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Domestic violence examined: qualitative research in India contributes to interventions to assist victims.

In Goa, India, qualitative research designed to help develop sustainable interventions to assist victims of domestic violence has contributed to the creation of a fully staffed network of domestic violence counselors and legal experts. (1) Furthermore, a women's police station established during the study at the site where these experts are housed--the Old Goa Medical College complex--means domestic violence victims can receive a variety of services at one convenient location.

The qualitative research, conducted from 2000 to 2001 in the Bardez and Tiswadi districts of Goa and administered through the Sangath Centre in Goa, involved focus group discussions with 20 people who work with victims of domestic violence. In addition, interviews were conducted with 20 women who had experienced domestic violence, yet had overcome it through community support and use of problem-solving skills. Findings from these preliminary interviews were then used to develop an open-ended interview tool to explore the experiences of another 90 domestic violence victims of varying socioeconomic situations. Nearly half of the 90 women were homemakers, while 16 percent worked in offices, banks, and other professional positions. Two-thirds of the women had arranged marriages, while the rest had married for love. Most had children, ranging from 7 to 13 years of age.

About two-thirds of women in this part of the study reported that their husbands abused them almost daily. They described violence not only as physical but also as verbal, emotional, and sexual. Extramarital affairs were the main reason for marital conflict. Other common sources of conflict were interference from in-laws and alcoholism, followed by personality disorders and other psychiatric problems. "He says that I am too fat and smelly and ugly and that there are other girls in the market who are better and satisfy him more," reported one woman, echoing the comments of several other women. Often, the abuse was reinforced by members of the abuser's family and also directed at members of the victim's family. "He mocks at my family and says that my brothers are goondas [street thugs] and thieves and no one wanted to marry me from my own village," confided another woman. "That is why I came so far to his village. He mocks at my upbringing and says that I cannot behave like a woman in public, but I behave like a servant from the village. He mocks at my cooking and says that the pigs would like it, as it is the way they eat. I hate these taunts and it is not from him only but also from his mother and sister."

Other women described various forms of painful neglect. "He slaps me only when I go on and on telling him to care about me," said one. "Otherwise, he just neglects me." Another observed: "After my wedding night, the next day he slept outside the bedroom and not inside, so I laid down on the bed outside near him and he just pushed me off. After that he never talks or is tender to me."

Women often described patterns of escalating and varied abuse. "He has started beating me in the last few months only," reported one woman. "He slaps and throws me on the floor and kicks me. Initially, he would just abuse me." Said another woman: "He used to beat me in the past. Now it is more emotional and economical violence. He sees that I have no money to eat, and he does not talk to me and, when he does, he only nags at me. There is nothing else." Yet another woman commented: "The first two days were fine, sex with love. After that, it was a nightmare. I told him that I needed to sleep and rest at night as I had to get up and do the household work during the day. He just pushed me and raped me without any foreplay, thrusting himself forcefully. I just hate him."

Despite such sentiments, women tended to see the violence and abuse they experienced as "a minor factor in a broader picture of their relationship," says Fiona Dias Saxena, a social worker at the Sangath Centre in Goa who conducted the qualitative research as part of a larger project supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The project's objective was to help victims and their families rebuild their family life or, failing that, to help victims rebuild their individual lives. Major activities of the project, sponsored by the Family Health Programme of the Sangath Centre, were the provision of counseling services, advocacy, training, networking, and information dissemination.

"Many women viewed violence as just one of several problems in the relationship," Dias Saxena explains. "They also recognized some positive aspects of married life." Nearly all wished to maintain their marriages for economic reasons, to meet cultural expectations, to avoid traumatizing their children, to avoid religious sanctions and social stigma, for fear of their lives, or for fear of losing their children.

Nearly all of the women said that domestic violence is unacceptable, but few had previously articulated this feeling. Similarly, few women went to medical professionals when they were harmed Many women said they tried to avoid violence and, failing that, shouted for help or physically attempted to defend themselves. Only under the most extreme circumstances did they seek professional help.

In conjunction with this research, an intervention at the Sangath Centre was developed featuring four approaches devised to better address the specific situations of individuals. The first approach, aimed at reducing the harm caused by violence, targeted abusive partners for individual therapy. "However, perpetrators of violence were generally noncompliant," notes Dias Saxena. "They were neither interested in addressing the issue of violence nor coming for counseling and--though violent--enjoyed the support of family and friends." The second approach, which was most popular, targeted women for individual therapy, helping them prioritize their domestic difficulties and then solve one problem at a time. The third approach, family therapy (involving children and extended family members) was less successful: While 93 percent of female clients complied, only 39 percent of spouses did so. However, a fourth approach--couple counseling--proved to be a little more successful because abusive partners wished to avoid involving their full family. Also, couple therapy seemed a good option, particularly to upper-class families, who wished to avoid the stigma of a legal solution. During couple counseling, a code of conduct that prohibited violence was established, couples were taught how to better communicate, and gender role expectations involving greater compromise were clarified.

During home visits, conducted to determine whether violence had stopped and whether attitudes about domestic violence had changed, only six (7 percent) of 87 women reported violence occurring once the intervention had begun. More than two-thirds of women were no longer living with their spouses at the end of the intervention, but 43 percent of separations were reported to be amicable.

This intervention was later reproduced by the Directorate of Women and Child Development and sponsored by the Goa State Commission for Women, resulting in the creation of the network of counselors and legal experts dedicated to assisting victims of domestic violence. Research to evaluate the intervention is ongoing.


(1.) Dias Saxena F. Nirmaan: building a programme for sustainable intervention for family violence in Goa. Unpublished draft report. Sangath Centre, 2002.

Note: More information about domestic violence, which is common worldwide, is available at the following Web sites:,, and
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Author:Best, Kim
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Dec 22, 2002
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