Dark Shadows – Domestic Violence and the Middle Class

domestic violence

A young woman comes to office wearing dark goggles. As her colleagues direct enquiring glances towards her, she says that of late she hasn’t had much sleep and has developed dark circles under her eyes. But her colleagues seem to think they are bruises. In the evening , in the lift of her housing society, a particularly intrusive neighbour looks her over and suggests that she attend a support group meeting for domestic violence survivors. The woman hastily exits. Back home she tells her husband that she lives with a wife beater. The husband is appalled. He says that she should know that the bruises on her face just happened by accident. The wife reminds him that he had forced himself on her the previous night. The husband protests “ You never said no”. The wife responds that she never said yes and gave her consent either.

This is the storyline of a short film “ Suno” found on YouTube. The film makes its mark because it is subtle. Yet impactful. It moves domestic violence, marital rape and wife beating from the familiar environments of crowded slums, drunk husbands and a wailing wife that Bollywood presents us with. The movie makes its landing in an upper middle class bedroom where both spouses are educated well , both work and both ostensibly earn well. And yet once the bedroom door shuts, the mask drops and the faked gentility is exposed.

Domestic violence is the most common form of violence against women. It affects women across the life span from sex selective abortion of female fetuses to forced suicide and abuse, and is evident, to some degree, in every society in the world. Although domestic violence against women is illegal in India since 2005, marital rape is not. Courts have given contradictory verdicts on this. The Chattisgarh High Court ruled on August 26, 2021 that a sexual act by husband not rape, even if by force. Earlier in the month on August 7th, the Kerala High Court had observed that marital rape a good ground to claim divorce. But the larger question here is that the Act outlawing domestic violence does not just talk of physical acts of violence but also of causing mental harm to the woman. Now I suppose that it requires the intervention of a third court to determine if it is logically possible for an act of marital rape to happen without causing mental harm to the wife.

A few days ago, the wife of the pop singer Honey Singh was in court with a case of domestic violence against her celebrity husband. Another film actor was also similarly alleged though in his case , the matter seems to have been resolved. Education, status or wealth gives little protection to Indian women. worldwide, one-third of all women have been victims of domestic violence at some point in their lives. Around 113,403 cases of cruelty by husbands and relatives have been reported across India in 2015, according to the latest National Crime Records Bureau report. And this doesn’t take into account the fact that domestic violence remains one of the most under-reported crimes in India, often because the perpetrator is the husband or partner himself.

According to India’s national family health survey – an exhaustive household government survey – from 2015-16, around 33% of women have experienced spousal violence – physical, sexual or emotional. Just 14 % of women who experienced violence have sought help to stop it. As with many things, the lock down of 2020 and also 2021 where women were compulsorily locked in with their partners increased vulnerability to domestic violence. Due to lockdown restrictions, the stress of being confined with one’s abuser and financial constraints, it has become increasingly difficult for women to access help against domestic violence Additionally, due to lockdown restrictions, the stress of being confined with one’s abuser and financial constraints, it has become increasingly difficult for women to access help against domestic violence

Intimate partner initiated violence is not the only kind of domestic violence around though.The traditional structure of the Indian household positions parents at the top, and a person’s story of abuse is not given importance. Women living with their parents are supposed to be in a safe place by society. As a result, though the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act of 2005 Act clearly identifies abuse caused by parents is domestic violence such cases are little reported. parental abuse against women. This is the least understood and acknowledged form of violence

Emotional violence and cruelty is more pervasive and hidden and even more difficult to talk about or report. Tradition and sankskar dictates how a woman ought to behave vis a vis her husband and out males and there are little exceptions to this in nearly any household , howsoever modern on the outside. The lockdown brought to light some of these aspects. With the lockdown enforcing work from home, many dual income families found themselves in a quandary. A typical home is not really equipped for working from home with a proper space, some privacy for meetings and possibly even an adequate internet connection. All this did not matter when both went to office in the regular course But now space was at a premium. The husband monopolised the little space that was somewhat adequate. The wife with equal deadlines and deliverables had to make do with the dining table or the kitchen. The income the woman brings in is desired , even required by the husband but no adjustments are made for her to operate equally effectively.

The example cited above will demonstrate the challenges in documenting emotional abuse. Reporting the instances is extremely difficult. Which police station can be expected to capture the nuances of abuse here and register an FIR, let alone investigate further. Very few studies have been conducted to establish prevalence rates of this type of violence. Qualitative studies that have been done demonstrate that it is just as damaging to one’s health to be chronically psychologically abused as it is to be physically abused. Destroying a woman’s sense of self esteem can have serious mental and physical health consequences. In fact this is a major cause for suicide. For some women, the barrage of insults and humiliation is more painful than the physical attacks because they completely destroy their security and self-confidence. Clearly, in times of monetary and financial recession, human behaviour tends to be impulsive, reckless, controlling, and aggressive, and the brunt usually goes down the patriarchal power-hierarchy, so significant for India. Clearly there is little light at the end of the tunnel in sight with very limited understanding of the subject. Another instance of a law being around but redressal nearly impossible.

Dr Shantanu Dutta , a former Air Force doctor is now serving in the NGO sector for the last few decades.

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