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Domestic Violence Justified On TOI's Pages

Domestic Violence Justified On TOI's Pages

May 17, 2012

Wife-beating is not justified -- right, The Times of India? So why even ask the question?

A recent Unicef report found that among Indians aged 15-19, 57% of boys and 53% of girls “think that a husband is justified in hitting or beating his wife under certain circumstances” (p. 32).

The report clarified that 'justification' is not the same as approval: “it reflects societal views that accept such practices when women and girls have a lower status or when they do not fulfil certain expected gender roles”. Much of India remains a patriarchal society, or holds a man to be higher in rank than a woman (patriarchy in India has been a topic of illuminating recent discussion among female bloggers and writers such as Saba Dewan and Nilanjana Roy). As such, these figures are not exactly surprising, however saddening they may be.

In my view, there is no acceptable defence for physical violence against your spouse, be they a man or a woman. I feel the issue is relatively black and white and have little else to offer personally.

The Times of India (TOI), a leading English paper in India, had a more complex – and for me, quite frustrating – view on the results. It initially reported the figures with a piece titled '57% of boys, 53% of girls think wife beating is justified'. As is custom with much TOI reporting, some editorial commentary under the heading 'Times View' was included:

“These findings on youth attitudes towards marital violence should not just be seen as shocking. They should also teach us the limitations of laws on domestic violence. Such laws may be important to help minimize violence against women. But they are clearly not enough […] A strong legal framework to deal with domestic attacks must be backed up, therefore, by a sustained and intensive campaign to raise awareness on the issue among men and women. Steps to raise the levels of female education would play an important role.”

This commentary is quite limited and ill-considered – I'll come back to that later – but not entirely unfair. In any case, TOI makes no claim to absolute objectivity in its reporting. No major problem so far.

But then, somebody at TOI decided these results about domestic violence would provide a good survey question for the paper's 'Speak Out' page. Up it went, in the bluntest terms:

'Do you feel wife beating is justified?'

Not surprisingly, the majority of respondents answered in the negative. However, and also not surprisingly given the patriarchal attitudes that remain present in India to varying degrees, a few agreed that wife-beating is justified. Brief arguments were offered, often with the caveat that it is only justified in certain circumstances. One joked about his own wife. Another invoked the beliefs of anti-corruption Anna Hazare. It was a shambles.


Here's why I think The Times of India asked whether wife-beating is justified, and why I think none of those reasons make it an acceptable question for a media organisation – especially a market leader – to ask. (Note that I'm assuming they expected responses to be overwhelmingly negative – surely there's no way they were actually asking their readers because they could not decide for themselves.)

To see if its readers' views reflected those in the Unicef poll. Well, you'd really hope not. Is it worth it to even check? Or was this perhaps considered an opportunity for TOI to demonstrate the relative moral superiority of its readers – and, by extension, itself? TOI does, after all, have a track record of judging itself in comparison to other media outlets, so perhaps it saw fit to tease out an unscientific illustration of the high ground its readers occupy.

If TOI was unsure about how its readers felt on this issue, I'm surprised at how little they understand the market they serve. On the other hand, if TOI were indeed seizing the opportunity to appear morally superior, the act of attempting to demonstrate this instead indicates a character deficit.

To provide an avenue for readers to air their opinions on the matter. There's an inherent risk in offering up an open public forum in which anyone can speak: you may end up providing an avenue for the promotion of prejudiced and perhaps hateful thoughts and attitudes. Well-moderated sites remove comments that include hate speech, so when someone espouses domestic violence in a comment thread, the offending words (or perhaps the whole comment) are removed. The site would not want to be seen as tolerant of hateful or unfairly discriminatory views and would likely consider such views a distraction from the debate, rather than a contribution to it.

In this case, the question directly invites speech prejudiced against women. This clears the way for a domestic violence advocate to write more or less what he wishes, and in wording the question emotionally – 'Do you feel' – rather than factually, TOI absolves itself of responsibility for any storm that may follow. However, as the offending comments appear on TOI's website, TOI bears responsibility for their being aired.

To garner pageviews on its website, leading to increased advertising revenue. The Times of India is a business, owned by Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. (aka The Times Group), and its purpose is to generate revenue for its owners (the Jain family). As such, every single one of its actions, whether in print, online or elsewhere, is designed to bring in revenue; its staff are no doubt encouraged at every level to maximise revenue potential, including the person or people who set the questions for the Speak Out page.

With all that in mind, I don't think it's ethical or responsible to play on people's antiquated attitudes towards domestic violence for the purpose of generating revenue. The financial benefit does not outweigh the dubious morality of allowing someone, be they a reader or anyone else, to post words on your pages arguing in favour of wife-beating.


Back to the legal framework that TOI passed off as “not enough” in its 'Times View'. India's Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Actwas passed into law in 2005. Its definition of domestic violence is broad, and leads off with the following words:

“harms or injures or endangers the health, safety, life, limb or well-being, whether mental or physical, of the aggrieved person or tends to do so and includes causing physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal and emotional abuse and economic abuse.”

The remainder of the bill is quite comprehensive. In the context of the Unicef figures, or indeed any story on domestic violence, I'd have expected any media organisation to make reference to it in its coverage. However, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act is not mentioned once in either TOI's initial report on on the Speak Out page, where it so brazenly asked whether readers feel wife-beating is justified.

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  • Stuti
    05.07.12 03:36 PM
    First of all Patriarchy is I would say the worst disease in India. And media, which is considered the fourth estate of the country, is not doing anything for it. Media can really try to establish right thoughts in the society, they can spread awareness, but they are hardly interested in it.

    Also, as far as domestic violence is concerned, many women bear it and do not speak out because they are financially not stable. Still in India, when it comes to properties or any kind of saving, mostly they all are for the males of the house first. Even in the case of earning women, the center of the family remains males. Whatever they buy, the ownership is generally of men. You will rarely find any home with the ownership of female (until and unless they are having many properties, or they are doing something for tax saving), though she has earned for the whole life.

    It is not about possession, but about the mindset. We should not consider any one person the center of a home, because not a single person can make a home. Husband and wife together only can make a home. If the husband earns going outside, it is the wife who manages the home, who makes efforts to keep them fit. But, pity that we are still diseased in the 21st century. Instead of concentrating on developmental issues, we are still trying to find out the remedy for the disease- PATRIARCHY.
    18.05.12 11:41 PM
    @ Barns

    I want to ask you few questions before I post my opinion on this subject. The reason for this is very simple, because I want to know where you stand with your own article. So here it goes:-

    A:- You are not happy because TIO should not have asked such a question.

    B:- You don't agree with the stat and the platform for such a subject has been given.

    C:- Such subject should not be part of discussion topic on open platform.

    D:- This gives people to spew hate, thus you don't agree with, and they are responsible for spreading hate against women in general.

    E:- TIO's motives are only profit based and they are taking advatage of such a subject which should be exempt from discussion.

    I have only asked these questions because I can't understad your article point of view.

  • aativas
    17.05.12 11:41 PM
    ToI asking wrong question - it is no more a news!!
  • Rajpriya
    17.05.12 03:53 PM
    Wake up Indian women. Take karate classes. Learn from the west. Here's how they do it.
  • Sampada
    17.05.12 03:35 PM
    SHIT! how could a national newspaper, and a leading one at that, ask a question so lightly about something as horrible as wife-beating?? and is it JUSTIFIED????

    Is it just me, or its becoming increasingly difficult to be a woman these days?
  • C. Suresh
    C. Suresh
    17.05.12 12:39 PM
    Any act of violence needs to be condemned and domestic violence does not need to be treated as a separate category morally..though socially and legally it may require separate treatment.
    As regards the media - including TOI - it is amply clear that the Fourth Estate is actually no different from the rest of the corporate world and I am of the opinion that the only motive that drives them nowadays is profits.
    I am also in agreement that censorship is not the way ahead. Except that the media house has the responsibility to interject a moderating counter-view when the comments go way out of line. Where such is not possible it is best not to invite comments or to censor outright hate speeches which are not a reasoned counter-point to the issue under discussion.
  • Poona Cronies
    Poona Cronies
    17.05.12 12:21 PM
    Quoting: "India’s Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act was passed into law in 2005" yet TOI went ahead and asked the question that they did in the survey.
    To me, that's the equivalent of asking a question like "Is it justifiable to smoke Marijuana or not?" or "Is it okay to kill someone that has pissed you off or not?", given that there are already laws that forbid them.

    Negligence does set in even at the country borders when all is peaceful for a while. The same holds true for TOI as well. They don't give a shit about quality, it's all about the quantity now.
  • Ayush
    17.05.12 09:16 AM
    Sadly, TOI isn't the newspaper it once used to be. Focus on controversial stories, glamour, money-making, stupid celebrities and too much of cricket has reduced the aura of that newspaper. Its a sad state of affairs for our media who does not know what to focus on..
  • SK
    17.05.12 07:18 AM
    I am not a hater. I am not a psychopath who beats his spouse. I am not intolerant. However, I stand by Voltaire's diktat: I may not like what you speak / comment, but will defend, until my last breath, your right to say it.

    While moderating comments for crass abusive language is necessary to maintain decorum in a public forum, I do believe removing them for 'hate speech' amounts to curtailing expression of freedom.

    A private blog like yours can do it. When a newspaper site does it, it is often a mark that the newspaper or editors are intolerant of views differing from their own.

    It happens all too often in the websites of The Hindu, where any comment about Maoist violence (albeit in grammatically correct, civil language) will not be approved. This only betrays the said media-house's bigotry.

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