Number Theory: Linking Walkar case to ‘love jihad’ a disservice to larger gender issues
Even as investigations into the alleged murder of Shradha Walkar by her live-in partner Aftab Poonawala continue, there have been efforts in some quarters to link this dastardly crime to “love jihad”.
Even as investigations into the alleged murder of Shradha Walkar by her live-in partner Aftab Poonawala continue, there have been efforts in some quarters to link this dastardly crime to “love jihad”. To be sure, central investigative agencies have not found any proof of larger criminal design in interfaith marriages in the past, raising questions on the very sanctity of a term such as “love jihad”, which is used by the right wing to describe a conspiracy by Muslim men to cheat Hindu women into marriage, and then convert them. What an HT analysis shows is that the Walkar murder case fits in with data that show that many women pay the ultimate price for failing to come out of an abusive relationship. Here are four charts that explain this in detail.
Shraddha was not the only woman who had reconciled herself to abusive relationships
A November 21 HT story by Megha Sood and Gautam S Mengle pointed out that Poonawala started beating Walkar as soon as they first moved in together. While she did discuss it with her family and friends, the relationship “had fallen into a toxic pattern of abuse and reconciliation” they wrote. Data from National Family and Health Survey (NFHS) shows that Walkar was not the only woman to have reconciled herself to an abusive or violent relationship. In fact, a significant share of women in India believe that their husbands are justified in using violence on them for various reasons -- the ones specified in the survey range from serving burnt food to refusal to have sexual intercourse. Clearly, there is a larger subconscious surrender to patriarchy at play here rather than the fault or inability of a single woman, in this case Walkar.
A religion-wise cross tabulation of NFHS data shows that the difference in the share of women who suffer violence from their husbands or those who justify such violence on various pretexts is not very significant for at least the two biggest religious groups: Hindus and Muslims.
What is tragic about the Shraddha case is the fact that she ended up in an abusive relationship by her own choice, unlike many women who do so without any agency. Are own-choice relationships more likely to end up turning abusive? Because there is no systematic data on own-choice and arranged marriages in India, this question cannot be proved or disproved statistically. However, NFHS data does allow us to look at the likelihood of women who face violence from their husbands in marriages that are inter/intra caste/religious. Given the social practice of endogamy in India, it is reasonable to assume that almost all inter religious/caste marriages are own-choice relationships. Sorting out NFHS data on this basis shows that women in inter-religious/caste marriages are more likely to face violence from their husbands.
To be sure, one should be careful in mechanically reading the headline numbers given in the chart below. Because inter-caste and inter-religious marriages are very small in number, they are likely to generate higher error margins in any cross-tabulation on the unit-level data. This is an additional source of higher error in calculating such ratios because only a small share of women in the overall NFHS sample responded to the question of facing violence by their husbands as was discussed in an earlier story. Finally, this could also be an instance where correlation is not causation.
Doing the same exercise for different combination of inter-religion marriages shows that there is not much difference in the possibility of a Hindu woman facing violence from a Muslim husband or a Muslim woman facing violence from a Hindu husband. Once again, the error margins and other caveats need to kept in mind while reading these numbers.