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The bruises on her face and body sent me into a state of shock. Domestic violence was something alien to me, something that was prevalent among the lower segments of our society, something I thought I would never come across at such close quarters. But a chance encounter with Neha, an old school friend shattered all the misconceptions I had about this bane called domestic violence. A qualified teacher by profession, Neha got married to Manish, a senior manager in a reputed MNC based in Delhi. Manish started abusing Neha physically, emotionally and sexually as soon as their honeymoon was over because he was dissatisfied with the dowry brought by her. Day and night, Manish hit Neha, verbally abused her, even sexually assaulted her, confined her to the flat and deprived her of food. For six months, she silently bore the excruciating pain and torture that Manish inflicted upon her. But this brutality had broken her body, not her spirit. Finally, one fateful day, when Manish went to work, Neha managed to escape. He tried to approach Neha for the next month, trying all possible ways, apologizing, threatening and coercing her, but her decision was made. She had made up her mind that Manish would not go unpunished for his acts. With the support of her parents and friends, she approached an organization for women welfare, which helped her get divorce as well as alimony from Manish. Today, 6 years later, Neha is running a NGO for the victims of domestic violence, to help them seek justice like herself. She is happily re-married to a businessman in Delhi and has a beautiful daughter. She considers herself to be second-time lucky.
What is domestic violence?
Domestic violence is any kind of physical, mental, emotional, sexual and/or financial abuse inflicted on a family member by the spouse, parent, relative or live-in partner. Men may also be at the suffering end, but domestic violence against women has assumed gross proportions in India, with every 1 out of 3 women reportedly having suffered from it, irrespective of her caste, religion, educational background or financial status. Domestic violence against women manifests itself in many forms – keeping her confined to the house, depriving her of money, food, clothing and other basic needs, physically hitting her, forcing her into a sexual act and degrading her verbally. All the humiliation and degradation leads the victim to physical and mental trauma, depression and sometimes, suicide.
Differences and ego clashes are an integral part of all relationships, however intimate they may be. But when one of the partners goes to extremes to dominate the relationship and get things done his/her own way, domestic violence occurs. People, who are mentally sick or have had a traumatic childhood, generally get mentally programmed to act in this way. People addicted to drugs and alcohol may indulge in domestic violence. Sometimes, educated or sensible people may do it for reasons like dowry or simply just wanting to be-in-control. The male-dominated society and moral degradation of females by films and media are other factors for the high incidence of domestic violence in India.
Raising a voice
Domestic violence is absolutely unjustified – a victim might think that it is likely to be something momentary, something that would not be repeated. But one has to realize the gravity of the situation, in order to rectify it.
- Realization is the first step towards coming out of an abusive relationship. Domestic violence indicates that a woman is into a loveless relationship, which is not worth giving her life for. The victim might not raise a voice, expecting every incident to be the last one, but this wait might prove to be fruitless in the long run. As it happened in case of Neha, she should have realized that her marriage was nothing but a hoax, the very first time Manish had raised his hands on her and should have raised a voice against it.
- Talking to your spouse: Raising a voice does not necessarily mean moving out of the relationship. First of all, the victim should make an effort to talk to her spouse. In case he indulges in domestic violence due to some mental sickness or traumatic childhood, the relationship may be saved with professional counseling. But a marriage devoid of love and understanding is better ended than continued. If there are children in the family, the victim should not bear humiliation and abuse for their sake, because they are better off without a father than with one who abuses their mother. It is absolutely futile to live with a man who tortures her, just out of fear of social stigma, as Neha did. And life is too valuable to waste on a worthless relationship.
- Seek advice from a close friend or relative: The victim, though shattered, should try to take a close friend into confidence and seek help. Perhaps, an outsider can provide a new perspective to the relationship and help save it. Or this friend could help the victim come out of this abusive relationship.
- Do not let social pressures dissuade you: Once the victim has made up her mind about exposing her spouse, she should not be dissuaded by any kind of social pressures. Even the family members of the victim might discourage her from taking any action; but she has to be firm enough to face the situation, with or without their support.
- Simply walk out: And if nothing else works out, the victim should just gather her courage and walk out, and not live with the abuser, even if he tries to convince her that he is a changed man. She should not let him go lightly for his offenses, take an action against him and set an example for other victims as well as abusers.
For the family of the victim, she would need all their support to re-build her life and start afresh. Moreover, it is our social responsibility to educate the girl-child, so that she becomes capable and independent to tackle such problems. And like Neha, life might give her a second chance. No one in the world, not even her husband or the father of her children, has a right to violate her individuality.