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Several women are coming out and speaking about domestic violence and how they fought against it. Here’s why we need to speak up more!
I recently watched an online video where a girl (very powerfully, I might add) depicted different stages of domestic violence. In the one minute clip, she goes from receiving flowers to hiding her bruises with make-up.
This reminded me of an incident that took place years ago. I saw an aunt covered in bruises. When I asked her how she got hurt, she smiled and very convincingly said, “I fell down a flight of stairs.”
Being young and naive, I believed her. But now, I often ask myself, why she endured the violence and I wonder why she didn’t leave him.
Widespread domestic violence is a reality in India. Domestic violence isn’t just physical violence. It is also mental harassment and emotional abuse at the hands of a spouse.
According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4), about 31 percent married women experience physical, sexual, or emotional violence. These figures are derived from reported cases. Coming to think of it, the actual percentage of these cases will be much higher as a number of cases go unreported.
We live in a society with pervasive gender stereotypes and deeply entrenched patriarchal social and cultural norms. I have heard several people talk about ‘education’ being a solution to this and overhauling this gendered society.
Yes, education in gender equality and feminism is very important. However, I have seen that even in the most educated of homes, patriarchal mindset and gendered norms exist. I believe the first step towards achieving equality lies within one’s upbringing.
My uncle who hit my aunt belonged to a really good family. He was well educated, and went to some of the finest schools in the world. However, he grew up in a very gendered environment.
His family always discriminated between him and his sister. That he was allowed to go abroad and study, but his sister wasn’t, helped form his basic thought process. Additionally, he was also used to ‘getting things his way.’ This definitely reflected in the way he treated his wife.
Hence, I believe that positive change will only be seen once this mindset changes.
The International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW) conducted a study on domestic violence. This study concluded that six out of ten men admitted to violence towards their spouses or partners.
The study reported how ‘rigid masculinity’ or rigidly held ideas by men in India lead to a superior and controlling behaviour. Right from what their partner wears to how they talk and whom they talk to, these men control it.
After reading the report, I wondered where then men got such ideas from. And the only thing I could think of was, ‘home.’ Even more importantly, I cannot blame the men to instil these ideas in the younger generation. The mothers and grandmothers are equally responsible for this.
In my house too a number of sexist statements were thrown around quite casually. I often heard ‘you are not your brother’ or ‘ladka aur ladki mein farak hota hai’ (there is a difference between girls and boys) from my mother and grandmother.
Whenever my brother would come home, my mother would ask me to get him a glass of water. But not once was he asked to get me a glass of water. I think it is these small incidents that occur on an almost daily basis that instil the rigid masculinity in men. It also makes many women believe that this is basically a way of life. I mean, this is what they have seen all their lives. Why should they question it now?
I truly believe that even trying to make small changes around you, standing up to these rigidly held ideas can help save someone’s life. A number of women end up staying in violent marriages because they have no one to help them. The society outcasts them and neither are their families willing to help them. They believe that enduring pain is much better than leaving their partner or seeking divorce.
We have to start by changing the mindsets of our families and not let it trickle down to the next generation. Changing that basic mindset will be the first important step towards achieving a gender-equal environment.
Picture credits: Still from Bollywood movie Angry Indian Goddesses
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