HER WORLD Sunday, March 3, 2002, Chandigarh, India

Healing the blisters of domestic violence
Raman Mohan
NE of the most shocking facts emerging out of a 1997 World Health Organisation study was that globally one out of every three women experiences domestic violence at some point in her life. India is no exception. The records of the National Crimes Record Bureau show that between 1991 and 1995, there was a 71.5 per cent increase in cases of torture and dowry deaths in the country.

Learning to use adversity as a strength
Sushmita Ray
HRUTI Srilaxmi is a 32-year-old mother with one child. About five years back, Shruti left the confines of a constrictive marital home and walked out. Today, she and her nine-year-old son live in a paying guest accommodation in the city suburbs. Shruti works in a law firm as a junior lawyer, but she is fiery as well as dedicated, and is often sought out by women activists to help them in their legal battles. 

A raw deal, indeed




Healing the blisters of domestic violence
Raman Mohan

ONE of the most shocking facts emerging out of a 1997 World Health Organisation study was that globally one out of every three women experiences domestic violence at some point in her life. India is no exception. The records of the National Crimes Record Bureau show that between 1991 and 1995, there was a 71.5 per cent increase in cases of torture and dowry deaths in the country. Besides, in 1995, torture of women constituted 29 per cent of all crimes against women.

Domestic violence against women is a universal phenomenon. No society, howsoever progressive, is immune to it. It cuts across religious, cultural, ethnic and class lines. Domestic violence is so widespread yet few in India know what constitutes it. Domestic violence is any behaviour by one family member against another, which may endanger that person’s personal security or well being. It may also occur between individuals in a close or ongoing relationship. Domestic violence is of many types.

The first is physical abuse. It includes: slapping, beating, causing burns, choking, fractures, kicking and biting. Then there is sexual abuse which includes: unwanted touching, showing undesirable pictures (pornography), forcing someone to engage in undesirable sexual acts i.e. anal sex, oral sex, attempted and forced sexual acts within or outside marriage. Economic abuse includes not sharing or using money as a family, prevention from going to work and withholding or taking money from wife/husband.

Another form of abuse is psychological abuse. It entails public humiliation, constant criticism, verbal abuse i.e. use of bad language, instilling fear or threats and isolation or confinement.

What causes domestic violence remains a subject of discussion around the world. But strangely enough the basic reasons are common to all societies the world over. The first reason is the power imbalance in society or families. It has been documented that generally males in the family in different societies tend to wield greater power and control over family matters. This itself prepares the ground for violence against women and children. Even in western societies, males have enjoyed greater role in decision making and having their way much like in India itself.

Secondly, traditional values and beliefs provide justification for such violence. The magnitude of domestic violence in many countries including India has been hidden behind a cultural emphasis on the privacy and sanctity of the family and on self-sacrificing womanhood. Besides, women tend to blame violence against them by justifying it on their own mistakes or their perceived failure in discharging their wifely duties. Other common myths are: beating your wife is an act of love, domestic violence happens to poor uneducated women, only unsuccessful men beat up their wives, women who are beaten often provoke assaults and deserve what they get, alcohol causes men to beat their partners, women who are beaten could leave partners easily if they wanted to and men are not victims of abuse.

Extra marital affairs of either partner are another major cause of such violence for obvious reasons. Then comes poor or no communication between partners. This can lead to serious misunderstandings and a lack of concern for each other, leading to violence. Extended family problems, unplanned pregnancies, usage of family planning methods, socio-economic problems, drug addiction and alcohol abuse are the other major causes of domestic violence.

The impact of domestic violence on women has remained unnoticed generally. For instance, how many of us including women themselves are aware that rape and domestic violence account for five percent of the healthy years of life of women of reproductive age in developing countries? Does that not shock you? This fact was brought out in a World Bank study conducted in 1993 which highlighted the cost of domestic violence in terms of health burden. Violence against women, it is now known, causes economic losses too. In 1997, in Chile alone, domestic violence caused a loss of 1.56 billion US dollars. Incidentally, the amount was two percent of Chile’s GDP in 1996. Given the extent of domestic violence in Indian societies, one can easily imagine the extent of economic losses this kind of violence is causing to the nation..

Besides, there are serious consequences on the victim, society as well as the perpetrator. The following are what it could lead to: attempts of suicides or death, low self-esteem, reduced potential of a woman to look after her children, failure of productivity at work and failure to communicate with relatives, friends and workmates. Even the perpetrator may perform badly at work. So far as the affected family is concerned, it could break up, women deprived of their income may fail to provide for their families and children who grow up witnessing violence may become victims and abusers.

Next comes their health. There may be serious cases of disability. Violence on a pregnant woman can potentially damage the baby or risk having a miscarriage. It can take a toll on women’s mental health and well being. The reluctance of women to walk out of a home affected by domestic violence has also in a way increased their misery. But this too remains a contentious issue. Let us look at why women choose to stay put. The fear of being alone or of the future is the single most important reason. Unemployment and economic instability comes next. The hope that he will change his abusive behaviour keeps many a victim bound to the affected home. The interest of children is another factor. It has been found that women keep bearing with violence for the sake of the children and pressure from extended family. In addition, a woman may believe that "she asked for it". Many fear that they will be killed if they left. Lastly, she may not have anywhere to go.

Thus, women themselves must take the blame at least partially for encouraging violence against themselves. Studies have shown that they mostly sought the support of close family and friends alone. Help from the State is generally avoided even where such support systems exist. A look at the records of the Special Police Cell for Women and Children in Mumbai, reveal that 43 percent of women endured domestic violence for as long as three to 17 years before complaining to police. How can women ever expect such violence to end if such attitudes persist?

Another hindrance in curbing domestic violence against women through law in countries like India is the absence of a proper definition of what constitutes an act of violence against females. Most prevalent laws define this as acts of physical violence thus effectively leaving out the psychological, verbal, visual and sexual abuses women face in the households. It has now been internationally recognized that these forms of female abuse are far more serious than physical violence.

This is not to say that nothing has changed in the Indian law to curb crimes against women. There have been significant changes in the criminal code and police procedures to address the problem. The changes in the Dowry Act, establishment of all women police stations and family counselling also provided women victims of domestic violence some options outside the family.

There is greater hope now of curbing it. Domestic violence is now recognised as human rights violations. This will help governments to do their bit for ending the menace. But, before that happens, both men and women must change their attitudes and perceptions.

This will not happen by itself. While the governments can only enact laws which may help prevent or lessen violence against women, the change in attitudes alone will end it. And women must make the first move. Why? Do they expect the perpetrators of crime against women to do it.



Learning to use adversity as a strength
Sushmita Ray

ILLUSTRATIONS BY GAURAV SOODSHRUTI Srilaxmi is a 32-year-old mother with one child. About five years back, Shruti left the confines of a constrictive marital home and walked out. Today, she and her nine-year-old son live in a paying guest accommodation in the city suburbs. Shruti works in a law firm as a junior lawyer, but she is fiery as well as dedicated, and is often sought out by women activists to help them in their legal battles. Shruti never cops out. As often as she can, she offers suggestions and legal advice. But it's a two-pronged advice. Just because she has had a bad relationship, she is not on a male-battering mission. Instead, while on one hand she offers legal advice on how to deal best with a bad marriage, she also does feel-good counselling on what one can learn from bad relationships.

Whoever had said that every cloud had a silver lining must have been a female with at least one soured relationship in her lifetime. Because while an unproductive, pathetic relationship may not do any value-addition to your life in an obvious manner, it inevitably leaves you with a few well-learnt lessons that you're not likely to forget in a hurry.

As Lorraine D'Silva working in one of the country's premier public relations firms puts it, "You become a much stronger person mentally. After taking on a creep, you are ready to take on the world!" That is not a blasé statement made by a bitter woman. There is more than an element of truth in it. Dimple Kapadia was once asked by a journalist in an interview whether she regretted not having gone to college to complete her education. For a good two minutes she stared disbelievingly at the interviewer and said, "You must be joking. The years that I spent in Aashirwad (Rajesh Khanna's house) was more than a college education!" And burst out laughing.

That's a good sign. When you are able to look back at the past and laugh. Initially, the laughter may seem a bit forced and a little rusty, but once you are able to see it in perspective, you know that even the worst relationship has left a positive impact on you.

Learning never ends. You may be a postgraduate at the time of your marriage, but by the time you get out of it, if you have to, you realise that you can cheerfully add quite a few other diplomas and degrees to your name.

So what are the good things that you can learn after emerging from a bad relationship? Like all other phases in life, this too passes. In other words, all bad things come to an end. With the end of one phase, you can then look ahead and plan a new future.

Like Nandini Chatterjee, who discovered a life for herself some twenty-five years after her graduation. The daughter of a senior government official, Nandini met Purshottam Bali in college and fell head over heels in love with him. Bali came from an affluent family with a monthly allowance that was twice her father's salary. Therefore initially, when he didn't do any work, she thought it was all right because money would never be an issue. It wasn't. But years of an easy life took its toll and her husband turned into an alcoholic,money-squandering debauch. Finally twenty years after the marriage, with an 18-year-old son, she split. A college romance was not an earth-shattering case of true love, as she realised to her peril.

Nandini has her own desk top publis hing business. She has also remarried. "For the first 15 year that we were together, I was not allowed to work. In the last five years of the marriage, I thought, if a little late, that financial independence is a must for every woman and started working. It wasn't easy. I started at the bottom-most rung of the ladder with young girls

who were less than half my age. But my bad marriage had taught me persistence and doggedness. And the ability to ignore snide remarks. Today, when I am standing at the top of the heap, with a new life, a successful career, I can look at the past with almost a certain kind of fondness. If it wasn't for that bad relationship, I wouldn't have been able to appreciate the fabulous relationship that I have today!"

Rule number three. Change is the only constant thing in life. And thank God for that. Imagine being stuck in the situation with no hope of reprieve! An only child, Urmila Kakkad had always wanted to live in a big joint family and enthusiastically agreed to the first arranged marriage proposal brought home by a relative.

But happiness doesn't always come in multiples is something she realised soon enough. She reminisces a little wistfully, "I was such a fool. So terribly immature. Loved and protected by a close-knit family of parents, uncles, aunts, and cousins, I thought living in a big family would be like an Hum Apke Hai Koun. At the end this was my question to everybody in the family. Joint families are not always as caring or supportive as shown in films or television serials.The truth is that there are smaller units in everyjoint family that's eager to look after their owninterests alone. I am no longer so trusting. I don'ttake anything at face value. Some may feel that I have learnt to be selfish, to put my needs first. But I don't think it's selfishness. I'd rather say that I do not compromise any longer. Has that made me a hard person? No, not at all. Just less gullible."

Is selfishness a good thing to learn, as Urmila says? Is Radhika's ability to ignore snide remarks with a stoic expression, an example of good learning? Yes, incredible though it might sound. Don't dream of a grand future. If it happens, great. But in pursuit of a golden dream, don't mess up your present. It's a good present that matters.



A raw deal, indeed

This refers to the article "A raw deal, indeed" by Raman Mohan (Feb 24) wherein the writer enumerates the way women workers get an unfair deal despite being the main providers of food in the rural sector. This raw deal continues in the urban sector also. Despite education, the women workers mostly do continue to face discrimination. They face strong prejudices and sexual harassment stalks them at every step. Even if they face all this with amazing fortitude and do manage to earn a good salary, they have to hand out their pay cheque to their husbands, and later on ask for each and every penny they require for their personal use. It is nothing less than serfdom where the landlord simply takes over the agricultural produce of the bonded labour or the hapless farmers who has to starve afterwards. Besides this, an ordinary housewife’s 24-hour schedule of household work wherein she looks after the whole family without taking any rest, is also considered no work at all. Isn’t it like bonded labour? All work and no pay? No pay even in the form of affectionate gratitude? "I have been working the whole day. What did you do the whole day? You want to be fed and given other amenities without having to work at all.": A husband very frequently shouts at the embarrassed wife. Well, it just demonstrates the distorted view that household work is no work at all and so deserves no recognition as such. This is also a very raw deal, indeed.

— Amrit Pal Tiwana, Kalka

Electrifying effect of Miss India

This refers to "The ‘other’ electrifying effect of Miss India" by Gaurav Sood
(February17). He painted an eye-witness account of the treatment Miss India Universe Neha Dhupia received at the hands of so-called more cultured and sophisticated high society people. It was a full-blown display of lust, and animal passion with no signs of love, appreciation and approval of her talent and beauty. The men were completely swept off their feet by her off-shoulder slit dress. Young girls are so charmed by money and glamour that they don’t mind compromising on their dignity. They have completely adapted themselves into sex symbols that they are being made out to be. They have came to accept ogling, meaningful touches and other casual invitations from men as a norm and rule of high society life. Shorter clothes or no clothes at all they don’t mind as long as people around call them beautiful. Values and morality are a hindrance in marketing themselves (read their bodies). So they are sacrificed at the very beginning to enjoy a gorgeous and glamourous high society life. This is what makes them feel bold and secure even among "vultures" and mind you, Gaurav, by their standards people like you and me are still living in a stone age.

B. M. Puri, Nauni

Beauty at a price

This refers to Priyanka Bhatta Charya’s write up "Becoming Beautiful at a price" (February 10). It is said that a fashionable woman is always in love with herself. What distinguishes the current beauty revolution is its mass base, the sudden increase in products which suits almost every lady’s pocket. Aiding Indian women in their endeavour to increase their vanity is an entire beauty industry supplying then a wide range of beauty aids. Images from the West which enter Indian homes via television and the young Indian beauties winning international beauty contests are some of the reasons of showing oneself more and more beautiful.

The changes are nothing short of revolutionary facewashes, age-defying creams, lotions and hair colouring conditioners.

They are not merely products, they are beauty concepts that have bridged the Gap between "occasional" purchases to "must" purchases.

Sumit Sabharwal, Hoshiarpur