Domestic violence is an issue of the past is a gross understatement; we live in a country where domestic violence is normalized and even encouraged in some societies. Sociologists have claimed that domestic violence towards women doesn’t just arise from any anger issues or frustration, rather a need for control, the need to control every aspect of a woman’s life. Abuse towards a partner in an intimate relationship, towards a relative in a family, often goes unnoticed.
However, does it really go unnoticed, or are we conditioned to believe that it is normal and a feature of almost all Indian households? One would naturally think the former is the reason for domestic violence being hushed. However, digging deeper, one finds out that we have been brought up in a way that claims that what happens in one house, should remain in that house only. That relationship should not be broken over these trivial matters that occur in everyone’s house. The social structure is built in such a way that we knowingly or unknowingly take part in normalizing domestic violence.
Domestic Violence is the topmost crime against women in India than rapes or sexual assaultsThe N.C.R.B. (National Crime Record Beuro) Report 2019
Psychologists have termed that as pluralistic ignorance. Pluralistic ignorance refers to individuals privately rejecting a norm, however go along with it because that is what is expected. One might condemn domestic violence privately; however, they chose silence on that matter as those around them have been maintaining that silence for generations to come. The stigma, or the disapproval attached when the victim decides to speak out is something that needs to be actively spoken about.
Silence and Stigma Around Domestic Violence in India
In India, women rarely inform the authorities to seek legal help. Here are some statistics:
More educational reforms must be set up that are directed towards making people aware of how stigmatizing victims of domestic violence and coercing them into maintaining silence is harmful, and it gives the perpetrator more courage and approval to go on with their acts of violence. Allowing an honest and empathetic space where victims can share their grievances, while simultaneously participating in activities that condemn it, is the need of the hour. The general attitude of ours towards domestic violence attributes it to the disposition or personality of the woman.
Something she must have done to upset her partner, or any male member, which warrants such treatment. We fail to understand that no matter how the disaster of a mistake she makes, it still shouldn’t amount to physical violence. The burden is placed on the woman, and not on the man because it is understood that men are allowed to express anger and even project it on women.
How the Lockdown & Covid19 Crisis Affected Domestic Violence in Our Society?
The impact of domestic violence is felt so deeply, that we fail to consider the generational consequence of it. Young children watch it and are again conditioned to believe that this is normal, expected, and in some cases, go on to repeat the same vicious cycle.
During the Covid lockdown, the grievances of victims have only been exacerbated, among this, the silence has become even louder. Not having the energy to be concerned about what is happening in someone else’s house; people have chosen to turn a blind eye towards it.
Amongst this, one must ask the question, what can one do, both at an individual level and structural level to discourage the stigma and silence?
These are some steps to reduce domestic violence in a community:
Know the signs: This doesn’t always have to be physical abuse. This includes many forms of abusive behaviour used to control the victim. It might be emotional abuse, verbal abuse or financial abuse.
Spreading awareness in Community: This is an obvious and important step. People need to know that this is wrong and this encourage the victims to speak up about it. Make them familiar with the fact that there have been many women who have spoken about their issues, left their abusers and are spreading awareness about Domestic Violence. They are an inspiration to many.
Organize the Community: More numbers will create more influence and a sense of safety when people intervene to stop an abuser. This way many neighbourhoods have neighbourhood watch to stop crime. An organization aiming to stop Domestic Violence can help the victims leave their abusers safely and provide a communal support structure for survivors.
Providing Help to an Individual:
(1) Tell them to have a backup for defense. Can include a proof, witnesses, or even a weapon if the abuser’s ways get dangerous.
(2) Be their backup. If you live in their neighborhood, go to their house with an excuse. If the situation seems dangerous, bring someone with you.
(3) If the situation is beyond simple neighborly interruption (the abuser has weapons), call the police immediately. Provide critical information, such as location, names, contact number, and whether you wish to remain anonymous (which would be recommended as it is safest)
(4) Be a resource: Help the victim find assistance, local Domestic Violence Programmes or a safe place for victims.
A Few Case Studies Around the World:
Many women have stood against this and are now they are taking a stand to help others. There have been extreme cases which shock us. Angela from US suffered with bullet shots. She was once choked by her husband but then made peace and stayed with him. Then once again it happened. These were her words:-
‘We’d broken up, but we were starting to work things out again when one morning we had a disagreement. I was in the bathtub when he came in and shot me. I can only remember the last two gunshots. I look up at him, and he says, “Look what you made me do, Angie”, ‘You made me shoot you.’ I can remember being loaded into the paramedic’s truck and saying to the female paramedic, “please don’t let me die, I have four children to raise.” Since then, I’ve been doing a lot of public speaking – not just about gun violence and domestic violence, but about gun control and mental health. If people are willing to listen, I want to talk about the things that matter‘.
Elizabeth was with an abusive partner. She and her daughter were threatened by him. Here is her story:-
When my ex entered the house, my daughter was awake. I heard an argument. I came into the living area to try and calm her down. Her eyes were wide with fear - she could see him approaching with a gun. When I turned around shots rang. I managed to dial 911. I couldn’t talk because [my face] was shot up, but they traced the call home. The police came, then the medical team. I heard a policeman say, “Oh this is just a domestic violence case.” He was just five feet from where I was fighting for my life and where my child lay dead. There was nothing “just” about it. The first time somebody asked me to talk about what happened, it was hard. It’s hard every time. But if it changes one life, it matters to me. Domestic violence is such a personal issue, and it’s a secret. We must get people to understand that they’re not in it by themselves. I’ve met young women and men who’ve heard my story and said it changed them. It gives them the courage to reach out and ask for help.
There are a lot of examples like these. We need to realise that it happens with both men and women. The difference is that happens on a small scale to men. But they are even more silent on this because they are embarrassed to open up in a patriarchal society.
It takes courage, it is difficult, none innocent being deserves it, AND THE BEST CHOICE IS TO COME OUT OF IT TO BECOME A POSITIVE INFLUENCE.
The Article Written By: Varnaya Sanghvi & Jinal Bhatt; 12th June, 2021.