Monday, October 10, 2011

Violence against women - my take.

I had mentioned that lack of parental support led to the death of a certain Mrs. Rao in my first post written for women's web regarding violence against women. True in most cases women are neither equipped nor encouraged to stand up for themselves against unacceptable behavior from their men folk/in laws or anyone who violates their right to dignity and self respect. But there are a few exceptions and this post is dedicated to those women who were victims of domestic violence but found means to survive against all odds. In two of the three cases mentioned they had the support of their parents and the main purpose of this post is to reflect on the possible role that parents and family could play in helping the victimized women to deal with violence against them.

Priti (name changed) was just twenty years old when she was married off with a lot of fanfare. She was the first born to her parents who wanted the very best for her. Theirs was a business community and girls were rarely encouraged to study. But her father was proud of his daughter’s academic excellence and he encouraged her to study. She passed her undergrad course in Philosophy Honors with a high 1st division and married a man of her parent’s choice soon afterwards. The groom was a charming good looking young man with a promising future. At least that was what they thought.

Unfortunately their assessment was wrong. Their son in law had a weakness for women and squandered his hard earned money on them. He was neck deep in debt. His parents blamed her for being unable to control his philandering habits and ridiculed her for her less than ordinary looks. According to them she had to be grateful to him for fathering her child – a daughter on top of it. Another man would not have given her a second glance and would have thrown her out for bearing him a daughter. She was totally at their mercy for spending money.

Priti’s parents then decided that it was time for them to pitch in. They encouraged her to pursue her studies and she went on to do her Masters. They financed her education and took care of her personal expenses too. Her in laws could only laugh behind her back and taunt her for not being worthy of the husband’s affection. She also answered the National Eligibility Test for lectureship and passed the difficult exam in a single attempt. She had a second issue – a son this time – but her husband did not mend his ways. She then joined as lecturer in a town about 100 kilometers from her husband’s place and moved out for good. By now her husband had married a divorcee and stopped coming home altogether. She has not yet divorced him but has severed all contacts with him and his family. Her parent’s continue to support her morally if not financially. Recently she booked a 2 bed room flat for herself and enrolled her children in reputed local schools. Her husband’s second wife, a bank employee with an independent income is facing the same problem as her and keeps seeking her advice on how she ought to deal with the situation. I think it was very nice and thoughtful of her parents to encourage her to have an independent income and a social standing for herself. They could have offered her a home and shelter but that would not have given her the confidence to face the future.

Lakshmi (not her real name)was a house maid and put up with her short tempered mistress only for the sake of the out house that they allowed her to occupy in lieu of a salary. She took a occasional slap in her stride and did not give a second thought to the abusive language and swear words directed at her. Her husband who was a construction worker often suggested that they move out rather than tolerate the inhuman behavior of their master and mistress. Lakshmi would ask him to be patient since it was not possible to rent a house with unlimited supply of electricity and water on his salary.

It was around 12 in the afternoon when Lakshmi had finished sweeping and was swabbing the drawing room when her mistress called out to her. She wanted her to fetch something from the fridge and Lakshmi took some time to respond since she had to wash her hand and wipe it clean before opening the fridge. Without a second thought the mistress took out the burning hot iron ladle used for seasoning and shoved it into her stomach and pulled it across the back leaving the skin scalded and burnt. It was then that Lakshmi thought that enough was enough. She went into the store room picked up the broom and began hitting her mistress with it treating her to the very swear words that were hurled at her on several earlier occasions. She pulled the mistress by the hair and dragged her to the court yard calling out to neighbors and threatening to call the cops. Neighbors intervened, the mistress almost fell at her feet and the master, who had come home for lunch, pleaded that his wife be spared. Lakshmi left her job at their place and moved to another area of our town. She was not keen on going to the police because she was sure that they would harass her and spare her mistress.

The third case is about Rashmi (name changed) who was a bright student trapped in an unhappy marriage. Her husband was short fused and her mother in law did everything possible to set him against her. She would be regularly beaten up for no reason and her mother in law would tell neighbors who intervened that Rashmi deserved to be beaten since she back answered him. Dowry menace also could not be ruled out but it was done in a very covert manner so nothing could be proved. It was then that Rashmi’s father registered her name for service in his company against the ward’s quota he was entitled to. He told her that the 8 hors that she would spend at the office and the time spent in commuting to work would be a welcome relief from the stifling environment at home. And of course, the money that came in and the quarter and medical facility that the company offered would be added benefits. He could have given his service to his son but he felt that she needed it more.

Rashmi was lucky that she got a call within a month and got the job of an office assistant soon afterwards. Her husband deliberately opted for a transfer to Madhya Pradesh but she refused to accompany him citing her job as the reason. She was not going to give it up at any cost. If her in laws had a problem with her job she would apply for a quarter and move out with her children. Her husband realized that she meant what she said and let her continue. He has however moved out and her mother in law blames her for it. According to her, he was ‘fed up’ with her superior airs and no husband could bear to live with a wife whom he could not ‘control’. Rashmi does not bother. She does her share of house work, gets the children ready for school and leaves home by 8 in the morning. She is not worried about the physical strain. She is happy to have a life of her own – a world where she can meet like minded people and establish an identity for herself. Her husband continues to make life hell for her when he visits them but she counters his behavior by ignoring his outbursts and that annoys him more.

For all the stories of bride burning and cruelty to women, we do have a few that would inspire women who are victimized and encourage families to support their daughter/sister intead of treating her as alien property. A change in the mind set would go a long way in curtailing violence against women.


Anonymous said...

if shifting base alone was not enough,women always have to give up some part of themselves in marriage- either to husband's ego,sexual drive or to the acerbic in-laws.
as for the reality,gossipmongers at Rashmi's office will not leave her alone...her children will remind her of the sweet bondage that fetters her to a man she so hates.

Anonymous said...
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Ape said...

Women should be self sufficient financially. Second they should be thought to use contraceptive methods and only after they are happy n the marriage should they be delivering.

Anonymous said...

Financial independence is very important and enables the women (from all sections of society) to be confident enough to come out of the abuse.

Very well written, Thank You!

R's Mom said...

Its so important for women or rather anyone to be financially independent...that itself is a sign of strength as per me..

hillgrandmom said...

'They could have offered her a home and shelter but that would not have given her the confidence to face the future. ' That is the crux of it. Parents definitely need to help a daughter stand on her own feet and that is what gives independence. Incidentally, I think that parents ought and should treat their sons and daughters the same, that is, see that their child, whatever the sex, should get an education that allows them to be employable and independent and confident.

aparna said...

Your second story is so scary, HG. I have recently heard stories of some well-off people starving their live-in helper. I feel the abuses are higher, when the person is live-in (and often from another city/village without family to go to locally).

Hip Grandma said...

Anon: I think gossip mongers need to be ignored. And it is only ver rarely that a woman looks upon her children as a painful reminder of her abusive partner. In most cases they serve as incentives ti fight back and survive.

Ape: Financial empowerment is required but that alone is not sufficient. The issue is much more complex involving too many ifs and buts. Very often a woman tries to hush up the whole thing for reasons ranging from -

-not being sure if the objectionable act/word amounts to abuse or not in the first place.

-to lack of confidence in her capabilities/welfare of her children in mind/ and whether her younger siblings/parents would be negatively affected if she fought back.

As for use of contraceptives, do you really believe that an abused woman has a say in the matter?

vawareness: i agree that all the women mentioned were able to survive because of their financial independence. It is very important. But more than that a woman has to decide on what kind of behavior is acceptable and have the will to fight back. we have so many examples of women with a high flying job being subjected to domestic violence.

r's Mom: According to me it just one step forward.

You are right. parents need to treat both sons and daughters at par. Boys need to be taught to treat the women in their homes with respect for that the father needs to be respectful of his wife's independent space. It is only rarely that a boy who is brought up in a balanced atmosphere would even think of abusing his wife or a girl who sees her mother treating a maid with respect would abuse her own domestic help.

Aparna: Incentives like a servant's quarter/live in arrangement are often the reason why servants put up with verbal, physical as well as sexual abuse and their employers feel that it is well within their rights to abuse them. Sad but true.

Neha said...

I have seen women suffering and I am so thankful to my family for giving me the kind of upbringing that they have. I am from a business family where girls are married off as soon as they complete their graduation or even earlier. But my grandfather let me come to Delhi and make my career and supported me through phases of weaknesses when I wanted to run away from here. It's been almost 8 years now and I am a different person today - more confident about myself and about dealing with any kind of problems and difficulty. Of course, the road has been tough but the learning and outcome are worth it!

Hip Grandma said...

Neha:Lucky you! Most girls in business families are not encouraged to study and/or have a career outside their family business. That is why i appreciate Priti's parents for encouraging her to take up a career of her choice and lead her own life.

and if it was your g'pa that supported you, hat's off to his progressive thinking.

Sue said...

I have this urge to stand up and cheer these people, HHG. Thank you for sharing their stories.

Hip Grandma said...

Sue:I agree.we all should clap for the survivors and those that stood by them.