that if her husband dies she would have to lead a bachelor’s life for the rest of her life, enforces importance and respect in her for the husband.

True, there has been a feminist movement in the society and at present we find more frequently organised movements by women’s organisations for establishing rights of women and to protest against atrocities on women. But the movement has not yet been very much successful in correcting the wrongs at their roots.

Position of the women at their parental homes –

Though, at the parental home generally women do not face any specific cruelty, it is here that the woman inherits the sense of subordination to men. The mother prefers to build up her daughter as a good house-wife like her. The father finds it more reasonable to allow more exposure to his son than the daughter. All in the house wait for the day when the guardianship of the girl along with her title, will change and she will be under care of her new in-law-parents and husband. Rightly it is a common say in India that a woman is never free in her whole life. From birth till the day of marriage she is under the care of her father, then she is under the care of husband and after that till death she is under the control of her son.

Status of the woman in the in-law or the matrimonial house-

In the Indian society, it is the onus of the new house wife to adjust with all, in the in-law’s house. She is to obey her husband and other seniors in the house and look into the comfort of all members. Such a circumstance is very likely to give rise to personality clash. The psychological clash may one day take physical shape and almost always it is with the husband initiating physical assault on the wife. The cruelty may one day end ultimately with death of the wife or a divorce.

The Problem –

If we consider the house as a sweet, safe shelter for the members of the family, then no amount of atrocity by any of its members on the other is at par with this idea. If the husband for example, always tries to demonstrate his superiority, then there will be an increasing sense of inferiority complex in the wife. This is bound to break the family harmony and the sweet, free marital relationship is bound to break. This not’ only exerts its bad effects on the other members of the family, particularly the younger members, but also, the family being the unit member of the society, it also damages the normal social psychology. The maximum sufferer is the family itself. Such an in-cohesive relationship is bound to have its maximum damaging effects on the children. The extent of the problem may be realized if we consider the fact that, keeping aside mass killing in natural calamities and due to road traffic and other transportation accidents, unnatural deaths are maximum at home in comparison to any other circumstance. This means that, most of the intentional killings occur at home, and most of the victims are the house-wives.

It is true that, for a woman who is repeatedly cruelly treated, divorce is the only way of life. But divorce is not the natural consequence of marriage as it does not serve the purpose of marriage. Hence, divorce cannot be the solution for the problem. This clarifies further, the exact nature and extent of the problem. Most of the incidents of cruelty on wives do not come to public knowledge. For the sake of self-prestige or prestige of the family, the wife often prefers to be mute and does not ventilate her grievances to others. It is only when the battering of the wife takes a really bad shape, the state of affairs come to the public. Then also, it may be a very difficult matter for the police or the court to reach in depth of the problem. True, the wife also may be responsible for the family discord. The wife may be a constant source of mental torture for the husband. But that cannot always justify cruelty or physical torture on the wife. That is never the remedy. It is generally accepted that the wife being weaker physically, socially and in resources, might easily be physically and mentally tortured by the husband, if that is the story.

Factors responsible for cruelty and atrocities on wife –

1. The type of the husband –

a) Alcoholics, gamblers.
b) Badly brought up, spoiled children (during childhood).
c) Sense of male superiority, irrational expectation of submissiveness and service from the wife.
d) Psychopathic personality.
e) Lack of proper education, mental immaturity, intolerance.

2. Factors concerning the woman—

a) Bad temperament, lack of understanding and sympathetic attitude towards the hardship or distress of the husband.
b) Lack of sense of reciprocal respect, persistant lack of interest on the husband or affairs of the husband.

3. Factors concerning both partners –

a) Lack of mutual understanding, rigidity in both.
b) Unplanned and undesired pregnancy.
c) Attempt to have full control in the upbringing of the child.

4. Socio-economic factors –

a) Influence of social subculture to which the family belongs.
b) Financial hardship;
c) Prevalence of dowry system in some societies.
d) Low status of the females in the society.

The degree of cruelty and assault-

The cruelty may be

a) III behaviour
b) Mental torture
c) Physical assault
d) Negligence.

III behaviour and mental torture may lead to commission of suicide.

The physical assault –

The physical assault may lead to simple injury or grievous hurt. It may even lead to unexpected death of the wife. On the other hand torture may be a deliberately planned one, to kill the wife.

The physical assault may be free hand assault, or she may be assaulted with a stick, a whip, a cane, a knife or a household appliance. The wife may even be strangled to death or may be set on fire. To add insult to the assault, the women may be taught a “good lesson” by being mentally tortured and assaulted by a third member of the family. There are records of use of fire-arm weapon also.

Negligence may be deliberate lack of care and attention to the well-being and basic needs of the wife, like paying no attention to her health during pregnancy or ill health, providing no medical care, over-work, not allowing any entertainment etc.

Dealing a case of cruelty with wife –

All cases of negligence and cruelty cannot be dealt with the same yardstick. In a case of physical assault while steps for punitive measures against the husband is processed, the following points must be given due consideration.

1. The gravity of the assault.
2. The will or desire of the assaulted wife.
3. The background of the present assault.
4. Any history of past assault.
5. The reliability of the complaint; if there is any witness.
6. The character and past record of the husband.
7. Whether the wife is solely dependant on the husband.
8. The amount of responsibility of the wife, if any.
9. How much the family will be affected if the husband is affected (punished with imprisonment etc.), particularly if the offence is trivial.
10. Precautionary step should be taken so that the offender cannot cause further harm to the wife after serving the term of the punishment, if any.

The remedy –

The remedial measures should be directed on the following lines –

1. Justice to the victim wife.
2. Safeguarding the interest of the family and other members of the family.
3. Minimum disturbance of the family structure.

Justice to the victim wife –

(a) The wife may need good counselling. In most circumstances the wife has either no knowledge or hazy knowledge as to what she should do during the crisis. Different legal advisory fora have come up for the tortured women. Many of the political parties have their women’s wings which take interest in the well being of the sufferer women. In 1988, Calcutta police has started a women’s cell exclusively to look after the grievances of the women particularly, the tortured wives. Thus, increasingly, it is becoming the concern of all levels in the society.

(b) For the wives, who cannot continue in their matrimonial homes or if with the arrest of the husband, the wife has to leave the rental flat of the husband, then accomodation may be another burning problem for the wife. In Indian society in most circumstances, the wife takes shelter in parental house. In many occasions, this also may be problematic. In absence of parents, the woman may find it difficult to take shelter at the house of a relative. The government has some ‘Homes’ for such helpless women. But the condition of these homes are horrible. These homes accomodate, criminals, prostitutes, delinquents, often all within one boundary.

(c) If the wife is to live separately, then she also requires economic support. If the husband has not been prosecuted, then she may get subsistence from the husband’s earning. But if the husband has been prosecuted and if his earning is suspended, then she may have to prefer to go to the Government owned Homes. If he has a few dependants to take care of, then she may have to beg from relatives for financial support until she can make some of her own earnings, which is never easy to do.

(d) If the husband has been prosecuted, then the wife needs legal help. There is provision for this help free of charges, for a woman.

(e) Another help needed by the woman whose husband has been punished on her complaint is protection and security for herself and her children from the enraged husband, after he returns from his punishment term.

As a matter of fact, no remedy can be sufficient to do good to a broken family. This is the first thing which both the spouses must realize. No extraneous help can match their own effort to make their home a sweet, sacred shelter for peace and happiness.


Cruelty on husband is rather a less culpable, less concerning problem which was so-to-say not recognised or ‘known’ in this country, about 20 – 25 years back. All the while it is not entirely a new problem. Cases of killing of the husband by the wife by use of poisons or killing the husband with the help of the paramour are not very infrequent. Physical assault of the disabled husband is occasionally recorded. Assault on the husband by the wife may also be an act of reciprocation.

Psychological cruelty is a more common suffering by the husband from the wife.

Rarely does an incident of cruelty by the wife on her husband comes to the knowledge of the public. This is primarily because the husband does not want this due to various reasons. Generally, it is less convincing to others that, a husband may be physically assaulted by his wife. Secondly, ventilation hurts the sense of superiority of the husband,, it adds insult to his injury to propagate that he has been assaulted by his wife. Thirdly, in this country, the general sympathy goes in support of the weaker sex, the wife. However, the few cases which get publicity show that the wife may not be less cruel than the husband.

The investigation of these cases should proceed in the same line as the investigation of the cruelty of husbands on the wives. The problems arising for the family are also to some extent of the same nature as in case of taking action on a cruel husband. But here the problem of finance and accomodation may not pose a great problem. Rearing of young children rather appears to be the greatest problem, if the wife is to serve a term as punishment.


The problem here is something different both qualitatively and quantitatively. The victim of cruelty here is a person who does not have much ‘importance or value’ in the family. He is often considered a burden to the family. Unlike battered child, he can protest, but there is none to listen to his complaint, Rather, by experience he learns that complaints or grievances are retaliated by more cruelty. Physical assaults are not unlikely, rather quite common. The torture thus may be in the form of physical or mental trauma, negligence in the form of non-providing timely and sufficient food, non-maintenance of cleanliness and lack of provision for minimum scope of entertainment and recreation. These cases very rarely come out in the form of direct complaint. The scope of proper remedy is also very meagre. However, provision of the law is same as in case of cruelty to children.


The victim may be any member of the family or the domestic servant.

For the domestic servants the cause may be improper service or allegation of theft or allegation of improper behaviour to the female members of the family. In a case of sexual relationship between the male servant of the family with a female member, the penis of the servant was amputed.

For other members any minor dispute may terminate to a serious incident.