Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Agony behind Closed Doors!

Image from here
Written by Deepti Menon for the 16 Days Activism against Violence against Women

“His hands struck her any hour of the day, like hands that strike a clock, whether early, whether late; they strike, they strike.”
Anthony Liccione

They say that “Storms don’t last forever”. However, for a person who experiences the violence of the storm, it does appear to last forever, leaving him or her in a state of utter shock and vulnerability. Domestic violence is a very real phenomenon in today’s world. It must have been so in the past as well, except that it occurred covertly behind closed doors, and within bedrooms whose walls would have screamed out in pain, had they been able to talk.

Domestic violence occurs in unequal relationships, when within a relationship, one partner dominates the other, and causes him or her physical or mental agony. The weaker partner is cowed down by fear, intimidation and sometimes even guilt, and accepts the punishment in abject silence. This kind of violence could happen between husband and wife or between gay couples, and while women are more commonly the victims, there are myriad cases where men are also abused.

Marriage is considered a meeting of equal minds. However, in cases of domestic violence, the aggressor feels that he owns his partner. He often resorts to verbal abuse, constantly puts her down with criticism and wounds her self-esteem. He belittles her accomplishments and tears her confidence down, brick by brick, until her world is completely demolished. This is emotional abuse and it is as destructive as any other kind of abuse.

Often the stronger partner resorts to physical violence that can hurt the other person, through beatings and use of force. Battered wives often hide the damaging truth by staying silent, out of extreme fear or lack of self confidence. Doctors often find women coming in with inexplicable injuries on their bodies, which they try to pass off as accidents. “I fell down the stairs, Doctor!” Or “I hit my head on the bathroom door!” Their voices speak, but their eyes, bruised and terrified, tell a different tale.

Facebook does have its share of quotable quotes, this being one of the recent ones. “Most men aren’t smart enough to realize that the higher you elevate your woman, the less available she is to other men. When you break her down, you make her accessible to anyone she thinks will treat her better.” A very apt quote, for the time to move out of an abusive relationship is the first time physical violence is used!

There are also cases where the stronger partner tries to put a seal of possession over his weaker partner through sexual violence. Forcing oneself upon one’s partner is an act of aggression and violence and comes under the gamut of domestic violence, because it can lead to extreme injury, both physical and mental. One is reminded of the chilling quote by Haruki Murakami: “I am living in hell from one day to the next. But there is nothing I can do to escape. I don't know where I would go if I did. I feel utterly powerless, and that feeling is my prison. I entered of my own free will, I locked the door, and I threw away the key.” 

The Warning Signs
A person who is abused could exhibit a major personality change. For example, from a vivacious, bubbly person, she could turn into an introvert, afraid of her own shadow. Such people try to please their partners by agreeing to their every demand, even in public. The intimidation is apparent, even if they try to hide it. They monitor every action of theirs to seek their partner’s approval. As said earlier, they try to hide bruises and injuries by wearing sunglasses and clothes that cover their bodies. They live in a world of their own, shying away from friends and family members, not only because they are terrified, but because their self esteem is at an all time low.

A Helping Hand

A sympathetic eye and a caring heart can go a long way to help people who are fettered in a suffocating atmosphere of domestic violence. Such persons tremble to ask for help, but if an outsider holds their hand and promises to help them break the fetters, they will, no doubt, accept the proffered hand, and open up. They need to be heard, advised and supported. It was Salma Hayek who said, “No woman has to be a victim of physical abuse. Women have to feel like they are not alone.”

There are many groups working towards helping people heal from abusive relationships, groups for battered and abused women and men. Once the person is convinced that he or she will survive and heal better once out of the relationship, that is the time these groups can play a vital role in protecting and in getting legal help for the victim.

The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 has been enacted to protect women from domestic violence. If a magistrate is convinced that a prima facie case of domestic violence has taken place, he can pass protection and residence orders that prohibit the aggressor from approaching the victim at her work place or residence. The magistrate can also direct the aggressor to provide monetary relief and compensation to the victim for physical and mental harassment caused by acts of domestic violence. The victim can get temporary custody of her children, and the aggressor can be refused visiting rights, if the court feels that he might prove harmful to the said children. As a beautiful quote goes, “Relationships are like glass. Sometimes it’s better to leave them broken than hurt yourself trying to put it back together.”