Why didn’t she leave?

Shraddha Walker Murder

Ghastly narrative surrounds Shraddha Walker’s alleged murder by her live-in partner, Aftab Poonawalla. She was in an abusive relationship, as is claimed by her friends and corroborated by her conversations with those around her. I do not intend to rake up details of Shraddha’s death, as the least we can do is give her dignity in her death which she did not receive while she was alive. I, however, only want to talk about intimate partner violence and how leaving is not as easy as it seems. There is a vast expanse of feminist scholarship on intimate-partner violence and its ubiquity. Since it’s ubiquitous, it is also normalized.

Abuse is patriarchal, abuse is all-pervasive- abuse is all of these things in a heterosexual romantic relationship (not to say abuse doesn’t happen in other forms of relationships but I want to restrict my writing to a romantic relationship between CisHet men and women. Thus, I am using the pronouns he/him, she/her. It is also not to say that men are not abused, but women are definitely disproportionately affected by it).

Abuse is the perpetrator’s desire to control their partner, to manipulate her to an extent that the victim stops believing herself. Abuse spreads. It creeps under your skin and leaves its mark. It doesn’t necessarily have to be physical though. It can entirely come across as an expression of love— and in most cases it does.

One of the most trickiest things about being in an abusive relationship is that one never realises that they are being abused until one starts to share. The power to leave the abuser lies in your narrative, when you begin to narrate your story. But when does one begin to even narrate? Because one is so exhausted by the experience of everyday violence that they stop talking, they stop sharing. One creates a facade for their friends and family.

The real problem begins when you create a facade for yourself, when you stop talking to yourself. You keep on doing emotional and physical labour expecting the scenario to change. You try to have a dialogue with your abuser, try to reason with him but of course everything goes down the drain. You don’t necessarily cease to live your life— you attend lectures, you write assignments about patriarchal oppression (without probably even realising the treacherous situation you are in), you meet friends, you drink, you laugh which I think makes it even harder to think that one is being abused.

However, there will be moments when you would question your relationship with your partner but he will make sure that you stick around for some more time. The reasons of you not leaving could range from him being depressed or how much he loves you/will try to change to an outright threat to your life. Of course, your abuser is one step ahead of you in the game of manipulation and you’d think to stay for some more time since you have already spent some/a lot of time together.

Abuse enfeebles you— physically as well as mentally. After a point, all you wish to do is go through the day without another fight, without another argument. I think most abusers have this creative capacity to make everything about themselves. They will make you believe that they will stop surviving without you and how you would do the most horrendous thing by leaving them.

Your abuser will push to become a person you never thought you were. He will make you submissive and the potential to subvert, which you thought you had, almost diminishes. You start questioning yourself, your capacity to think and look after yourself gets subsumed within the overarching need to save the relationship or your abuser. It takes effort to break the cycle and to say ‘I have had enough’.

There is a question we all need to ask ourselves. Why do we fail to create safe spaces? We have had friends, relatives around all of us who were/or continue to be in abusive relationships. Besides expecting them to leave their abusive partners, what are we doing? Abuse is almost often thought of as an individual experience. But its omnipresence underlines that it is structural. Are we also, then, not culpable in violence against women precisely because we remain silent? How can we mark a distinction between us and the perpetrator when we continue to remain friends with the latter? Our work, if we want to envision a kind and just society, doesn’t end at giving advice, it also entails that we build spaces of solidarity and love.

Ravneet Param is working as a Programme Associate at Institute for Social Democracy, Delhi. She did an MPhil. from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi and has been part of feminist and ambedkarite movement for the past one decade.

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