Written for the Tehelka blog: The shame is not the victim’s, but that of the abuser’s

She slunk into work wearing dark glasses on a rainy day and sat quietly at her desk. Her movements were odd, jerky. She’d just resumed work after a day off, casual leave, called in sick. She was wearing full sleeves and had wrapped a dupatta round her neck. As we sat together in a corner of the office, during our lunch break, I asked her if it had happened again. She took off her sunglasses, unwrapped the dupatta from her neck and rolled up one sleeve. Her left eye was black and swollen, there were angry imprints on her neck, like a pair of hands had grabbed it and squeezed it tight, threatening to choke the life out of her, there was a cut on her arm that was patched together with a crepe bandage and some home first aid.

“It was all my fault. He came home tired and I’d over-salted the daal,” she said. I shook my head, like I always did. I was done reasoning with her, I’d done the being the strong shoulder of support. There was nothing more I could do or so I thought. I changed jobs a short while later. We fell out of touch.

I’ve often wondered what happened to her, whether the episodes had ceased or intensified. I’ve never quite been able to handle the guilt of thinking I should have done more, I should have given her a safe house to run away, I should have… the I should haves never end. The point is I did not. I did not offer her anything more than a sympathetic shoulder. I admit, part of me was outraged, that she, an independent woman, would prefer to continue being in this relationship (this was a live-in relationship, not a marriage) than walking out. I could neither understand, nor accept why she would continue to tolerate the abuse.

Over the years, I would meet many more like her. The maid who came in to work with a swollen right side of the face and black and blue bruises on her arm. The sleekly gorgeous yummy mummy, dripping diamonds and Gucci, who confessed to me, “Not on the face, he never hits on the face,” and show me a maze of welters on her back where her husband had whipped her with his belt in a fury for being half an hour late in returning home from the gym. The chirpy, ambitious small town girl who fell in love with this brilliant, maverick wunderkind, and slowly morphed into a withdrawn, terrified girl, who only spoke of her abuse when her partner kicked her in the ribs so violently that he broke them.

Domestic Violence. Or more specifically, Intimate Partner Violence (IPV). Domestic Violence is a wider term that includes all physical abuse within a house, not limited to abuse to a woman from her partner, but could include abuse from in-laws, abuse of the elderly or children in the house. Intimate Partner Violence is what the man unleashes on the woman, assuming a heterosexual partnership, or when one partner is physically violent and abusive with the other in a same-sex relationship.

According to the United Nations, around 35 percent of women face violence in India. Women are protected from domestic abuse under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005. In 2010, 11,718 cases were registered under the Act; over 7,803 cases were registered in 2009. According to a report in Hindustan Times, the Delhi government women’s helpline receives 450 or more calls every day; of which nearly 90 per cent are of domestic violence.

More statistics, these from infochangeindia.org:

  • Four out of 10 women in India have experienced violence in the home
  • 45 percent of women have suffered at least one incident of physical or psychological violence in their life
  • 26 percent have experienced at least one moderate form of physical violence
  • More than 50 percent of pregnant women have experienced severe violent physical injuries

Shockingly, from Wikipedia “According to UNICEF‘s Global Report Card on Adolescents 2012, 57% boys in India think a husband is justified in hitting or beating his wife while around 53% girls think that a husband is justified in beating his wife.”

The very fact that more than half of the next generation feels that violence in the home is justified is a scary indication that they are exposed to, and that the vicious cycle will continue. Boys who have grown up witnessing their mothers being victims of physical abuse will assume that it is socially acceptable to do so, and continue the same pattern of behaviour with their intimate partners. Women who have come from such homes, will expect and justify such violence in an intimate relationship because they have internalised the messages that women “need to be kept in their place” and that they don’t deserve better.

Apart from the very real and tangible risk of physical danger from the abuser, serious harm and even fatal injury, IPV victims might also suffer from low self-esteem, lack of self confidence, limited freedom, no financial independence, depression, eating disorders; they might attempt self harm, drug or alcohol abuse to cope with the abuse, or even commit suicide. Around 60 percent of IPV victims show all signs meeting the criterion for depression, generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

There is no typical abuser – a alcoholic in the slum and a VP of a bank – both could be abusers. Celebrities like Chris Brown, Mel Gibson and Kannada actor Darshan have been accused of violence against their partners/spouses. The abuse generally falls into a pattern of abuse, making up, regaining the trust of the victim, until the next incident. The abuse could get progressively worse as the abuser tests the boundaries of how far he can go. The physical abuse could be part of a power and control game the abuser plays with the victim, and could be coupled with emotional abuse.

Read the rest of the article here: http://blog.tehelka.com/the-shame-is-not-the-victims-but-that-of-the-abusers/

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About Kiran Manral

Author of The Face At The Window, ( 2016), Karmic Kids, All Aboard (2015) , Once Upon A Crush (2014) and The Reluctant Detective (2011).
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