Indian doctors describe dire consequences of violence against women
by Dr. Balkrishna Kurvey
“Women and children are easy prey to those with guns,” said the keynote speaker at the national conference of the Association of Medical Women in India (AWMI) on October 15-16, 2011 at Nagpur, India.
My wife Nalini and I agree, which is why we have been working for more than 15 years on preventing armed violence in India, especially toward women and children, and why we helped to organize the session entitled “Tackling growing violence against women—issues & strategies: Aiming for Prevention” at the AWMI conference. We addressed more than 375 Indian women medical doctors on the health effects of small arms and light weapons.
As the President of the Indian Institute for Peace, Disarmament & Environmental Protection (IIPDEP), founded by myself and my wife, I presented on the mission and goals of the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), the global movement against gun violence linking civil society organizations working to stop the proliferation and misuse of small arms and light weapons. As a newly elected member of the IANSA International Advisory Council, I appealed to the delegates to become involved in the activities of IANSA in their respective provinces, cities and towns to help prevent the scourge of gun violence. I described the importance of medical community involvement in these issues and how we have an obligation to be leaders on this issue.
My wife, Dr. Nalini Kurvey, the current president of AWMI, has been a long-time advocate on disarmament and peace issues throughout India. She urged the women doctors to involve themselves in the humanitarian work of IPPNW, with which IIPDEP works closely in India, and we have focused for years on the spectrum of violence from landmines to small arms to nuclear weapons.
Dr. Arti Basu, Vice-President of AWMI, in her keynote address began with the United Nations official definition of violence against women, “Any act of gender based violence that results in, or is likely to results in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.” (UN General Assembly, 1995.)
She also cited the World Health Organization’s (WHO) definition of violence as the “intentional use of physical force power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, which either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, mal-development or deprivation.” (WHO 2002)
Specific to India, she narrated the movement of Naxalites (Maoists) and militancy in North East India, Jammu & Kashmir, and described how militants are inflicting perpetual violence on women and children due to the availability of firearms. She underscored the many heinous crimes carried out towards women including rape, physical mutilation, physical and mental torture, which we doctors have to treat.
She described some of the dire long-term consequences of the violence. “A physically mutilated girl will not have a chance to marry and start her family. Marriage is social security in India and thus she is denied her basic rights. Rape is a social stigma in our country and many times women/girls take extreme steps towards suicide.”
She went on to talk about all victims of gun violence including men and boys. “We are the first we see the victims/patients and are not certain what will be the outcome of treatment. Will the patient survive? If so, what will be his/her chances to start his/her life again?”
Violence has an adverse effect on the health of the pregnant mother and her child both before and after birth. It has been associated with placental abruption, chorioamnionitis, stillbirth, premature labor, low birth weight, and miscarriages. Abdominal trauma during pregnancy may lead to rupture of liver, spleen, uterus, fetal fractures, and in extreme cases maternal or fetal death. Mental health effects include depression and post traumatic stress disorder, suicidal behavior, social ostracization.
Dr. Basu urged that as a medical fraternity we know that prevention is better than cure, and only prevention can control the illegal trade of small arms and lights weapons. Stringent laws that regulate firearms in India and neighboring states, as well as a strong international Arms Trade Treaty, are needed.
After hearing the call to action, many women doctors promised to work for the mutual causes of IPPNW and IANSA and involve themselves under the guidance of Dr. Nalini Kurvey.
Dr. Kurvey is president of the Indian Institute for Peace, Disarmament & Environmental Protection in Nagpur, India, and has been an IPPNW Aiming for Prevention activist for many years.