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when-I-Hit-You

The experience of violence that women face behind closed doors is a global disease. There are no boundaries, cultural or social, for this violence, as it is deeply ingrained in a society that is patriarchal. Domestic Violence is a phenomenon that is usually accepted within families and is brushed under the carpet as a matter that is personal, so others should not be involved. There is a sort of ridicule attached, if the victim of domestic abuse were to approach the police to file her grievance and seek protection. In India after a long struggle by women’s groups and legal activists, the Parliament passed a law in October 2006, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 (PWDA). Section 3 of the law defines domestic violence as “any act, omission or commission or conduct of the respondent shall constitute domestic violence in case it:

  1. harms or injures or endangers the health, safety, life, limb or well-being, whether mental or physical, of the aggrieved person or tends to do so and includes causing physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal and emotional abuse and economic abuse; or
  2. harasses, harms, injures or endangers the aggrieved person with a view to coerce her or any other person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any dowry or other property or valuable security; or
  3. has the effect of threatening the aggrieved person or any person related to her by any conduct mentioned in clause (a) or clause (b); or
  4. Otherwise injures or causes harm, whether physical or mental, to the aggrieved person.”

The law provides protection to women from household abuse which could vary from physical, mental, sexual and economic and that is reason to celebrate. But how many women are actually aware of this protection and how well is the judicial system equipped to deal with the various and diverse cases is a question that still remains. Sadly stories from around the country answers this question in the negative.

There is enough data on this violation of human rightsthat could make one shudder. The National Family Health Survey 4 (NFHS 4), suggests that in India, ever married women who have experienced violence by a spouse is 28.8%, which is 31.4 % in rural areas and 23.6% in urban. While the statistic is a cause of worry, my guess is that it could be even worse given that a matter like domestic violence is one that is quite sensitive to report. World Health Organisation (2013) tells us that 30% of women globally are affected by domestic violence and 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence.While numbers cause a sense of anger and distress, accounts and stories from women themselves who are victims and have emerged as survivors really breaks your spirit as a woman in many ways but also gives hope at the same time. A recent such account is by author Meena Kandasamy in her book, “When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife”, which describesher own encounter with domestic violence. Meena’s writing is brilliant, you also feel a sense of gratitude towards her,for penning down her experience so sincerely and honestly as it requires a lot of courage. As you move through the book, you realise the gradual buildup of violence within a home and the pattern that emerges.

It broke my heart to see the woman in the book lose her confidence and identity and finally turn into a ghost, while the man who was subjecting this violence became all mighty and powerful. The home was turned into a battleground where the woman had to strategise to finally plan her escape as there was no way she could approach her neighbours or the local police.  I am pretty sure most women will be able to relate to the pattern that Meena narrates in the book, though one may not have experienced it exactly that way. But the man, like a parasite, drawing power and strength from abusing a woman is all too familiar.

I find Kandasamy’s account a great read but it is also important from the perspective of understanding and helping women who are victims of domestic violence, it prompts you to go beyond the data. Narratives like these help stakeholders recognize patterns and design the nature of interventions and support systems at different points. As a country we need to celebrate our success in reducing domestic violence based on what surveys like NFHS indicate but assessing the nature of domestic violence is equally important. For example there is one part in the book where the man tortures himself in order for his wife to give in to his demands, many might not consider this domestic violence but it surely is, as it affects the mental health of the woman and the right action is required. So it’s high time we listen to women who have been victims of domestic violence to be able to design and provide better solutions.

Neha Saigal is a Development Consultant interested in woman and child rights

One Comment

  1. K SHESHU BABU says:

    A much less talked about topic is domestic violence. The books and novels written are very few dealing with legal rights of women in case of domestic violence. There is a need to spread awareness among both men and women regarding rights on domestic violence so that women can come out and speak