Often pneumonia is initially mistaken for common cold, but then it fills the lungs and kills. Women and their domestic tragedies are the same – pneumonia treated like common cold. Ignored. Overlooked. Underobserved.
Last week it was Mandeep Kaur’s heart-wrenching videos: first of the footage of the abuse where you can hear the kids howling from behind, and then the suicide admission video where she says she could not bear even a single beating anymore. Mandeep was living in New York with her husband and two kids. Mandeep was only 30 and had gone through every possible trauma known to a woman in the last 8 years, recently been kidnapped and locked up in a truck container where she had to clean up her urine and excrement for days, videos of which her husband sent back to her parents demanding dowry of Rs 50 lakh. Mandeep’s story is not the first one, not even the last.
Darlings released just a while ago and has been taking the Indian TV rooms by storm. Not just the acting skills of Vijay Varma, Alia Bhatt, and Shefali Shah, but also the storyline that openly explores domestic abuse and its normalisation. With a salty dark comedy theme, Darlings also explores how women are forgiving in a desperate hope of turning around domestic situations for good. There should be more content like Darlings so that abuse isn’t taken for granted.
According to an ORF report, women aged 15-49 years living in the least developed countries have a 37% lifetime prevalence of domestic violence. Among younger women (15-24), the risk is even higher, with one of every four women who have ever been in a relationship facing some form of violence. And these are just official figures.
Every other day, small news pop-ups remind us of who we are – a society normalising the beating of women, suicides of abused women, and the ignored shrieks of domestic clashes. As we read and re-read the horrors of hyperlocal news bulletins, closer to our homes, time and again, some of us, mostly women, cannot fail to slide into the psyche of those who had given up – but not before raising an alarm with their trusted set of family and friends. Don’t you remember the case of three sisters jumping into a well in Rajasthan a few weeks ago, along with their kids just because of the trauma of domestic abuse?
There is a lot common between these tragedies and ours – yet there is something different. What is common is that domestic abuse is as prevalent in the Indian cultural system as the existence of the mangalsutra, as evident as henna on our palms and as recurrent as period pains. It is different too – in privilege, that comes along with the abuse.
Some women are financially independent to take the bold step of walking out, some have support from parents to call out the torture (both mental and physical) and some are saved by the law. This privilege doesn’t come to the maximum. Maybe not even to 99% of the women around us because sometimes the victim doesn’t know anything outside the zone of abuse – the mind doesn’t accept that there can be a future that can be a safe place. And so, women tell other women – “It’s ok, happens to me too”, “This is common, don’t think much about it”, “Oh! Men get angry all the time, keep them happy with the ways of the bedroom and the kitchen”. We aren’t progressing. We aren’t learning. We are not accepting that abuse is not normal. Every day around us, we see women compromising for the greater good, often at the cost of their own respect, dignity, and sanity.
At other times when it’s the domestic torture of the in-laws, men tend to just be apathetic and wear noise-cancellation headphones, pretending everything is okay. Sometimes I think, when you are going to gift the bride something, along with the Shagun, you might as well write the note “Adjust kar lena”.
Was my humour inappropriate? Dark? Why won’t it be? For a problem that feeds on the boasting of the hyperculturism of the South Asian customs, women are marched to the pyre of adjustment every single day of their married life and develop either no defence mechanism or a reactive behavioural change that can fall into a borderline personality disorder. The problem starts by feeling homeless, because according to the reeti-rivaaj, you become the paraya dhan and then, no sardardi of the parents. You enter a fully functional adulting home at say, 28, and start by understanding overgrown babies, one step at a time, with a smile plastered on your face and an overnight replacement of mummyji and papaji. Then, every Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, you diligently upload two pictures to not miss out on the aadarsh bahu tag. But somewhere in between, if you question one custom, one slight “kyun”, the sky falls apart and the earth says, “aaja main tujhe kha leti hun”.
Also, the deafness of the ‘mayka’, the nexus of ‘log’ who will do the socheinge, and the guilt of being unfair to the kids by being a mom who walks out and breaks the family forever, is what cultivates the trap for suicide. For a woman, who loves her kids unconditionally, how impossible does survival look to her when she sees endless pits around her, with no bridges and no light at the end of the tunnel in sight?
Khushboo Mattoo is a columnist with Network18 Group writing on Art, Entertainment and Society. She loves Sheer Chai and Katlam and all things Kashmiri in between. You can reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.