October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
A girl who we looked up to in college, got married (arranged marriage) to a charming man who gifted her her favourite car on their wedding day. Then we heard she had come back home within days because he was violent. Her parents were supportive. She was divorcing him.
This became a topic of discussion. One voice insisted, “A man might lose his cool sometimes! Why is nobody asking what she had done to make him so angry?”
We had wondered if this voice had seen domestic violence at home, because he also said an occasional slap was not Domestic Violence.
A close friend walked out of her arranged marriage to escape an occasional slap. The rest of the time the constant threat of verbal and physical violence made her feel she was going to lose her mental equilibrium.
She was lucky.
Girls are generally sent back. They are told a known devil is better than an unknown one. The alternative of living a life without any devils – known or unknown, is ignored.
The victim’s parents advise her to change, to ‘improve’, to win the abuser over with love and sacrifice! But the commonly recommended tact and sacrifice do not help, because the abuser needs expert guidance, not a compliant partner.
Domestic Violence is not about the victim’s imperfections; it’s about an abuser’s complexes and his wish to control. In many cases the abuser aims to put down a better looking, more successful or more social partner.
A popular Indian women’s magazine reminds the victim that it is better to bear some abuse from a husband than to leave him and be forced to work and tolerate abuse by one’s boss and colleagues! Even if this was to be taken seriously, does one assume that only nonworking women are battered? The most visible victim, a domestic helper is a working woman.
The violence continues lifelong. One man threw out his 60 year old wife in her night clothes, and she sat outside praying nobody sees her. (‘God of Small Things’ discusses such a case). She knew he would take her in the next morning, in time for his morning tea.
My maids have grown up with domestic violence. More than one has wished, (in a very matter of fact voice) that their husband would die.
Why not leave him then? Because anybody who has seen their lives closely would know that the man would follow, as a Right, and the society will watch them being battered in public, to retrieve his manly pride and position. So they would rather he died than they walk out.
I made them watch this Bell Bajao video. The look on their faces brought a lump to my throat. I don’t think they had ever been told categorically that Domestic Violence is not their fault. Such videos can change social attitudes.
Although there is social acceptance of domestic violence, there is still shame attached to it. If the neighbours have heard the noises, then it must be shown as a one odd case.
We went on a trip with another family once, and I heard them argue in the next room and then she screamed terribly, I wanted to rush and help and then I heard her beg him to stop or else we would hear. She suspected we heard and casually brought up the topic of how all couples had fights and how she would never believe a couple did not fight.
Was she fooling herself or did she believe that this violence was a normal fight? She showed me marks of a bangle pressed into skin and a burn mark, she said (I didn’t ask… but I feel she needed to share.) she was ironing and the hot iron fell on her hand.
I casually talked of women who had escaped abusive relationships because they realised the violence was never going to end.
This was the closest I came to witnessing Domestic Violence and what shook me was that the couple had looked so normal (i.e. happy). They had played antakshari and dumb charades with us… and she was a bubbly extrovert, he was quiet, almost silent.
Another man had tender spells. He spoon-fed her when the violent fits were over and he gently explained to her that if she would only be a little organised/neater/more cheerful/better cook etc he would never need to lose his temper. (‘My Feudal Lord’ describes this kind too.)
Victims might feel that violence can be controlled with compliance. The fact is that most of the times the abuser is known for being ‘short tempered’, impatient, unpredictable and even a ‘perfectionist’ by those who know him well. (To outsiders he might appear quite sane.)
The worst and most debilitating is the Stockholm Syndrome.
“The Stockholm Syndrome is a psychological shift that occurs in captives when they are threatened gravely but are shown acts of kindness by their captors. Captives who exhibit the syndrome tend to sympathize with and think highly of their captors, at times believing that the captors are showing them favor stemming from inherent kindness. Such captives fail to recognize that their captors’ choices are essentially self-serving. When subjected to prolonged captivity, these captives can develop a strong bond with their captors, in some cases including a sexual interest.[Link]”