Monica Binny
JTICI Vol.5, Issue 1, No.4, pp. 35 to 44, March 2018

Violence against Women: Some Conceptual Reflections From an Arunachal Tribal Context

Published On: Saturday, August 4, 2018


The paper is an outcome of a study that attempted to understand and document the existence of polygamous marriage system in a tribal society in Arunachal Pradesh. The content of the paper engages with the content, dimension and dynamics of conceptual categories such as those generally used in studies pertaining to ‘violence against women’. I attempt in the paper to enage with concepts such as domestic violence, Gender, Religion and Gender, Components of gender and statues, Gender division of labour and kinship, Gendered personalities and social control, Gender ideology and imaginary, Custom and its social roles, Marriage- its forms, importance, methods and types. I will also attempt to draw out some insights around the concept of violence against women at the end.


Arunachal Pradesh is known as a beautiful and peaceful state situated in the extreme North East part of India. It gets mysterious impression serenity into this ‘Land of Rising Sun’. Arunachal Pradesh .The state shares international boundaries with Bhutan, Tibet and China. It is a porous bounder with natural fences and mountains that can easily be cross. Therefore, people have been entering inside as it is strategically located the politics of democracy has botched despondently to address the angst of ethnic minorities. Economic and social backwardness have impacted the state greatly, especially in areas like transportation and education. There is great difficulty in building quality road networks because of the rough topography of the land. Transportation through rivers is also difficult because the rivers constantly change course. Since 75 percent of the villages are not connected by road, the only reliable and dependable source of transportation is by air. Air droppings are extensively used for transportations of goods and medicines. Geographically isolated Arunachal Pradesh had been a study ground for the colonial scholar-administrators, this led to the emergence of ethnography, highlighting the ‘otherness of the communities as ‘barbaric’ and ‘wild’ Religious influence and pressures along with an identity crisis have also proven to be a big challenge to the inhabitants of Northeast India. In context of Arunachal Pradesh deprivation and dam construction is the root causes of the problem insecurity. This makes people have the sense of alienation and denial. All the policy pronouncement and initiatives in the political and economic realm negate. The announcements at times indicate the continuation of the policy of pouring in money without accountability and monitoring; thereby resulting in perpetuation of corruption, deprivation and insurgency. At the macro level, on development of the core sectors of infrastructure, power, communications, and human resource development, to give encouragement to industry, changes in land policy, labor laws and infrastructure management are required. Privatization of state owned industries is a prime requirement. Trading is an important part of economic activity of the Arunachal Pradesh, which is mainly in the hands of outsiders. It has vast potential, both for employment and economically, but it will become another area of the resentment unless value addition comes to the locals. The youth needs to be trained and encouraged in trading including foreign trade, secretarial services, hospitality services, communications, The North East Council established in 1972 needs to re-orient its role in the changed economic environment. It should expand its role to that of a corporation with financial, identifying, technological and providing capabilities. Even after five decades of democratic governance the failure of the state to deliver has led to alienation and negative responses the extension of Sixth Schedule to the hills and Fifth Schedule to the plains has not helped. On one hand, it has created multiple layers of administration, it has divided people on ethnic lines, and yell by small ethnic groups to obtain separate or similar status has increased. This provided the narrow-minded elite to exploit ethnic sensitivities. District Administration and State departments, all want control over financial allocations. State Finance Commissions are not functioning and there is no financial management and allocation based on prioritized needs and requirements. The historical growth of political process in Arunachal Pradesh dates back to 1875 when the British-India Government started to define the administrative jurisdiction by drawing an Inner Line in relation to the frontier tribes inhabiting the North Frontier Tract, the area was kept outside the purview of regular laws of the country. Post independence, a sub-committee headed by Gopinath Bordoloi was appointed by the Constituent Assembly of India to recommend the future pattern of administration of the North Eastern Frontier Areas.

I. The Conceptual Framework

The State of Arunachal Pradesh in general and its districts has a strong traditional base in child marriage resulting to domestic violence and societal imbalance. The domestic violence is age old ritual never spoken and discussed before but as the women are getting aware of their rights and empowerment, it is coming to public attention. Arunachal Pradesh is tribal dominated state, the customary laws implies dealing with the legal issues. But many cases neither the problems nor the solution is the same, as it prima facie looks. It is therefore, very essential that social problems should be properly investigated. The practice of child marriage/polygamy are not restricted to certain class and community, this practice of gender based violence leads to devastating and long term mental and physical sufferings, sometimes leading to death and disability among victims. Child marriage is violation of basic human rights to safety, security and life without discrimination. Though there are some writings as well as field observations about domestic violence but still lacked a research focusing on the prevalence of child marriage in Arunachal Pradesh. Below I will reflect on the concept of domestic violence, Gender, Religion and Gender, Components of gender and statues, Gender division of labour and kinship, Gendered personalities and social control, Gender ideology and imaginary, Custom and its social roles, Marriage- its forms, importance, methods and types based on the data that I collected from the field.

Domestic violence: It affects families of every class, race and culture. The victims can be spouse, generally wife, children, servants, parents or anybody living in dependant situation in a household, where dependency may be physical, emotional or financial. Hence, the perpetrators of domestic violence are not restricted to husband, they also include members of this same households who is in a position to exert control or power over the victim. Gender based violence leads to devastating and long term mental and physical sufferings, sometimes leading to death and disability among victims. It is violation of basic human rights to safety, security and life without discrimination.

Gender: Gender is a cultural construction, In all human societies, we come across two distinct social categories of ‘male’ or ‘female,’ which are based on specific cultural assumptions regarding different attributes, beliefs and behaviour characterizing individuals included within that category (Helman, 2000; Vlassoff and Moreno, 2002; Brown, 1997). Gender is also socially ascribed; it determines how individuals and society perceive what it means to be male or female, influencing one’s roles, attitudes, behaviors and relationships, and relative power and position in a social setting. Gender is relational because gender roles and characteristics do not exist in isolation, but are defined in relation to one another (CIHR, 2006). In India, gender inequality, and limited access to legal resources are greatly facilitating the spread of domestic violence for populations living under impecunious conditions. Child marriage is a social reality and the practice of domestic violence in tribal society is deeply rooted in cultural values and grounded in social structures. And despite laws that prohibit child marriage, the practice is still extremely prevalent. It leads to harmful consequences relating to the factors of controlling female behavior and sexuality, socio-cultural and religious values. It is a violation of human rights as it deprives her from freedom, opportunity for personal development, and other rights. It is always the social and economical poor and marginalized group are subjected to violence, discrimination and inequalities. The violence practice fixing child marriage start right before her birth and the effect takes many forms of physical, mental, psychological, emotional, sexual abuse, harassment and humiliation. A life free of violence is women’s right. The Declaration on Elimination of Violence Against Women adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1993, defines Violence Against Women as “any act of gender based violence against women that results in or is likely to result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivations of liberty, whether occurring in public or private spaces”

Religion and Gender: Religions influence and imitate cultural beliefs and traditions are deeply patriarchal in their teachings. Religion in their broad variation in the content and interpretations of teachings regarding gender and in which they limit or shape religious participation depending on one’s sex. Each relies on their gender-related discourse to recap the religion’s political and social identity. Since the renaissance of feminists activism in the late 1960, many religious groups have moved toward the idea of greater fairness in their teachings (Sered 1999).Few adopted new versions of religious texts and songs that incorporate gender-neutral language. Others have shifted away from strongly patriarchal language but without embracing the purpose of a gender-neutral liturgy. Religious establishment have much social, economic and political power. Within many religions, group struggle to retain or to change and beliefs about the social world it is evident in religion’s principle and hierarchy.

Components of gender and statues: Gender is not unitary quintessence; it has many components as a social institution and as an individual status. The socially documented genders in a society and the norms and expectations for their performance behaviourally, gesturally, linguistically, emotionally and physically. The way gender statuses are evaluated depends on historical development in any particular society. Political organization in the Nishing society has neither improved nor the traditional institution of ’Kebang ‘local court changed. Kebang true to its rigidity never let women participate and represented stating women are biologically In situation like this women’s political aspiration was always undermine with no share in the functioning in the village government.

Example: When asked why they don’t approach Kebang with their issues? Most of them said they cannot relate with the Male members who cannot understand their womanly issues and violence they faced. The constant taunting makes their job tough with customary a sanction which directly opposes them from taking part in political activities.

Gender division of labour and kinship: The obligation of productive and domestic work passed to members of different gender statues. The work to those of different gender roles strengthens the society‘s evaluation those statuses –the higher the status, the more impressive and valued the work and the greater its incentive. The family rights and responsibilities for each gender role. Kinship statuses reflect the strengthens of the prestige and power differences of the different gender.

Gendered personalities and social control: The combination of character dominates the gender norms of how members of different gender statuses are supposed to feel and behave. Social opportunities of others in face to face interaction constantly strengthen these norms. This results in prescribed and non prescribed acceptance and reward of conforming behaviour of stigmatization, social isolation, punishment, and medical treatment of non conforming behaviour. It is made very clear to the female that running home, kitchen, elders and child welfare is her responsibilities. Men are only for bread earning and can be completely disconnected from running family. The Nishing women have been credited a significant position in their economy as observed by the role they play in their economic system. This clearly indicates economic dependence of women on men even after slogging for the family. And this happens as she is not the bread earner for the family.

Gender ideology and imaginary: The very justification of gender statues donates their differences which dominants ideological suppression by making these evaluations natural. The cultural representations of gender and personification of gender in symbolic language and artistic productions that reproduce and legitimate gender ranking as it is one of the main supporter of the dominant gender ideology.

Custom and its social roles: Where we say habit is an individual phenomenon, the custom can term as ritual performed by group of individuals to maintain their social bonding and identity. Habit is learnt behaviour where as custom is observed and it is a social phenomena. Many believe that origin of custom is obscure and all are not irrational. Custom control social life as means of control social behaviour. The importance of customs in any society cannot be reduced nor can anyone escape from it. Religious status is one of the fundamental features of studding the women’s situation in particular society. Alteker (1956) reiterated that “The social status of an individual was vitally connected with the place which religion accorded to him in its rites and rituals. Privileges accorded or dined to women by religion will, therefore, throw valuable light on their position in society”. Women are not allowed to milk their animal, take part in religious ceremonies and farming.

Marriage:-In India, the institution of marriage has undergone a tremendous change. Formerly people used to observe endogamy as regards. But due to the impact of modernity, the endogamous restrictions are gradually declining. According to Horton and Hunt. “Marriage is the approved social pattern where by two or more person establishes a family” .The institution of marriage is a legally and socially approved contract between a man and a woman providing both parties husband and wife new rights and obligations. Marriage brings obligations and privileges affecting many people.

Forms of Marriage promoting violence against women

  • Monogamy: One man one wife.
  • Polyandry: One wife, many husbands.
  • Polygamy: One husband, many wives

Importance of marriage

  • Social Recognination.
  • Procreation of Children.
  • Sense of Sympathy.
  • Basis of Family.
  • Stability in Relationship.
  • Perpetuation Lineage.

Methods of selection of mates for marriage

  • Arranged Marriage.
  • Love Marriage.
  • Probationary Marriage.
  • Marriage by Trial.
  • Marriage by Capture.
  • Forced Marriage.
  • Marriage by Compensation.
  • Marriage by Exchange.
  • Marriage by Elopement.

Types of marriage system under different religious practices

Under Hindu Marriage: In Hindu society there is monogamy, System which implies that male can have only one female as his wife. According to traditional Hindu marriage law, marriage is a sacrament and not civil contact. It is a ‘sanskara’ or purification ceremony obligatory for every Hindu. Marriage is considered union between two families rather than two individual.

Under Islam Marriage:In Islam both men and women are consider equal in front of Almighty in their relationship with divine. A non- ascetic religion, Islam does not consider woman as an impediment in the path of religion nor does it consider her as root cause of man’s downfall. The Quran is replete with injunctions aimed at buttering the lot of women who in the pre-Islamic societies had held a very inferior and servile position as against men. However, in spite of the fact that Islam provided a much higher status to women than was commonly recognized in earlier societies, the social standards of the time were very different from those accepted today and therefore the Muslim Shariat Law as it developed very the centuries, Places women in a disadvantageous position. Marriage in Islam derives its legitimacy from the Shariat and is a contract. There is no ban on widow remarriage and divorce is allowed. There is three important form of Muslim marriage:-

Valid Marriage: When marriage has taken place after observing all religious ad legal requirements, it is called valid marriage. All offspring of such marriage are legitimate.

Void Marriage: A marriage may be invalid, if it is performed by not taking into consideration such prohibitions as affirmity, foster age, consanguinity etc.Children of this marriage may not be consider as legitimate.

Irregular Marriage: An irregular marriage violates some temporary probations .In such marriage base is sound but formalities are unsound is either legal not completely illegal.

Mutta marriage: This type of marriage is for sake of pleasure and for specified period only practice among Shias community. Wife in a Mutta marriage is called Singha, Mutta marriage can only take place among the parties belonging to same religion .But this system of marriage is called as anarchism and unpopular.

Under Christian Marriage:-Christianity forbids polygamy, the establishment of monogamy stands out as the one enduring factor which has raised the status of women in Christianity. However, the concept permanency of marriage which is considered a divine sacrament with no place for divorce has affected the women’s status in both ways among the Catholics and some other groups. Along the security of home and the certainty of being separated from her children, she also has to be subjected to husband’s authority and is deprived of legal rights and independent existence. Divorce is recognized by the other groups, and is permitted according to the Indian Divorce Act of 1869. The Christian girls are not subjected to many injunctions and taboos, there is no taboo against working outside home.

Under Tribal Marriage: The social and cultural system of tribal are reflected in their system of beliefs and ritual practices. Tribal religion is matter-of-fact, the purpose of propitiation of supernatural powers is mostly to avert misery and destruction in interpersonal relationship and maintance of principles that constitute the structure. Rites of passage are definitely male weight and girls are forced for early marriage.

Role of women in tribal marriage:-

The position of women is defined with reference to the personal rights she enjoys in society as compared to rights she enjoys in marriage. The status may also be defined with reference to be relative advantage one enjoys in matter of exercising authority and in initiating action. In tribal societies marries additional wives because it enhanced their social prestige and economic value. In some cases the first wife induced her husband to get another wife. Polyandry is also accepted in the tribes of Monpa and Galong .This means plural sexual relation but not plural marriage. Marriage does not imply only sexual intercourse but a bond with specific mutual duties. It these case several brothers jointly live with a woman, all being socially on at par both as husband and fathers of all her offspring. All the men enjoy equal marital relations but the official status of “a father’ to the children is established.

Learning is a key process in human appraisal. It infuses everything we do and plays a central role in the language we speak, our customs, our attitudes and beliefs, our goals, our personality traits, both adaptive and maladaptive and even our perceptions. The result of hereditary apparatus, life experiences, and the demands of dealing with the present arrangements has made us very rigid or rebellious. As each individual I met in the fieldwork setup experienced violence differently either by witnessing or being parts it. The process in which learning takes place plays a very important. And it was clearly visual when they refuse to accept that beating partner is violence. They emphasized that it is a natural phenomena and it should not be made part of life threatening issues it can be broadly explained by the moderately enduring change in behavior that takes place as a result of practice or experience. .

II. Violence Against Women: Some Theoretical Reflections and Field Data

Violence can be related to the experiential cycle of learning:

David Kolb developed this theory in mid –seventies on how adults learn and the nature of the differences that exist between individuals. It emphasis learning as ‘learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience.’ This definition highlights many significant characteristic of the learning method as viewed from the empirical standpoint.

  1. The importance on the development of adaptation and learning as opposed to content or outcomes.

  2. The knowledge is a collectiveness of alterative ideas which is continuously created and recreated, as an individual contributor it has no independent unit to be acquired or transmitted.

  3. The learning changes experience in both its objective and subjective forms.

Lists are the main characteristic of behaviour learning

  1. Learning is a transformation in behaviour, for better or worse. And in the situation of domestic violence it can be witness through the perception of both the perpetuator and victims who consider practicing and tolerating as societal and cultural norms.

  2. It is a change that takes place through practice or familiarity, changes due to growth or maturation are not learning and not accepted in the hierarchy of social norms and practice.

  3. Before the form of violence can be called as acceptance of learning, the alteration must be relatively permanent. I and must last a reasonably long time. Though, the exact duration cannot be specified, but should be lasting for days, months or years divergently the impermanent behavioural effects of factors.

The following are the reasons encouraging child marriage:

  • Customary Laws
  • Inability to return bride price
  • Extreme poverty
  • Involvement in household works
  • Rearing goats and buffaloes/cattle
  • Firewood collection
  • Fetching water
  • Work in fields
  • Taking care of younger ones in family
  • Traditional works (weaving, carpentry, selling etc.)
  • Lack of awareness among the parents /in –laws regarding education.
  • Drinking habits among parents/in-laws
  • Social restriction for girls

Factors which influence exclusion:

The following factors promote exclusion:

  • Parent’s keenness to keep the tradition by supporting child marriage
  • Parents have to invariably meet the return the bride price cost like ornaments, cattle etc.
  • The earning foregone is quite substantial which many families in the lower strata can ill-afford to forgo.
  • Since girls perform more chores at home than boys and act as “surrogate mothers”, thus enabling their in-laws /parents to keep them home and not letting them mingling with their school going age group.


  • Poor health, education and economical infrusture.
  • High infant mortality.
  • Cut off from the mainstream.
  • Low in self confidence & low income.
  • Alcoholism & domestic violence.
  • Child laborers.
  • Unawareness about human rights relating child marriage laws.

Violence against women in tribal society : There are few topics related to women which command attention of researcher and intellectual as the problems of women do. Advance studies of women’s issues starts from the study of gerontology to psychiatry and criminology. But the most ignored topic stays if the topic of violence against the women.

Women’s harassment in the domestic violence scenario :The problem of violence against women is not recent. Women have been time and ever subject to humiliation, torture in hand exploitation for as long as have written records of social organization and family life. Though, women are consider to be meaningful contributors to the life of men; but they are still they are not acknowledged. In spite of the legislative measures adopted in favour of women after 60 years of independence, women are still brunt, beaten, kidnapped, raped, brunt and murder.

It is important to shed light of the concept of ‘violence’ against women. The term ‘violence; has been described by Gelles (1979) as “an act of striking a person with the intent of causing harm or injury but not actually causing it”. Strauss (1980) has described a violent act as “an act where there is the high potential of causing injury”

Nature, Extent and Characteristic of Violence against Women

Violence against women is categorized as:

  1. Criminal violence – rape, abduction, murder are consider as criminal violence.

  2. Domestic violence- dowry –deaths, wife beating, sexual abuse, and maltreatment melted to women who are dependent.

  3. Social violence – it is forcing the wife/daughter –in-law to get female foeticide, eve teasing, refusing to give a share to women in property, forcing a young widow to commit wrong, harassing the daughter-in-law to bring dowry from her parents.

Wife –battering by husband and his family members

Violence in context of marriage becomes more significant when she is beaten by her husband who is supposed to protect her. As when husband batter his wife not only break her trust but also takes a piece of her life. The violence can range from slaps, kicks with broken bones, torture and attempted murder. Bred in typical patriarchal set up a wife rarely thinks in terms of reporting a case of battering to the police. She gets forced to suffer the humiliation in silence and consider it as her destiny. The thought of revolting rarely occurs in her mind as she is scared of her own parents turning their back on her after marital break down. The significant characteristics of wife –beating pointed out by pragmatic studies are as follows;

  1. Wives under 25 years are in higher radar of victimized speed

  2. The younger wives in compare of their husband there is greater risk of being battered.

  3. Low-income or no-income are more victimized, though family income is more difficult to associate with victimization.

  4. Family size and its composition have little or no correlation ship with wife –beating.

  5. Physical attack by husband and his family members generally do not involves severe injury

  6. The disturbances, husband and his family member’s exaggerated ego of paying bride price.

  7. Exposure to violence of the husband and his family is traits in family since childhood.

  8. It is a misconception that illiterate wives are more vulnerable to husband’s beating than the educated wives, there is no significant relationship between beating and the educational level of the victims.

  9. Though ,it was consider that the wives of alcoholic husband are at higher risk of victimization ,it has been monitored that even the most social and sober husband beat their wives not in drunkenness but while they are moderate.

Perpetrators of domestic violence: Women are usually abused and attacked by the men and relatives related to him. This is proved by study conducted in England (University of Warwick: Joanna Liddle), which has pointed out that 61 per cent of women are abused by their own relatives and 39 per cent by outsider. In the earlier category, 72 per cent face violence at the hands of their husbands, by the relatives the trust and that too in the places they would consider as the protected. The abusers argue that today a woman does not stick to the conventional roles of a wife. This in fact does not reflect women refusing to conform and looking for freedom and some independence needs violence to men her through physical, psychological or emotional.

Types of violence as identified

  • violence which is money-oriented;
  • violence which seeks power over the weak partner;
  • violence which aims at pleasure –seeking;
  • violence which is the result of the perpetrator’s pathology
  • violence which is the result of stressful family situations ; and
  • violence which is victim-precipitated.

Theoretical Explanation of Violent Behaviour : The theoretical intention of domestic violence typically encountered, whether violence is a normal response of provocation, or whether it involves the acting out of some psychopathology as our abstract framework is depend on a holistic app0.roach and is presented as the ‘Social Barrier Theory’ which explains violent behaviour to a large extent.

Ram Ahuja in Social problems in India (1996:258-259) described that violence against a person is necessarily ‘violence by somebody’ and ‘violence against somebody’. His theoretical positions is based on a conjunctive approach which takes into account social factors like stressful situations endogenous and exogenous to family personality traits of perpetrators of violence and victims, and cultural milieu ,like normative pressures and ambiguities.

Reason for women enduring domestic violence

  • Structures as source of problems
  • Tradition of barriers to assertion
  • Resource deprivation and suffering of self
  • Attachment
  • Structural suffocation
  • Negation of revolt
  • Self-esteem situation


I had begun my study attempting to understand the consequences of gender-based child marriage, to find out the awareness about the very existence of domestic violence act, to find out the perception of the respondents on the cause of child marriage, to analyse the various socioeconomic and cultural factors leading to child marriage, to understand the nature and types of and explore the barriers to the detection of women who are victims of child marriage. Through out the process of my data collection I engaged in activities that allowed me to understand minute details of women’s experience. To this end I conducted a ‘Transect walk’. I remember while preparing for the transect walk, I made sure that the local villagers were with me while walking around so that I can really explain and guide them in the entire process .This walk helped in the following manner-It helped to observe directly and to have a firsthand knowledge about the village. Then it helped to directly observe, describe and cross checking points for discussion with the local people. It has also helped in improving communication and also to build rapport with the local people. Researching Violence against women is complex process that requires great care. This attempt of mine is to engage with these complexities.

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