Written By: Ms. Sohini Bhattacharjee, Officer Communications

 

 

Things We do not speak

 

After a decade long friendship that was nurtured over the years, Ranjana (name changed) became my closest confidante. Having known her closely, it came naturally to me to hear the things she didn’t say. I had one such moment in our recent conversations when I sensed melancholy in the tone of her voice.

 

One day, soon after, she confided in me saying she was going through a rough patch in her marriage. Her husband wanted her to resume work which she was not prepared to do, leaving her one year old daughter behind at home. Her daughter arrived in her life a year ago. Ranjana’s body was still recuperating from the process of child birth. Exhausted after manning the house singlehandedly, she had planned to take a break of few years till her daughter started attending school.

 

Her husband Sanjay (name changed), on the other hand, would jibe constantly that she was too fearful about managing work and home. He would humiliate her publicly in front of friends and family about how she has nil contribution in running the family, since she was no longer contributing financially. As the sole earning member, he is the only one constructively contributing to the management of the family.

 

Owing to my limited understanding, I would always suggest her to engage in discussions with her husband and amicably resolve such issues. I would urge her to look at the brighter side of life, however such attempts of making her optimistic was not making any dent. She was gradually becoming embittered and withdrawn.

 

Lately, she began averting any such discussions of discord in her household with me and I felt it best to not barge into her space and question.

 

However, what I safely dismissed as a mere tiff between husband and wife, in the context of the stories she would narrate to me on the phone, it was actually an act of emotional violence inflicted upon her by an intimate partner. My understanding on the matter evolved based on a secondary research on the subject of Domestic Violence.

 

A study conducted by the National Family Health Survey (NFHS – 3) in 2005 – 06 on domestic violence highlighted that sixteen percent of married women experienced emotional violence in their lives. Thirteen percent shared that their husband had said or done something to humiliate them in front of others, 8 percent said that their husband had insulted them or made them feel bad about themselves, and 5 percent said that their husband threatened to hurt or harm them or someone close to them. 

 

The context of emotional violence is also included within the purview of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005.

 

 

The clause on “verbal and emotional abuse” includes—

(a) Insults, ridicule, humiliation, name calling and insults or ridicule specially with regard to not having a child or a male child; and

(b) Repeated threats to cause physical pain to any person with whom the aggrieved person is interested.

Instances of cruelty recognized by the courts include:

  • Denying a woman food
  • Not allowing her to see her family
  • Locking her out of the house
  • Denying her access to her children
  • Keeping the woman at home and not allowing her to socialize
  • Abusing her children in front of her
  • Threatening to divorce her unless a dowry is given

 

The legislation enacted to address the different forms of domestic violence is a progressive step. But the challenge that remains is that, in a country like India, where patriarchy is deeply embedded, where innumerable screams of pain and scars are comfortably hidden behind closed doors, where widespread tolerance of domestic violence is encouraged, the very identification of the prevalence of emotional violence is nonexistent. As emotional violence is not physically evident and is mostly verbal in execution, many women who are subjected to such forms of violence may not even realize the impact.

 

Emotional Violence has a slow poisoning effect on the overall well being of women. Women affected with emotional violence suffer from low self esteem and poor sense of self worth. Further, such form of violence pushes the sufferer to depression and makes her prone to suicidal tendencies. According to a study by the National Centre for Biotechnology Information, suicide attempts in India are correlated with physical and psychological intimate partner violence. Of the Indian women who participated in the study, 7.5% reported attempting suicide. 

 

Panchi (name changed) one of my roommate shared how emotional violence inflicted by her brother in law and his family has completely shattered her sister’s life. Her once cheerful sister has been subjected to constant criticism, ridicule and disgrace at her in – laws place. They would find fault in every activity of hers. One day, during the occasion of a family feast, her husband , citing poor quality of food, prepared threw the plate and rebuked her in front of the guests. The incident was very traumatic and since then Panchi’s sister has retreated into a state of depression. She has grown completely quiet and aloof and even barely responds to her children. In such a case, emotional violence has not only afflicted the mother but has also adversely affected the lives of children.

 

As government and civil society organizations are making consistent efforts towards creating solution centric approaches to deal with all forms of domestic violence, few of the recourse could include involving children in the change initiative. Text books for children should include elaborative chapters on all forms of Domestic Violence and how to address the menace. Children Theatre programmes could also be designed to make them aware about Domestic Violence and also to help them identify emotional violence and what are the steps they could take to address the social menace. College curriculum should also include subjects on gender based violence, information about institutions and services working on the issue and how constructively young students can participate in the movement to eliminate gender based violence. Student counseling service by trained psychologists should be available at both college and school level.

 

Influential personalities such as sportspersons, film and television personalities, government representatives and religious leaders should spread awareness on the subject and how to seek assistance. Religious institutions, which are flocked   towards by a large section of the population, movie theatres and other popular public places could also be used  for the same.

 

Recreation centres such as ‘Sakhi Bol’ could be launched across the country. Integrated mass media approach could be used in all this centre’s to disseminate information and understanding on all forms of domestic violence, particularly this could be a space where women could meet fellow women and talk candidly on such issues of violence. This could shape up as one stop centre to access all forms of support against domestic violence which, automatically, would also address the case of emotional violence.

 

Few lines from a poem by Maya Angelou truly express our desire to wipe out all forms of gender based violence “Out of the huts of history’s shame I rise, Up from a past that’s rooted in pain I rise, Leaving behind nights of terror and fear I rise, Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear I rise, I rise, I rise, I rise”.