Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Domestic Violence - When enough is enough.

My child,
I cannot believe that you are already eighteen years old and will be leaving for college in about a year from now. I wish to share with you the story of women belonging to three generations who for very different reasons put up with domestic violence. I feel that you are old enough to understand and when your turn to get married comes, you will be bold enough to say ‘NO’ to physical, emotional and mental abuse from your partner.

As a child I witnessed the plight of an aunt of mine who was married off at the age of sixteen though she was a brilliant student who passed her matriculation examination with flying colors. Her father wanted to send her to college but her mother felt that she ought to get married. Her handwriting was beautiful and her house keeping skills excellent. On festive occasions she’d make beautiful ‘rangolis’ that would make passersby stop to admire. She’d make a perfect housewife. And so she did. But her husband was never appreciative of what she did. He’d find fault at everything she did right from the food she cooked to the way she folded clothes. Her husband was spiritually inclined and would spend his time performing an elaborate morning puja and reading religious texts. He resigned from his job for the very purpose and her's was the onus of coping with his tantrums. He punished her by refusing to talk to her for weeks if she dared to show the slightest disinclination to act as per his command. His silence hurt more than his words and she literally fell at his feet and apologized for any suggestion she had dared to make. As a child I often wondered how a person who was spiritually inclined could spit venom on his wife for minor lapses and why she put up with it. I later heard that while the world praised her for being the role model for others to emulate, her own mother in law once remarked that her son needed to be put in his place and it was her tolerant behavior that was responsible for the pathetic life she led. However, that was eighty years ago when verbal abuse was not even considered worth a mention and physical abuse happened when the woman ‘asked for it’. Emotional abuse?? A woman was not supposed to have emotions. Unknown to others she could wipe a tear if she felt hurt – the rest was part of life.

Having said this, I must admit that our generation was no better. A woman could work outside her home but the husband controlled her income. I have known working women hand over their entire salary to the husband, accept a pocket allowance from him and use the cheapest mode of transport to travel to work for to save money even if it meant leaving home early. The smarter ones resorted to scheming and plotting and ‘stole’ a small amount from their own salary for their pocket expenses by claiming that they had contributed towards a gift for friend’s anniversary or a child’s birthday party. An unexpected salary raise or a double increment went unreported and the extra money tucked in a secret pocket in her purse to be used later. A wife who dared to resist the arrangement was trying to show off that she brought home a salary and was ‘put’ in place by the husband. Why did they cope with it you may ask? Those were days when women lived in joint families and the job allowed them a life of their own and a few friends with whom they could be themselves. The domineering husband would be tolerated in lieu of some eight to ten hours of freedom.  

The next generation revolted and announced that their financial independence had to be respected and no one could question their spending habit. They could order food from outside or hire a maid to cook and clean. The husband was asked to help at home. This new found assertiveness did not go down well with their men. If their wives earned more than them and/or were offered foreign assignments it hurt their ego. After all they had been pampered by their mothers and had always had their way. According equal status to their womenfolk was unheard of. Such women had to be put in place. Quarrels and snide remarks followed by physical violence took over. The bolder ones were able to say NO to abuse in whatever form. But most of them gave in and became subdued for the sake of peace in the family. The once assertive woman had been truly ‘put’ in place by her man.

You may have noticed that I have not included physical violence in the first two generations. Do you think it didn’t happen? It did. But in their case it was an accepted thing in society. No one would interfere – not even one’s parents. The woman would console herself by saying that he was burdened with the demands of a joint family and she was the only one who could serve as an outlet for his frustration. Moreover she was financially dependent on him - even if she had inherited a legacy from her parents or had a job or sold homemade pickles and papads that fetched her money.

 The reason for compromise was different in the third case. These women lacked the confidence to walk out of an abusive relationship. They valued the protection offered by the husband – never mind if it was an abusive one.

I want you to be different. Have the confidence to insist on mutual respect in your marriage. If you don’t get it don’t hesitate to clamor for it. A girl known to me rang up her mother in law after the first instance of physical abuse. She asked her to warn her son to never ever raise his hand on her. She would not only walk out of the marriage but would see to it that he was put behind the bars. The words had a magical effect and her husband understood that she meant what he said. There is no shame in letting on to your well wishers that you are at the receiving end of an abusive relationship. One can never guess the amount of domestic violence that prevails in society because no one wants to discuss it. As in the case of rape victims where the offender gets away with what he did while the victim is shamed, victims of domestic violence are blamed for annoying their abusive partners. Not all men are bad or abusive. I hope you find a wonderful husband for yourself. Even if you lead a normal life where both of you have mutual respect keep your eyes and ears open for what’s going on around you and extend a helping hand and stand up for any woman who is in an abusive relationship. She could be your house help, a neighbor relative, friend or colleague. And if you are blessed with a son treat him at par with your daughter and train both of them to love and respect one another. We need a whole generation to be groomed in this manner for the society that we live in to be hundred percent functional.
Your Grand aunt and friend.
 This post is my contribution to the Blogathon series # A Letter To Her by Women’s Web. I appreciate the initiative taken to create awareness about domestic violence in society.

Note: I would like to read MeenaKandaswamy’s book When I Hit You because the incidents of domestic violence never get reported because it is considered a private thing to be restricted to the four walls of one’s home. The topic is close to my heart having seen various degrees of domestic violence around me. I would love to read what the author has to say and I hope it helps me extend a helping hand to any victim of domestic violence whom I come across.    

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