A research paper by Padma Bethali Deosthali and Lakshmi Lingam states that there are 7 million burn injuries in India annually, out of which 700,000 require hospital admission and 140,000 are fatal. According to National Burns Programme, 91,000 of them are women. Women of child bearing age are more likely than three times to die because of burn injuries than men.

Most of the burns are reported as mere accidents in the hospital. However, there has been suspicion as to whether these injuries are just an accident or a manifestation of domestic violence inflicted by their partners because of its occurrence in certain age groups (i.e. 18 to 35 years) of women and the statistics show that most of them are married. The reason why this kind of violence does not get noticed is because it is considered a private issue.

How is PCVC helping survivors of burn injuries? 

The International Foundation for Crime Prevention and Victim Care is a non-profit organisation which was set up in response to a need for support agency for victims and survivors of domestic abuse. Their services include crisis management, legal advocacy, support and resource services.

Domestic violence as commonly perceived is not a private issue to be dealt with, but it is a crime. Despite of the presence of the Domestic Violence Act, 2005; women themselves fear coming out in the public and filing a case against their husbands because they are seen to be ‘dishonouring’ the family and also because of lack of economic skills and opportunities to sustain themselves once they are separated from their husbands.

PCVC conducted a knowledge sharing workshop on Building a Holistic Support Systems for Women Burn Survivors of Violence on 13th November, 2016 at India Islamic Centre, Lodhi Road, New Delhi.

The work of PCVC is commendable in terms of providing psycho-social support to the women burn survivors. PCVC provides the following services for the survivors:

  • 24 hours helpline for survivors of crime.
  • Counseling to aid the survivors in expressing their thoughts and feelings about the trauma.
  • Mediation between couples.
  • Referrals for medical aid and therapy.
  • Rehabilitation of survivors in terms of locating job placements, educational opportunities, housing, etc.
  • Information regarding law enforcement, criminal justice and medical systems.
  • Legal advocacy for survivors.
  • Referrals to the appropriate community resources such as hospitals, police stations and the courts assistance with receiving compensation through the Victim Assistance Fund.
  • Community workshops and education initiatives aimed at preventing gender-based violence.

PCVC tries to incorporate a holistic approach by providing medico-legal assistance too, to the survivors. However, there are many loopholes in both the medical as well as the legal system which makes it difficult for PCVC to deliver what it promises.

Even though PCVC’s mandate is very vast but during the workshop, there were other suggestions by Dr. Bhuvan Bhaskar (Director Burns and Trauma Centre, Noida), Dr. Shilpi (Assistant Professor, RML Hospital), Dr. Varsha (Consultant, Burns and Plastic, LNJP Hospital), Dr. Rushi (HOD Psychology- RML Hospital), Advocate Bhaskar Agarwal (CSO- Helping Human), Ms Tanya Singh (CSO- Make Love not Scars). Since the participants of this workshop belonged to diverse fields, a lot of constructive suggestions came up in terms of relieving the pain of women who undergo domestic violence which leads to burn injuries in extreme cases.

The suggestions included the following measures

  • To sensitize doctors regarding this issue and not merely treat it as any other ‘burn injury’ case since it involves a psychological dimension of the patient too.
  • To train the doctors regarding the legal proceedings so that they can immediately inform the patients and their family regarding it.
  • Psychiatric intervention at every level in order to understand the mental health of the patient and also to help them overcome the difficulties that they face.
  • List out a holistic directory which has contact details of all the institutions (hospitals, legal aid, social work networks etc) that would assist them in their problem.
  • Vocational training systems to help the survivors establish themselves as independent individuals economically (since most of them consider returning to the abusers’ house due to lack of finances).
  • Those women should be made to realized their self-worth so that they themselves do not engage in victim blaming, which is so normalized in our society.

Another issue which PCVC very rightly raises is that domestic violence not only affects the woman on whom it is inflicted on, but the entire family is adversely affected.

PCVC’s initiative, SMILES (Support Services for Child Victims of Violence at Home) aims at providing children a loving, secure and safe place to live, a home free from violence to children facing violence at home and those who have left home with their mothers to seek a violence free life. This program is of great help to women whose main concern remains their children and becomes a crucial reason why they are not able to leave their abusers’ home. It supports education of the child irrespective of the victim-survivor status of the mother. It also deals with the psychological effects of domestic violence and imparts relationship education- healthy education.

Is treating burn injuries enough? 

In a conversation with Rashmi Singh (a team member of PCVC), she mentions that it is not enough to just treat the victims of domestic violence who are inflicted with brutal burn injuries. We need to question the larger structures of the society as to why at all do domestic violence happen in the first place? It is mainly due to the deeply patriarchal society that we live in where men feel a sense of authority and power over their wives. They use violence as a tool to fulfil their demands and coerce women into doing things that they would not otherwise do.

Rashmi rightly points out that the socialization process of young girls and boys should be done in a way which makes them view each other as independent individuals who have respect for each other. Young boys should not grow up believing that it is okay for them to assert authority over their partners, on the other hand, young girls should be taught to raise their voice against the inhumane acts against them. It is a only then that we can see a society which does not need an organisation like PCVC to exist, and that is something we as individuals should aim at.

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