Don’t take the abuse

28 Feb
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India was in the headlines recently for a story that reverberated around the world. Was it a story that made us proud to be Indians? Unfortunately, the answer is no. The story that hit the headlines was about domestic abuse. India’s third highest diplomat in London was accused of assaulting his wife.

The rush of publicity which followed did not help the already tense situation and the traumatic subject of abuse once again reared its ugly head. Newspaper headlines from all over the world had their own point of view that went something like this. India is a country “where domestic abuse and disrespect for women seem to be the norm.” And another said “Women (in India) are sometimes abused to the point of being killed for not ‘towing the line’ as it were.”

The parents of the diplomat branded his wife amoral and accused her of trying to destroy their son’s reputation along with that of the country. The neighbours reportedly called the police but no arrest was made as the diplomat claimed diplomatic immunity. India’s Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao has warned potential offenders that there will be zero tolerance for incidents of sexual misconduct and domestic violence. “Any act of domestic violence or sexual misconduct will necessitate the immediate recall of the officer and his dependants.” However, the officer is still in the service of the Indian Administrative service and it is yet not clear if charges will be filed against him.

The reality is abuse happens all over the world and there are always people who see the victim as the wrong-doer and try to subdue, smear and terrorise the injured party. Let us first have a look at what exactly is domestic abuse.

What is domestic abuse?

It is the establishment of control and fear in a relationship using violence. But how can one human being allow another human being such control over them? Says Anita of her abusive relationship with her husband: “It was an act of ownership. I was his toy to do whatever he wanted. If I disagreed in any way it was hell. Soon I just let him have his way without any protest. Each violent act just made me feel guiltier.”

There are different types of abuse. There is physical, sexual, monetary, social and emotional abuse. Domestic abuse or violence is not just hitting, or fighting or arguing. It is an abuse of power. Physical abuse is the most easily recognised form of abuse. It can be any form of hitting, shaking, burning, pinching, biting, choking, throwing, beating and other actions that cause physical injury, leave marks or cause pain.

Domestic violence is among the most prevalent and among the least reported forms of cruel behaviour. Women are again the target but it also extends towards children. Although women are in the majority they are not the only victims. Many men too are abused by a spouse or partner.

An abuser wants to control the situation and the person, places blame on others and has little control over impulses and suffers low self esteem. All forms of domestic abuse have one main purpose: to gain and maintain control over the victim.

Domestic abuse and violence can happen to anyone and yet the problem is overlooked, excused or denied. This happens more often when the abuse is both psychological and physical. “I just felt guilty for making him angry. My husband was so good to me most of the time that when he gave me a couple of slaps I felt it was ok,” says Anju, who is still with her partner. According to Dr. Bhambri, a physician who has seen and counselled many women in abusive relationships, “In some cases it becomes a routine. The women in such cases are emotionally and sexually attached to their spouse and take the beatings as normal. In effect she becomes used to it.”

Across the board

An abuser does not play fair. An abuser uses fear, guilt, shame and intimidation to wear you down. Domestic abuse does not differentiate. It occurs across the board. It occurs within all age groups, ethnic backgrounds and economic levels.

One thing that is often heard in an abusive relationship is the abuser say that the victim made them do it. This is, of course, quite ludicrous. It is important to remember that there is no justification whatsoever for abuse.

Remember the abuser is good at manipulating victims. The abused sometimes does not recognise that he is abused, battered, depressed, scared, drained, and confused. Do remember that as a human being you deserve to feel valued, respected and safe. The oft-repeated healthy relationships based on give and take are the foundation of any relationship.

One has to learn to compromise and work with compassion on the relationship and each other. Communication is the key and the first step towards what is a tough battle to a better relationship. According to Dr. Bhambri, most men are violent because they see their spouse as economically inferior and physically weaker. Changed perceptions and mutual respect are key to a better relationship.

What are the reasons for abuse?

One must emphasise right at the outset that there should never be reasons for abuse. It is something that should never be condoned. However, we must look at the why behind such behaviour though there can never be any justification for such an act. Very often the battered might be mentally ill, or even abused themselves or not even realise that their behaviour is contrary.

Domestic control is not about losing control but more about having absolute control. These people are vindictive and manipulative and it is all about controlling the other person. The build-up to violence and the resultant repentant stage is a vicious cycle that occurs and reoccurs in a set pattern.

The important mark is realisation. You are on the road to recovery if you can face the truth and face your feelings. Coming out of denial is a huge step forward. Managing your shame and anger and overcoming fear of ostracisation are all steps towards becoming a better member of society. Agrees Sanjay, “I had a lot of anger within me and was hitting out all the time. I went through hell before I even realised what I was doing. Hitting had become a habit.” Today he is calmer and wiser but has lost his family as his wife left him with the children. Putting them in jail is a temporary measure and can sometimes lead to greater violence.

So where are we at today?

The reality today is that there is an urgent need to address and understand the issue. But progress is slow because attitudes are deeply entrenched and to some extent because effective strategies to address domestic violence are still being defined. As a result women worldwide continue to suffer, with estimates varying from 20 to 50 per cent from country to country.

This appalling toll will not be eased until families, governments, institutions and civil society and organisations address the issue directly and openly. “We cannot function in isolation and all of us must take the responsibility to curb this menace of domestic violence against women” said Sheila Dixit on inaugurating a campaign called ‘Bell Bajao‘.

The Domestic Violence Act 2005 is the first significant act in India to recognise domestic abuse as a punishable offence. A woman who is a victim of domestic violence will have the right to the services of the police, shelter homes and medical establishments. She also has the right to simultaneously file her own case. “The law is there for women with children who are trying to escape an abusive marriage,” says Manisha who has worked with countless women wishing to find some peace in a physically violent marriage.

What is important to remember is that anyone in an abusive relationship can influence and change the dynamics of the relationship. The trauma and misery can be changed. It requires strength and overcoming tough hurdles but it can be achieved.

Signs of domestic abuse

Abuse could be verbal or violence that leads to physical injury. A fear of your partner who is in control which means you do not want to anger him. Self-loathing, desperation and helplessness are emotions that vie with each other constantly and which also has a fair amount of self-questioning. Possessive behaviour and extreme jealousy and forced sex are other signs. You are in an abusive relationship if these points echo your relationship.

Pattern of abuse

All organisations agree that there is a general pattern that takes place in domestic abuse.

There is the build up phase when the tension increases. Verbal attacks increase followed by an explosive phase with violent outbursts. Once the violence has been unleashed and spent then remorse sets in. This is a period of self doubt and also of laying the blame on the other person. After which there is a time of promises that it will never occur again. This is followed by the Honey moon phase where everything seems alright and there are no problems whatsoever.

If you suspect domestic abuse

Speak up and do ask for help for yourself or others. It is very important to listen and validate and offer your help and support. However, it is of paramount importance that you do not wait, pass judgement, ignore or blame anyone. The most important point to remember is not to wait but act now, at once, today, this very moment. Seema’s sister was brutally beaten and barely managed to escape with her life. Says Seema, “I wish I had pushed her more to confide in me. I saw the signs but closed my mind when she would not be drawn.” She adds remorsefully “I just let it be when she needed me the most.”

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One Response to “Don’t take the abuse”

  1. Manu May 7, 2011 at 6:11 pm #

    What is a fact is that these stories are not isolated. The above is an example of post marriage violence. What about pre-marriage violence? There is a girl in India, state of Uttarakhand who was assaulted, was attempted rape upon and when she resisted she was threatened of “honour killing” !!! Please see this video on Youtube (this is not a spam). I am putting this here in hope that someone from your place gets some help for such girls who are millions in number….this is shameful http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GTeYVNMOops

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