*Trigger Warning: Domestic Violence*
“I used to be thrashed and tortured regularly since the very beginning of our wedding. His parents used to instigate him. Even during my pregnancy, he used to be extremely violent and also deprived me of food. Then, when my daughter was born, he didn’t come to see her. All this was mentally and physically excruciating,” says Ritu.
Ritu is a 27-year-old woman who lives in a slum in South Delhi. She has separated from her husband as she had to grapple with an abusive marriage. Domestic violence affects the mental, physical and reproductive health, and morbidity and mortality of a woman. Violence during pregnancy is even more detrimental as it increases the chances of miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm delivery, and malnourished babies, as claimed by WHO.
According to NFHS-IV, 31% of ever-married women have faced some form of violence like sexual, emotional, or physical spousal violence. The number of domestic violence complaints received by the NCW skyrocketed from 2,960 in 2019 to 5,297 in 2020, in the pandemic, with Delhi receiving the second-highest complaints. What worse than to be confined with your perpetrator at home? But it was the reality for many women in the pandemic.
Paradoxically, divorce rates are pretty meagre. This report highlights only 1.1% of women are divorced, with those in urban areas making up the most significant proportion. Thus, low divorce rates don’t signify that Indians have happy marriages; it means they are compelled to adjust, tolerate, and accept, compromising on their happiness for society’s sake.
“Then, there was some mediation, and I was forced to reconcile with my husband. Thus, I went back to him and decided to give him a second chance, keeping in mind the welfare of my daughter.”
Society expects women always to cooperate, give chances, and fix the broken pieces. It is perceived that separation and divorce will be against the child’s welfare, but isn’t an abusive atmosphere more detrimental to the child’s development and welfare? Studies reveal that children in abusive environments exhibit long-term psychological and behavioural problems and are at higher risk of being violent in their future relationships.
“For some time, the situation was fine, but then I got to know that he was cheating on me and was having an extramarital affair. Once he got to know that I am aware, he again started perpetuating the abuse. Then, he outrightly denied his extramarital affair.” she said.
In contrast, If a woman had an extramarital affair, then she would have been tagged as characterless, immoral, etc. But, if the man does it, then it is seen as if his wife deprived him of love and affection, which is why he is seeking it elsewhere.
However, every person at some moment gets to their boiling point, even Ritu. “That was it. I decided to leave his house permanently, and I shifted to my parents’ place and filed an FIR against him. He instead filed the case against my parents and me. Now I am single-handedly raising my daughter, as my husband is giving no maintenance,” she adds. Thus, apart from childbearing, child-rearing is also solely a woman’s responsibility, even after divorce or separation.
Although she has completed her post-graduation, still she is working as a domestic worker in houses and taking tuition. I asked her why she wasn’t taking up a well-paying job? “I want to do a better job, but I can’t stay that much time away as my daughter is very young. Also, I don’t have enough money to buy a laptop for a job. Although recently I have applied for some government jobs, I hope something materialises,” says Ritu.
Isn’t it a society’s loss as an educated member who could contribute to the nation has fallen prey to a gruesome situation? After battling with domestic abuse, many women experience shattered confidence and self-doubt, thus, being unable to return or restart their careers. Also, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is pervasive among such women. If trauma is not processed properly, it can persist in the subconscious and cause acute psychological problems that hinder their lives.
I asked her if she had encountered any stigma from people.
“Yes, I am living with my parents, so relatives taunt and blame me for the situation. Even my parents perceive my daughter and me as a burden both financially and socially. I feel insulted and disrespected, but I don’t have anywhere else to go.”
Thus, it is a manifold battle for women, their husbands, society, and themselves.
The problem lies in the notion of marriage in the Indian context. Marriage is considered sacred, and a lifelong obligation and women are given all the responsibility to sustain it by any means. They are considered inferior, submissive, and weaker to their husbands, and he gives them financial security, safety, and identity. Thus, women are considered nothing without marriage, and marriage is their greatest achievement. But, how is this marriage? Marriage is an equal partnership; this is, in fact, slavery.
If a woman decides to end the marriage, she is entirely blamed, tagged as a bad wife or a bad mother, and her character is questioned. Society normalises and validates domestic violence by saying ‘itna toh chalta hai‘ and ‘nibhana padhrega‘. Consequently, many women are forced to reconcile and become silent victims to this agonising crime, enclosed under the pretext of marriage. Also, lack of education and financial security prevent them from getting a divorce.
But why do women have to compromise with their dignity for the sake of abusive marriage? Why is divorce considered a sin, and bearing domestic violence is a woman’s moral responsibility? Why does society have a problem when women prioritise their happiness over others?
“I have filed for divorce and demanded maintenance for my daughter; the case is still ongoing. Earlier, I also had filed a domestic violence complaint in the Women Cell, but it didn’t proceed further. Also, I asked for the return of the dowry my parents gave, but it hasn’t been returned yet,” says Ritu.
This is the situation with many other divorce cases as well. Due to the sluggish, complex and tedious judicial system and shortage of judges, the backlog of cases is widening, and justice is diminishing. Also, lack of knowledge, finances, and access, hinders women from attaining divorce.
Therefore, there is a dire need to strengthen the legal system and make it more responsive, accessible, and affordable to women. There is no dearth of laws for protecting women, but we lack the execution of these laws at the grassroots level. Thus, free legal aid is very crucial for fostering women’s human rights and dispensing justice.
I finally asked her if her husband approached her again, then what would she do? She answers, “If he sincerely apologies and repents for his mistake, and pays the finances of my daughter, then I would think of returning.”
This is an alarming sign, and we need to stop women from reconciling with their predators again and again. In addition, society needs to stop normalising heinous crimes like domestic violence and pressuring women to endure and adjust. Instead, divorce needs to be normalised and accepted, and divorced women need to be respected and appreciated and not pitied, shamed, or blamed for choosing their happiness over societal pressures. Also, the entire narrative around marriage needs to change; both should have equal status, partnership, and responsibilities in the marriage.
Women themselves need to rise and resist; for this, they need to utilise their education and attain financial independence, which empowers them to live their lives on their terms and not compromise with their self-respect over anything. Everyone deserves a second chance, and divorce is not the end of life. In fact, it is the beginning of their emancipation from the patriarchal chains and a step towards empowerment.