*Trigger Warning: Mention Of Abuse*
India, being a patriarchal society, reports domestic violence and sexual harassment cases every 2 minutes. However, there isn’t enough attention and awareness about emotional or verbal abuse. India prioritises physical health over psychological well-being, regardless of the fact that they are inextricably linked.
In a random survey conducted generally amongst a group of women from Bengal, results show that approximately 60% of the women are not even familiar with the terms emotional and verbal abuse, while approximately 80% of them are not aware of the kinds, risks and symptoms of emotional abuse.
As goes the definition, emotional or psychological abuse is a form of abuse characterised by a person subjecting or exposing another person to behaviour that may result in psychological trauma, including anxiety, chronic depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.
In other words, a pattern of behaviour in which one person intentionally and repeatedly subjects another to nonphysical acts that are harmful to behavioural and emotional functioning and the overall mental health of any individual who is subjected to such treatment.
Given the low rate of literacy amongst women in India in comparison to men, the paradigm of emotional abuse, which if further fragmented into categories like intimate partner violence, is mostly overlooked by the women themselves due to a lack of understanding.
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Female children and siblings face silent treatment of abuse from the family members, which is not unknown to any of us. However, we don’t do enough advocacy to stop this from happening.
There is a huge need to establish proactive advocacy and awareness regarding emotional abuse and suggest measures including legal remedies to women of all sections including those that had no fortune of attaining basic education. That legal interventions are possible in case of fighting against emotional abuse, which is organised and intended to convey power over an individual by another, is unknown to many.
Indian women are taught to adjust with their husbands, in-laws or partner even when they are physically assaulted, thus, making it sound like a joke to raise a voice against emotional abuse. However, the consequences are never positive except that women are unnecessarily good to a society that fails to respect their existence.
The severity of emotional abuse is not just limited to men on women. Women also toss vast amounts of abusive treatments to their own clan. An abusive mother is no rare scene in India; however, Sanskar teaches a child to respect a mother no matter what. The impression that a mother can be evil is ticked off from our societal dictionary, which allows her the bonus coupon to carry on with the emotional abuses.
Sarcasm turns to grief for a society when the mother-in-law is seen ill-treating her son’s wife and engaging in activities or behaviours that hurl violence. What she should have never wanted for herself or her own daughters to face is performed by her on someone else’s daughter. The tragedy is that this toxic cycle moves in the loop from generation to generation without any intervention.
Like they cut the umbilical cord to separate a child from a mother’s womb, strict actions must be taken against abusers of all kind, definitely the ones who engage in emotional abuse. It is high time that society realises supporting or even enabling such toxicity of abusing or being abused emotionally is no less a crime than committing murder.
Like other forms of abuse, emotional abuse is just as important and can be even more damaging to survivors. In India, two out of every three children are physically abused and every second child is reported to be facing emotional abuse. Behaviours like yelling, taunting, accusing, shaming, etc. are all emotional abuses that most children face at their own home, from their own family members.
This kind of typical verbal and emotional abuse leads an individual to choose isolation and look for interdependent relationships in the future where they are subject to cheating, infidelity, regular manipulations of their partners’ choices, and other nasty behaviours. They feel intimidated and dominated by the abuser (family members). However, they cannot afford to leave home and stay alone to save themselves from misery.
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Despite being the most common type of child and adolescent abuse, emotional abuse is under-researched, unrecognised and unreported.
A thorough campaign must be run and proper sensitisation must be conducted amongst every section of society, mentioning that verbal and emotional abuse is unlawful under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) Act, Dowry Prohibition Act, and IT act.
Apart from Section 498A of IPC that deals with domestic violence and is recognised as a cognisable, non-bailable and non-compoundable offence, obscene acts or remarks uttered in any public place are punishable by fine or imprisonment under Section 294 of the IPC.
As per Section 509 of IPC, insulting a lady’s modesty with a word, gesture or act, whoever, with the intent to offend a woman’s modesty, utters a word, makes any sound or gesture, or exhibits any object with the intent that such word, sound, gesture, or object be heard, or seen, by such woman, or intrudes upon her privacy, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term up to one year, or with a fine, or both.
A new act familiar by the name of IT Act defines in Section 66 that punishment is recognised for sending offensive messages or via any electronic medium, which are also causes of emotional abuse.
A dysfunctional family is the initial cause of an individual’s share of emotional abuse. It restricts personal as well as professional growth. Steps must be taken personally to make behavioural changes using community resources like seeking mental health counselling.
Social assistance and professional psychological state interventions must be made available to survivors of abuse caused by mental illness, substance abuse or physical limitations.
It is necessary to separate survivors from their abusers in critical situations to safeguard the survivor. If there is any indication that abuse is intensifying or that violence may follow, leaving the situation becomes mandatory. Counselling for both abusers and survivors of abuse can serve as a forum for conversation and conflict resolution to break the cycle of violence.
Therefore, attempts must be made to give such space to both survivors and abusers before heading to a legal space like a police station or court. Leaving an abusive relationship can be difficult and hazardous, so having a safe place to go for safety, assistance and support is essential.
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Building shelters for such people in crisis must be considered by government and non-government organisations working with social issues. Stereotypically, safe places are either considered as one’s own family (extended included) or friends, but they can also play the role of abusers. Thus, local shelters or other groups that provide aid for steadily exiting an abusive relationship should be explored.
These are not impossible mechanisms. However, neither government nor non-government organisations are too keen to work out the plan as there is hardly any pressure from the civil society, you and me.
While I write this in the expectation that we will together see a better world tomorrow, I would like to request you to look into your own behaviours and see if any of your traits are causing emotional abuse to any second individual. You must also observe if you are being a victim of emotional abuse.
If so, please speak up, take action and save yourself. That’s what you can and you should do for your own existence.
If you or someone you know is facing domestic violence, you can reach out to the following places for support: