Wife Beating – men batter women for trivial reasons
Vandana, a middle class house wife is a little late in coming home from the market. An enraged husband beats her up, giving her a black eye. Like all wife beaters, he needs only a flimsy excuse to physically abuse his wife. It could be because she has not cooked the vegetables properly, or has misplaced something in the house. When he is dissatisfied with her behaviour, he simply uses his fist to ‘discipline’ her! What is frightening is that many victims of wife battering have sustained serious injuries, sometimes even resulting in their death.
This is what we hear about in the documentary film Char Diwari ( Behind closed doors), directed by Gulshan Kripalani and Rinki Bhattacharya which was screened at Max Mueller Bhavan in Calcutta. It explodes several myths about wife battering.
Myths such as:
- Wife battering exists only in poverty stricken homes
- Wife batterers are usually drunkards or are mentally deranged in some way.
- Something is seriously wrong with the wife’s behavior and the husband is driven to beating her.
The film is exposes how wives in middle class and affluent homes are beaten up by educated men from liberal backgrounds. It also explores the isolation and terror of women trapped in violent marriages and the social response to domestic violence. Most important, the film tells us the story of four courageous women who decided to put a stop to the violence and start life afresh.
Yet, the question that haunts the viewer is: why didn’t the women fight back earlier? Why did they wait for so many years to leave their husbands?
As Luku Sanyal, news reader and daughter of a well known Bengali film actor, talks about her experience, the sense of shame and bewilderment is overpowering. ‘I was so utterly unprepared for what happened,’ she says about her violent marriage.
The shock and fear that battered women go through makes it difficult for them to leave. Also, they are emotionally and financially dependent on their husbands, which prevents them from seeking outside help.
Society often implies that the woman is not trying hard enough to make the marriage work, or that she is doing something wrong, that she deserves a beating.
Flavia Agnes, another battered woman and a mother of two children, explains how her husband used to dictate to her what to do…what to wear, what to eat, when to go out. He also demanded an account of every penny she spent, and tried to prevent her from making any outside contacts. Women like Flavia, in their lonely battle of nursing their grief, often become isolated from neighbours and friends.
There are thousands of women who go through what these women did and this mental and physical cruelty is on the rise. However, only few cases are reported, and those that are reported are just the tip of the ice berg. Women avoid going to the police as they want to protect their husbands.
Lata, a domestic featured in the film, says, ‘He is my husband and I thought, why should I be the one to bring trouble to him?’ She also hoped against hope that tone day the beatings would stop. They never did. Ultimately it was the concern for her child that made her leave. Even then, it was only after making contact with a woman’s organization that she could pluck up enough courage to make a clean break. Today Lata is settled and happy. She and her daughter live with a kind employer. To her joy, her child now attends school, something that he husband was against.
Flavia’s story is even more amazing. Her husband did not give her any money and she decided to earn a little from tuitions. Even this was disapproved off, and she was often beaten in front of her students. Defying her husband, she went to the university and got herself a lawyer’s degree. Today, she is a lawyer and lives independently and helps battered women fight for their rights.
Finally, it is the economic independence which can give a woman the self confidence to fight back. Rinki Bhattacharya, daughter of the legendary film maker Bimal Roy and one of the co – directors of the film, is herself the victim of wife battering. She admits that the most difficult problem after her divorce was an economic one. Rinki recalls:
I had to sell all my jewellery and work day and night to support myself and the children.
She did it, but for most battered women the economic problems can be insurmountable. For them, a woman’s welfare organization can be the only ray of hope. It’s a place not only to get some economic help, but also learn a vocation. Rinki runs an organization called ‘Help’ in Mumbai which provides counseling and aid to victims of domestic violence.
All the women featured in the documentary Char Diwari are those who have been aided by “Help”.
Though there are films like Char Diwari, they do not receive sufficient publicity. For instance, Char Diwari was aired only twice on DD 2, and that too at an odd time.
Such films not only increase our awareness of this problem but also because these stories of hope reach out to victims and help them cope with their anguish and give them strength to fight back.
(The article re-produced above was written by me and has appeared in The Telegraph, Calcutta. The graph however is sourced from the Times Of India and the statistics are current, 2006.)
(The following is a letter written by me which was published in the Times of India, Bangalore)
Sir – in her middle “ a Woman of Style”, Ms Nergis Dalal has quoted Ms Vijaylakshmi Pandit as saying ‘cooking, looking after the children, running the house, that is nothing…’ I was shocked to say the least. My respect for the ex–ambassador has touched rock bottom. I am surprised that a reputed paper like yours publishes such sexist views.
I need hardly add that being a mother and housekeeper is a full time job, demanding more energy, initiative and organising skills than any office job. Besides, caring for and nurturing the family is an essential need in any society and one wishes that people would give this occupation the respect it deserves.
Two reputed organisations have carried out studies on this subject.
1. The WHO global study called The Women’s Health and Domestic Violence Against Women study is based on interviews with more than 24,000 women in 10 countries – Brazil, Japan, Ethiopia, Peru, Samoa, Bangladesh, Namibia, Tanzania, Serbia and Montenegro.
- One in six women worldwide suffers domestic violence.
- Women suffer broken bones, bruises, burns, cracked skulls, dislocated jaws, rape and ofcourse – terror.
- Domestic violence remains largely hidden as many women suffer silently.
- Physically or sexually-abused women were more likely to suffer longer-term health problems, including depression.
- Often, the woman herself believes that the man is justified in beating her.
2. The second study by Oxfam (an UK based charity) says that the problem is South Asia is much worse. As many as one in every two women faces domestic violence.
Oxfam has also drawn up a profile of the wife-beater:
- All wife beaters believe in male domination. These men have certain rules and regulations that women should follow, and if the women don’t follow them, they are subjected to violence and/or verbal abuse.
- Another type of man hits out in a fit of anger or in an alcoholic stupor when he doesn’t get what he wants from the woman, or because she does not give him ‘respect’. These type of men often repent temporarily.
- There is an even more dangerous kind of wife-beater. He does not believe in any moral or social conventions. He believes that the woman is his property and that he can do anything he likes with her. He will gratify any of his perverted, violent and sexual desires without any regard for the woman’s safety.
Related Reading: India’s pathetic sex-ratio
Why Indians want sons
How the media portrays women
Do women really fast for the men?
Cooking is not considered an activity that is respected
Single mothers face an uphill task
Is India far better than the United States when it comes to political empowerment of women?