An unusual wedding gift distributed to hundreds of brides at a recent mass marriage ceremony in central India is shining a poignant light on the country’s long-standing issue of domestic violence.
Social Justice Minister Gopal Bhargava gave wooden paddles to nearly 700 newly married women at a government-organized event in the state of Madhya Pradesh on Saturday, as tools for the women to fend off their husbands with, should they become drunk or physically abusive.
The paddles, normally used to beat dirty laundry, bear the text “For beating drunkards” and “Police won’t intervene,” according to translations by Agence France-Presse, which first reported the story.
Bhargava did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
“Women say whenever their husbands get drunk, they become violent. Their savings are taken away and splurged on liquor,” he told AFP, explaining that the paddles should be used as a means to stave off abuse.
“There is no intent to provoke women or instigate them to violence,” he said. “The bat is to prevent violence.”
The politician posted a photo to his Facebook account on Sunday that appears to show a bride holding a paddle, locally known as a “mogri.” The text on the paddle says “Gift meant to beat up alcoholics,” according to a HuffPost translation.
“Let the wooden paddles do the talking” if your husbands refuse to listen, Bhargava reportedly urged the new brides at the wedding ceremony. He has ordered 10,000 paddles to be handed out for such purposes, according to several news reports.
The issue of violence against women in India drew international attention and outcry following the widely publicized fatal gang rape of a female New Delhi student in late 2012, and the court-ordered punitive gang rape of a young woman in West Bengal in 2014.
Gender-based violence crimes in India have continued to rise despite the government’s promise of a “policy of zero tolerance” in 2014. Some 27.5 million women are estimated to be affected, according to The Lancet, but fewer than 1 percent of survivors report their assaults to the police.
Marital rape is legal in India, making it more difficult for women to report cases of spousal abuse. Women in marginalized Indian communities also face systemic discrimination, which can further hinder them from reporting abuse, as Amnesty International notes.
India’s Parliament enacted the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act in 2005 to address the issue, but pundits have attributed its apparent failure to a lack of enforcement and strategy surrounding cultural stigma. According to a World Values Survey based on data gathered between 2010 and 2014, around two-thirds of women in India believe spousal abuse can be justified.
India also passed the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act in 2012, an unprecedented law in the country that outlines specific punishments for different types of sexual abuse against minors. But humanitarian activists say crimes like the 2014 rape of a 6-year-old girl in Bangalore highlight the need for stricter implementation.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.