TW: Domestic abuse, violence
“We can all take responsibility for helping to bring about change, and keeping our friends and colleagues safe from domestic violence,” said Charles Clarke.
I want to pen down my thoughts on the injustices that have been occurring since years on the women in almost every nook and corner of the world. It is high time that the society, along with social organisations, intervenes in bringing an end to such age-old disturbances that still go on behind the closed doors, between newly married couples to old couples, or among the live-in relationships.
Unfortunately, these wounds and bruises on women are still present, despite the presence of 25 of the most powerful global organizations, including the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women (UN Women). Likewise, it is even worse in India despite so many organizations operating locally, along with the laws and policy meant to safeguard women’s rights and safety.
As stated in many reports, such violence has increased manifold during the lockdown due to COVID-19, around the world. There has been an upsurge of reports of such cases globally, mainly in countries like China, France, Italy, US, New Zealand and so on.
Yes, in India, right from dowry practices to rigid patriarchal influence, domestic violence is not something new, and not something we haven’t heard about. In some cases, justice is served while in some, the women continue bearing the intolerance until she is destined to survive.
Coming to the issues of domestic violence in India, as per the National Commission for Women (NCW), the upsurge of these cases has been seen during the early lockdown period between February and May, especially from states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Punjab and Haryana. It’s shocking to know from media sources that around 700 cases were reported in Punjab immediately after the curfew and during the lockdown.
It’s also not the case that measures by the public authorities weren’t taken this time. For instance, in Uttar Pradesh, the Government introduced helpline numbers for people to direct their complaints to. The Kerala Government, being proactive as usual, launched WhatsApp numbers for the immediate reporting of such cases. In Punjab, the Jalandhar Police Commissionerate provided online counselling for those domestic violence survivors through teleconferencing. But, despite all such measures taken by the concerned authorities, instances of domestic violence during the lockdown, both physical and psychological, had taken a toll in India.
So, when and how can there be an end to so many cases of violence against women in India for good? Why do women, no matter if they’re married or single, have to always take the brunt of the bruises and wounds, physically, psychologically, or emotionally? Why does she have to search for her respect again and again?
Why is it that no matter how educated a woman is, she is chained with the word called ‘duty’ when it comes to her abusive husband, abusive in-laws, and emotionally distressing familial and work ties? We have ended up with the question ‘why’ because the solutions have never been followed, or couldn’t be followed due to societal pressures and the lack of the right actions and right decisions.
This pandemic had led to many obstructions including the loss of jobs, led to the inaccessibility of police stations or social workers, and all these had severely impacted families with low-wage earnings or families where only one member of the family is the sole-earner. Some say because of the sudden frustration there has been a rise in cases and complaints as there is no one to listen and help at such wee hours, and everything just remains confined within the four walls of the house.
But, is a reason enough to lead to such cases? Is this the first time such cases and complaints have been lodged from such families? Of course, no! In one sense, thanks to COVID-19 and the lockdown, the real truth and heartbreaking pictures have been displayed, re-awakening the concerned authorities, social workers, policy implementers, and the concerned citizens of the Nation.
But, this time, will any move turn out to be effective? Or adhering to the already-existing Domestic Violence Act, 2005, will any strong action be taken against the abusers, no matter if it is the husband or a lover, a person in the workplace or toxic in-laws repeatedly responsible for bringing fears into a woman’s mind?
“It is your duty to serve the way you are asked to do, else you are not considered to be a good woman, a good daughter-in-law, a good wife, and a good mother.” This is what is being preached, even today, in most conservative and misogynistic families and societies in India to their girls. As they grow up, till she attains puberty, gets married, has their children, and at times even after their children are capable enough to settle down in their life, women and girls are compelled to perform these ‘duties’.
These claustrophobic traditions keep dominating the young minds unless someone dares to speak against it. When someone is suffocating because of such physical and emotional abuse, they dare raise their voice and that’s how a complaint is lodged. At the same time, millions are silently taking the brunt of the unheard pains on their shoulders for the sake of their family and society. And
I strongly feel that such violence can only come to an end when society puts an effort to bring some change in such conservative areas, changing their ‘illiberal’ attitude towards women.
Teaching our sons how respecting a woman is the most valuable culture to adopt before falling in love with a woman. When men from such societies will learn to stand up for women, knowing when to keep his male ego aside, and fight when the abusive or toxic in-laws commit severe punishment and treat their daughter-in-law as their ‘slave’ and constantly disrespect her emotions and existence.
Out of all the kinds of domestic violence, the emotional and psychological abuses can be considered to be really disturbing and toxic, particularly for women who are introverts and are bogged down by her family’s insupportable thoughts and vision.
In the words of Aisha Mirza, “It is not the bruises of the body that hurt. It is the wounds of the heart and the scars on the mind.”
No one purposely gets married to a violent partner. Often, in the case of arranged marriages, only after the marriage do women come to know of the true colours of her husband and her in-laws. But, despite that, due to societal pressures, the woman’s desires are put off, and she is either convinced that it is her destiny or that it is too late to break the cage.
On the other hand, it is heart-wrenching to say that, in case of love marriages too. There are, in fact, incidences where she realises that even with her man, whom she dated for many years and loved so much, after marriage she is now more obliged to fulfil his family duties and live a caged life. She has to sacrifice her dreams and emotions rather than being his wife and the woman she always wanted to be.
I feel that in India, it is said that a woman is not just married to her life partner but to his entire family. In the fear of society, honour and respect, some make their way out with all courage in their heart while some silently agree to pass their entire life inside a dark shell. In this context, I would say, I know a woman who has gone through such emotional abuse despite being in a ‘love marriage’, for whom she had left her own family and had to surrender herself to the new conservative cultural shock. Not that she silently agreed to stay inside the dark shell, but she took a stand for herself and today, she got all that she had lost. But unfortunately, healthwise, it was too late for her, and she is still coping with her mental illnesses today.
To end domestic violence, to end more such visible and invisible cases, the age-old stereotypes have to be broken with a sound mind and clarity. We have to make people aware, especially the illiberal families that get a girl married. No one should have the right to restrict anyone’s freedom and dreams and should shower her with the same love and respect they demand from her for their son and to his family and society.
Social organizations working on gender equality must immediately come forward and must be given the authority to take strict actions against such families when such cases are reported. Thanks to the initiative taken by the All-India Council of Human Rights Liberties and Social Justice during COVID-19 for filing petitions for the survivors. The Delhi High Court had also issued notices to various government bodies to respond appropriately to this distress. But, the question remains: How well are these measures implemented and monitored?
Are these measures implemented equally for all families? Because in India, apart from the middle-class families or low-wage families, such incidences are also often found in the so-called high-class, and even conservative families. Also, considering the situation of the pandemic, are these measures effective enough to immediately have an impact?
As in European countries like France, Germany, Italy initiatives like Mask-19 Campaign has been put in place, in association with the pharmacies, likewise, the Government of India can take such steps in association with the local pharmacies, grocery stores, supermarkets etc.
In fact, in New Zealand, the concept of providing immediate shelters to survivors is another good initiative which can be replicated in India with the help of some Government guest houses or hotels, in association with the respective social organizations or concerned police authorities.
Although some states in India have started the concept of WhatsApp chats to access counselling services or online counselling sessions, more such apps and immediate support measures should be taken up through a missed call service or normal text messages. This should also make accessible police stations or the public authorities of the concerned locality.
Another measure could be the online platforms on social media that could be a modem to reach particular agencies that can help women and those fighting for gender inequalities. In today’s world, social media can be a powerful tool and therefore, should be used efficiently.
However, apart from the feasible initiatives that could be taken by the respective organizations, it is the duty of every citizen to report any such violence occurring in their locality. In fact, being neighbours, friends, or relatives or even any distant family friends, it is high time we are sensible and listen to the survivor if she shares her feelings, and give her adequate support and courage to report and seek justice.
Hence, no matter whatever initiatives are taken by the concerned local authorities, the law and the Government body, responsible social organizations must keep trying to make people aware, especially the youth, to raise their voices against the injustices and fight for a good cause. For this to happen, firstly, the age-old stereotypes, such as forcing a girl to get married early, that a woman has to give birth after her marriage even if it is not her wish, and the stereotypes like ‘marriages happen between families not only between two people’ should be completely erased from the minds of the people.
Secondly, the entertainment world in India can bring such revolutionary change. Introducing more movies like Thappad, Pink or any such shows that can send strong messages making a significant impact on gender inequalities, and can help women come forward to fight for her right in the society. The same can also influence men to develop a sensible outlook on women.