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Childhood Trauma And 8 Reasons Why I Think Indian Women Are More Prone To Mental Health Issues

Posted: May 13, 2020

Indian women, especially homemakers are often vulnerable to a number of mental health issues due to a number of reasons. Here are nine of the major ones.

Can love exist without respect? This is a question that I always find myself pondering upon. I come from a place where love was found in abundance. Whether it’s my own family, my friend circle, or neighbourhood, there was no dearth of well-wishers.

I never had to face any discrimination based on my gender or so I thought. For a long time, I thought gender inequality exists only in the quantity of food served, quality of upbringing, and the amount of love served. But now that I look back, I realise it lies in the smallest things-

  • When you are not allowed to learn climbing a tree or to ride a bicycle. What if you are hurt and left with a deformity and scar? No-one would marry you
  • When no one ever shares anything about the family’s financial condition. Why? Because parents can never depend on their daughter for money
  • You are allowed to dream of the highest level of education. But instructed to settle for a teaching job as it would give you enough time to focus on family. Or banking job so, you can get a transfer to wherever your spouse is.
  • You are sent to debates and extempore to improve your self-confidence. But asked not to argue with the men in the family
  • When you are taught to be independent and at the same time expected to manage your spouse’s household from his diet to housekeeping.
  • And when your job is all about sustaining yourself in case your spouse kicks you out of the marriage. It is not a step towards building a long term career that defines your identity.

The Movie Thappad

I recently, watched the movie Thappad. To be honest, I couldn’t think of it as a movie. It was a slice of truth for me. For people who are not exposed to Bollywood, Thappad is a Hindi movie. It revolves around a housewife Amrita and her fight to get her inner peace back after her husband slaps her in a fit of rage during a party.

The promo and the trailer of the movie shout just one question- “Is it justified to ask for a divorce only because of an assault that happened just once in the heat of the moment without any hatred?”

Even for a self-declared feminist, this action of Amrita was a bit far-fetched for me. However, after watching the movie, I realised I still have to learn a lot about patriarchy as a tool of systemic oppression. After all, how do we see a ‘slap’ when talking about a man and a woman?

When a woman slaps a harasser, it is a lesson- a voice against injustice. And when a man slaps his wife, it’s a domestic violence. But when a woman slaps her husband, it’s a matter of shame for the husband and joke for others.

How was the slap in Thappad perceived?

However, how do you see this particular slap, without any context? How should have Amrita viewed it?

  • Her brother ask her to forget it and move on since it happened in the heat of the moment. Vikram, her husband, had just found out that his employer had betrayed him. He was angry and slapped her in the heat of the moment
  • Her mother and mother-in-law told her that women have to tolerate a lot of injustice in order to keep the family intact.
  • Vikram expected her to support him mentally and emotionally as he was going through a bad phase in his career.

What I saw:

  • Vikram didn’t apologise to her. Not immediately, or the next day, not in the next few days, not among the people present in the party, not even alone.
  • He was more worried about his image among family, friends, and colleagues.
  • The look in everyone’s eyes- sympathy, shock, guilt, anger. But no one stopped or confronted Vikram
  • Vikram was angry with his senior. He wanted to insult him and was stopped by a number of people. And he ignored everyone else but when Amrita tried to stop him, he channeled all his anger on her as if he owned her.

She believed in something and he proved her wrong

Amrita did try to ignore it and move on. After all, this was all she used to do. She was like a user interface between Vikram and his life. From taking care of his mother to making printer work to fetching files. And from making bed tea to running after him with his things and pleading him to have his breakfast; Amrita was living the life of a personal assistant robot.

The only difference was she never complained, in fact, she took pride in it. She told her mother-in-law- “I never thought I would become a housewife. But when I had to, I decided to be the best one.” Amrita found a purpose in managing her household. She believed she was an equal partner in the life Vikram dreamed of but he proved her wrong.

Indian homemakers vs. American homemakers

I take a lot of inspiration from movies and series that I watch. One major difference that I often see while watching an American series is the status of women in American households. There is a marked difference in the treatment of women characters portrayed in the series:

  • Domestic help and baby sitters cost a bomb. This often leaves parents helpless and one of them decides to take care of the home while the other works. Unlike in India where this responsibility invariably lies on the woman, couples discuss their situation and based on reality, take a decision.
  • I often see the working partner acknowledging and appreciating their partner’s sacrifices. They promise to support them when their time comes. But in India the first thought that comes to the husband’s mind is that it is his wife’s duty towards the family.
  • Both partners often work together to manage the house whenever they can. However, in India, on holidays, husbands and children spend the entire day enjoying delicacies and watching television as the wife toils to fulfil their demands.

Status of women after marriage

What often happens to a small river? It doesn’t have a big water source to carry itself on its own for a long distance. After having its own course and its own name, it ultimately empties itself into a big river and is lost forever.

Similar is the status of a woman in India. She loses her identity in the form of her surname. From an individual, she becomes someone’s family. She gets a lot of love from her in-laws and respect in the society but just as an extension of her husband. As an entity, she ceases to exist.

Earlier, I used to love visiting my village. I was always treated with so much love and respect. And was always asked about my work, my travel, my adventures. I felt proud sharing my experiences and they would smile and nod and wish the same for their unborn daughters.

However, things changed after I got married. On my first visit to the village with my husband, I was totally ignored. I thought they were just trying to make my husband feel at-home.

But the next time I visited without my husband, things remained the same. All the questions I was asked revolved around my husband and my married life. People totally forgot that I had a job too.

Lost Connections

There is an amazing book I keep coming back to. Its name is “Lost Connections” written by Johann Hari. Hari himself has suffered from depression for a long time. And he set on a path to uncover real causes of depression, beyond hormones and chemical reactions in the brain.

In this book, Hari lists down causes that can make a person vulnerable to depression. We would discuss these causes and understand how they play out in the existing Indian society for women, especially homemakers.

The life of an Indian woman is a story of endless chores. Whether she’s a working professional or a home-maker, often running a household is a one-woman show. Even during holidays and vacations, women hardly get any time to relax.

I recently watched ‘Four More Shots, Please‘ where the character Sneha complains to her husband, “A woman is expected to work as if she has no family and manage the home as if she has no job.” Ultimately, it becomes a thankless mechanical routine without acknowledgment, respect, mindfulness, and rest.

Disconnect from other people

The one evil practice of Indian tradition that hits me the hardest is that of a woman leaving her own house after her wedding to settle at her husband’s. This shift, unfortunately, is not only physical but also mental and emotional.

Suddenly one day, her own family ceases to exist. They don’t have the right on their own daughter. Not only her family, but she is also expected to spend less time with her friends as well.

At their place, there’s a family who judges her every action and behave accordingly. Relationships are formed based on a social contract rather than emotional connections. A woman has to go through levels of tests to prove herself worthy of love. In the end, it looks like a battlefield instead of a family. And if she chooses to have her own home, she’s called a home-wrecker!

The battle between the intrinsic motives and extrinsic motives. Intrinsic motives refer to the emotions that motivate you to do something, the inner peace and happiness you achieve from it. Extrinsic motives refer to external rewards that motivate one to act like the hope to be respected and loved by your husband and in-laws.

More often than not, the unrealistic expectations on women to be perfect at everything pushes her to value others’ opinion more than her inner voice. This leads her to compromise on her own aspirations and beliefs to make others happy.

Childhood trauma

I am not even considering sexual abuse that women face as children. Little girls are often exposed to violence and insults faced by adult women in the household.

While growing up, they undergo constant scrutiny by their own family, relatives, and even neighbours. Also, the lack of exposure to knowledge of menstrual and sexual health leads to many women suffering in silence.

As discussed in previous sections of the article, when it comes to status and respect, most women struggle to have an identity of their own. They are said to be “paraya dhan” (someone else’s property). Ones who destined to be married off in the process of “kanyadaan” (giving away the daughter). Ironically, a woman is often termed as “ghar ki izzat” (family’s pride) and a number of restrictions are imposed on her to uphold this respect.

Disconnect from the natural world

Though equally relevant for both the genders, this holds more essence when we consider the restriction of movement imposed on the women. Sometimes due to safety issues, sometimes to keep them under control. And sometimes, to avoid gossip from neighbour, women often find themselves unable to travel at will unless essential or accompanied by family members.

In a country where the female labor participation is only 26 percent, most women are dependent on their family for survival. Even for most women with an income, there is a lot of dependency on parents and spouses.

Thus, taking a decision on their own, whether it’s about the family in long terms, high-value purchases or own travel plans, doesn’t happen. When one cannot have control of their own life decisions, it’s impossible to have a plan for the future.

The role of genes and brain changes

Mental health is still a taboo in India irrespective of the gender. Some studies suggest that women are more prone to mental health issues. But given how women are already considered weak, many of their symptoms are always overlooked. These symptoms are, instead, termed ‘laziness, mood swings, or tantrums.’

In a lot of households, women are the primary caregivers and in the process, their own physical, as well as mental health, is neglected. And in the absence of diagnosis and treatments, these ailments often remain untreated.

The book says that some studies have suggested some genes believed to be responsible for people being more prone to depression. And the author himself talked about his mother and her family suffering from depression for a long period.

Let’s continue this debate…

I often have this urge to clarify at the end of all my articles, that it’s not a war between men and women. It’s a revolution against an age-old system that perpetuates gender stereotypes in the name of culture and tradition harming both- men and women.

Ironically, to date, no man has ever told me openly that being a woman, I should lie low, but women in my family have. In fact, I have met many men who are the victims of patriarchy. They pressurised to be the breadwinners of the house, expected to be stoic about their feelings. And pushed to pursue careers that bring money but not job satisfaction.

Going back to the movie Thappad, I really liked the fresh approach the movie had. Unlike movies and shows on violence against women where the culprits are demonised, this movie gave a new perspective. It gave an image of a modern and educated family where women are respected or so you are led to believe.

Though the movie tries to be as realistic as possible, few questions often cross my mind. About the alternative a woman has, if she chooses her mental peace over the comfort zone of an unjust alliance.

What about women who do not have the so-called-privilege of being educated or having family support? It seems that this article has just touched the tip of the iceberg but let’s discuss it some other time. As of now, I am closing this article with the trailer of the movie.

A version of this was earlier published here.

Picture credits: Still from Bollywood movie Helicopter Eela

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I am an introvert. The writer in me is my extrovert alter ego. A BFTech

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