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I’ve taken a long time to write about violence against women. Not that I’ve never witnessed or heard about it. It is my inability to do much for the victims that makes me hesitant to even talk about it. All or at least most of us have been victims of mental if not physical torture at the hands of our men folk – not necessarily the husband.
However, many have found a way to deal with the situation and found a middle path. I do not consider mental torture less traumatic or humiliating as compared to physical torture. Sometimes it is done so subtly that one would not even be able to pinpoint the sore areas in a relationship. The victim may even take a while to actually understand the actual sense in which a humiliating remark is directed at her. It is none the less equally hurting sometimes even more so.
And what does one do when a woman close or not so close to her is at the receiving end of physical/mental torture? More specifically what did I do on one such occasion? Let me elaborate even if only to unburden myself.
Mr. P. Rao lived with his wife and four children in a flat across the road when we lived in a company quarter some 30 years back. People said that he was an expert in his field. He had a diploma in electronics and was very innovative when it came to assembling of electronic and electrical equipments. He had married his first cousin and unfortunately three of his four children were born with congenital disorders. When our former prime minister Ms. Indira Gandhi was shot dead by her security guard, at least 25 of us were sitting in their court yard watching her funeral being telecast live since most homes did not have a television then. The television set had been assembled by Mr. Rao himself and the reception was excellent.
For all his expertise the man was an alcoholic. It was not uncommon for his children and wife to be beaten up when he was drunk. Their daughter at the age of five could barely speak and neighbors whispered that after a bout of excessive drinking he had beaten up the child and the child went into a state of shock and never fully recovered. My contact with his family was limited to the exchange of pleasantries with his wife if she happened to be in the balcony when I crossed their house. She seemed to be permanently sad and unhappy and I felt bad for her. There was nothing I could do for her though, at least that was what I thought.
On a Sunday morning we woke up to the news that Mrs. Rao had committed suicide. Neighbors had heard her scream on being beaten up by her husband around 12’o clock the previous night. This was a regular occurrence and no one bothered. She had perhaps hanged herself soon afterwards. Two of the four children did not even understand the gravity of the situation. Her parents came over and the last rites were performed.
It was only later that people began to talk. It was the husband that had strangled her to death and passed it off as suicide. He had actually approached a close friend and the two had tied a rope around her neck and hung her from the ceiling. I suppose the police had been bribed to hush the matter. I was shocked. How could this take place right under my nose? What should I do?
The body had been cremated and there was no proof that could be given. This was a secret that was known to all of us in the neighborhood but none were prepared to act. The girl’s parents also knew that in a bout of drunken stupor their nephew had actually strangled their daughter to death. But there were four children involved and with the mother dead and the father jailed, they were not in a position to take care of the children. Neighbors including myself found this logical and preferred to look away. Subsequently Mr. Rao too passed away. By then he had vacated the flat in our neighborhood and moved elsewhere and no one could tell us what happened to the children, particularly the daughter.
Looking back, I do admit to feeling ill at ease. Should I have done something for Mrs. Rao? What could I have done that no one else could, I wonder? But isn’t this precisely the reason why the violence against women continues. Agreed that Mr. Rao was an alcoholic and had no control over his actions but could not his wife’s parents taken her in their care? Should they not have encouraged her to think of a life without him?
These are questions that come to my mind. A society that looks down at a woman who stands up against a husband’s unacceptable behavior or parents who wash their hands off the very moment a girl is married are all to blame. And of course people like me that have no solution to offer have a share in abetting such crimes even if not contributing to it.