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Violence in a marriage doesn’t always present itself overnight. There are many warning signs, and the women stuck in this feel fear.
A slap can change a woman’s life. All illusions of love, trust and safety are shattered with even one act of violence within a marriage. Repeated acts of violence in a relationship can be emotionally dislodging and mentally excruciating and can have a long lasting impact on a woman.
Domestic violence in Indian households remains a dirty little open secret and a pervasive problem, violating a woman’s basic human rights.
The United Nations defines gender- based violence as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”
According to the latest report by The National Family Health Survey (NFHS) a large scale, and multi round survey conducted in Indian households:
“29.3% married Indian women between the ages of 18-49 years have faced domestic violence/or sexual violence. 3.1% of pregnant women between the ages of 18-49 have experienced physical violence during any pregnancy.”
And that’s just the number of cases reported by women; there are always a large number of cases that never make it to the police.
Source: NFHS Survey 2019-2021
The data reflects the sad reality that domestic violence remains a serious issue in India, even though we have strict laws in place for the protection of women. Internalised patriarchy, misogyny, violence, continue to affect the daily lives of Indian women.
According to the latest report domestic violence is highest in Karnataka 44% Bihar 40% Manipur 39% Telangana 36% Tamil Nadu 38%
Domestic violence was least in Lakshadweep 1.3% Goa 8.3% Himachal Pradesh 8.3%
All inferences discussed below are based on this NFHS-5 report.
Violence in a marriage doesn’t always present itself overnight. There are many warning signs before the actual act of violence takes place. The report found that fear of husband and spousal violence were closely correlated. Women who said that they were afraid of their husbands most of the time were found to be most likely to have ever experienced spousal violence.
Controlling behaviour such as being told what to wear, where to go, who to meet, monitoring whereabouts, and controlling finances, baseless accusations of being unfaithful, isolating and limiting contact with family, etc are all red flags and strong indicators that violence may take place in the future.
Violence within a relationship can occur in multiple forms be it physical, emotional and sexual.
As many as 77% women never sought any help from anyone about the violence inflicted on them.The most common source of support was the woman’s own family (58%) followed by the husband’s family (27%) and friends (18%) Among the institutional sources of help, the most common was the police (9%) followed by a religious leader (2%) and, doctors, lawyers (2%)
There are many reasons for underreporting of domestic violence and the proportion of women opting to stay in abusive marriages is not startling. The more one faces violence in a relationship, the more it becomes normalised and accepted psychologically.Many women are also blamed for their husband’s bad behaviour and the burden of “reforming” a violent man often falls on the woman.
Factors such as conservative societal norms, victim blaming, shaming, and fear of judgement all make a woman think twice before speaking up. Women also feel unsafe approaching the police because if their partners are jailed, they will be subjugated to more abuse once released, and that they would be harassed by their in-laws or others in the meanwhile.
Married women with children who are financially dependent on their abusive husbands find it the most difficult to leave. The labels of being a “divorcee” or “single mom” and its impact on their children stops many women from leaving abusive marriages. The lack of a strong support structure, fear of social judgement, and inability to provide for the child are all contributing causes. So, for the sake of the child, many women continue to stay in physically and emotionally abusive marriages.
Societal conditioning is another factor, women who are raised in conservative, traditional households are not encouraged to work. They are mostly trained from childhood to be dutiful daughters, sisters, and then wives, robbing them of any agency.
Even if a woman leaves an abusive marriage, the road to healing is a long one.
The physical scars of domestic violence may or may not heal but the psychological effects are long lasting. Depression, anxiety, low self esteem, post traumatic stress disorder (including nightmares, flashbacks, crippling anxiety) suicidal thoughts, alcohol and drug abuse, loss of trust, isolation… It can change one’s perspective on life and can become crippling.
All those survivors who seem to “be strong and cope” might actually be only suppressing the trauma and/ or dissociating from it.
There is only a slight difference between domestic violence in rural and urban areas. In rural areas it is at 31.6% and urban areas which is slightly less at 24.2%.
Internalised patriarchy and misogyny are pervasive in all of Indian society and domestic violence remains an all India problem. A study conducted by Indian Journal of Community Medicine in Karnataka found that violence occurs even in the educated population, especially psychological abuse being the most common.
To walk out of an abusive marriage takes a lot of thought and courage. Women must be given social support and encouraged to not tolerate violence. A woman must be encouraged to lodge a complaint and be given institutional support when she does seek justice.
India needs a strong national effort to raise awareness about domestic violence, led by state governments and civil society. Citizens must be made aware of the heightened risks of domestic violence, and bystanders and neighbours should be encouraged to interfere if they suspect abuse by knocking on the door or ringing the bell. Assistance from civil society organisations is crucial. NGOs must be given adequate funding so they can function efficiently and open 24-hour shelters providing medical assistance, legal advice, counselling, etc.
Domestic violence robs a woman of experiencing the fullness of life, as it takes away their inability to trust and love again. Trauma can take a lifetime to heal and our women deserve better.
Image source: a still from Heaven on Earth
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