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Terror Within Four Walls

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Terror within four wallsOne day Sayali had bruised her arm when she fell on the stairs going up to her home. The very next week she had a red and swollen area around her ear. “An insect bit me during the night,” she explained to her colleagues. “I couldn’t even see what it was.” When she came to work with what looked like a cigarette burn on the side of her neck, her friends could take it no more. “Stop lying to us,” they said. “Doesn’t he beat you up? Isn’t that the real cause of all these hurts?” A sobbing Sayali just sat in her office chair and put her head down in defeat. She had been married for only two years, and employed for just four months. Her fervent attempts at covering up were futile when her colleagues could clearly see the cause of her misery – domestic violence.

Worldwide, the figures about violence within the home are frightening. In the United States, a woman is assaulted by an attacker she knows intimately (husband, boyfriend, live-in partner) every 15 seconds. In Egypt, 91 per cent of married women have faced some violence within the home. In India, the violence against women is rising. While the 1980s were the decade of dowry murders, violence against women is increasing, with around 40% increase from one year to the next, and lakhs of complaints filed in places like Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu.

A very important point to note in the pattern of domestic violence is that it is not about sudden outbursts of anger that result in a slap or two during a fight. In fact, domestic violence is a deliberate pattern of abusive, threatening and violent tactics used by one partner in an intimate relationship to subjugate or control another. Typically, the beating or physical violence is only part of a whole range of aggressive behaviour designed to keep the partner in fear. Some of the other accompanying actions that identify when one is living with a potentially violent partner are:

1. Being physically hurt, such as being kicked, pushed, choked or punched, for reasons that seem trivial or inexplicable to the victim.
2. Being threatened with hurt to oneself, or members of one’s family while being forced to do something.
3. Having one’s loved pets injured or abused.
4. Having one’s property, or things that one cares about, destroyed before one’s eyes.
5. Being prevented from seeing one’s family or doing other things that are important to oneself.
6. Feeling that one is being controlled or isolated by one’s partner, in terms of money, transportation, activities and social contacts.
7. Being forced to have sex when there is no inclination to have sex, or being forced to have sex without taking precautions against pregnancy or infection.
8. Having a jealous partner who is always questioning where one is going, and whether one is cheating or being unfaithful.
9. Being blamed for things one cannot control, or for putting a violent partner in ‘a bad mood’.
10. Being regularly insulted and put down.
11. Being afraid to go home because home seems an unsafe place.

Unlike many other countries, India still does not have many shelters and half-way homes that help battered women to become self-sufficient after they have left their husbands. Most women try to cover up their bruises and pretend that things are OK, even to their own family and relatives. However, should you notice a colleague or friend with the marks of domestic violence, you can lodge a complaint to have the offender booked.

The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 is a new legislation aimed at providing relief to millions of women affected by violence in their homes. The irony is that even as the law became operational only in October 2006, the Supreme Court has now asked for its review and called it a shoddily drafted piece of legislation. This is because since its introduction, it has been used by many women to settle scores with their husbands. The act relies on the testimony of a battered woman, and like the laws relating to dowry harassment, this has been used to put men, and their families, to considerable trauma, suffering a loss of reputation.

While such misuse of the law has to be prevented by re-drafting at the level of the government and the judiciary, there is an undeniable need to protect women from domestic violence. Some humbling statistics for us to consider – India ranks high on the figures for violence against pregnant women, and domestic violence, far from being a problem of the poor or illiterate, covers every segment and strata of society. When it comes to terror within the home, every community is equally likely to have some individuals who resort to violence. Finally, studies worldwide have proved that children who grow up in violent and abusive homes have a tendency to become either victims, or perpetrators of violence. When we move to put an end to violence within the home, we are not protecting only the present, but trying to give a more positive turn to the future.

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