Behind Closed Doors: Growing up with domestic violence in India
In her latest column, Kiran Manral addresses the issue of domestic violence in India and takes the example of Secret Superstar to make the point that we must raise our voice and challenge any conversations that normalise abuse.
The other day the offspring went with the spouse to watch Secret Superstar. He returned, his face crumpled up with questions. “Mamma, Insu’s pappa was beating her mamma so badly, every time. Aisey bhi pappa hotey hai?”
It was a cruel lesson, one that he had been insulated from all these years. Yes, I told him, there were pappas like those who beat up mammas. It wasn’t something he had ever seen, he’s grown up in a position of privilege. That someone would beat another so mercilessly, for the most trivial of reasons shocked him. As did the fact that the woman did not fight back.
“But why didn’t Insu’s mamma beat him back,” he asked, “She was taller and stronger than him.”
“Because she was scared,” I told him, “She was scared of being thrown out of the house with her children, and having nowhere to go.”
“This only happens in small cities, na, it doesn’t happen here, in Bombay,” he asked. “It happens everywhere,” I told him, “small cities, big cities, towns, villages, upper class, lower class, rich people, poor people.”
It was a question I had no answer to. I could tell him about a friend who was beaten up so badly by her husband that her hand was fractured, and she had bruises all over her body.
The consternation and horror on his face grew. “Insu’s father was an engineer and still he was beating her mother. Even after being educated?”
It was a question I had no answer to. I could tell him about a friend who was beaten up so badly by her husband that her hand was fractured, and she had bruises all over her body. He bashed her head against the shower head and caused her a concussion. This was a man with an MBA from the US and in a very senior position in a financial firm. I could tell him about the professor in my neighbourhood, while I was growing up, a professor in a reputed college who ended his day on a regular basis beating up his wife while the neighbours who initially intervened, slowly gave up. I could tell him about a dear friend, well educated, highly placed, very beautiful, who wore thick concealer and dark glasses approximately once a month to work to hide the bruises her suspicious husband gave her in his drunken fits. I could tell him about a school friend who left her marital home overnight after her husband flogged her black and blue with his belt. She took nothing with her, just the clothes on her back, and her three month old in her arms. Her husband, third generation business family.
It happens, I had to tell him, across the uneducated and the educated. That degrees were no indication that a man would not raise his hand on a woman, especially given the sense of entitlement that centuries of patriarchy had infused in him. Insiya’s father was not the only one. Behind closed doors, there were many more engineer sahebs who considered it their birthright to beat up their wives for misdemeanors as minor as not switching a geyser on, or not putting enough salt in the food cooked.
Perhaps the most telling part in the movie was when Insiya told her mother that staying on would result in nothing but her younger brother Guddu growing up to be a fractional bit better than his father. The cycle of abuse would continue. This statement brought to mind a horrifying statistic that had been haunting me ever since I read it. In 2012, UNICEF released a Global Report Card on Adolescents. In it, were the shocking statistics that 57% of boys and 53% of girls in India think a husband is justified in hitting or beating his wife.The report also stated, “Available data for developing countries show that nearly 50% of girls and women aged 15-49 believe that wife beating is justified… girls aged between 15 and 19 years hold the same views as women in the 45-49 age group.”
shocking statistics that 57% of boys and 53% of girls in India think a husband is justified in hitting or beating his wife
Growing up with domestic violence, either in the home or in the neighbourhood normalises it for children. Girls who grow up seeing their mothers the victims of domestic violence may internalise the attitude that this is inevitable and a part of every marriage. Toxicity within the home affects the children. A girl who grows up seeing her father being abusive towards her mother is more likely to choose a partner with similar traits, and if there is abuse and violence in her relationship, she is more likely to be accepting of it. A boy growing up in a situation seeing his mother assaulted on a regular basis may have the notion that such behaviour is expected of a man and behave the same way as his father did when he grows up and gets into a relationship or gets married. Physical violence is not abnormal for these children, it is an inescapable truth that they witness and go on to replicate subconsciously. The cycle continues.
Growing up with domestic violence, either in the home or in the neighbourhood normalises it for children
For the purposes of this column, let’s focus on physical violence, though most dysfunctional marriages have a combination of sexual, emotional and physical abuse. Also, while the common perception is that of the male being the perpetrator of physical violence, it bears note that there are enough cases where the woman is the one being violent and the man is the abused partner. In Indian joint families, a woman might experience violence not just from her husband but also from her mother in law and the rest of the family.
Domestic violence is not the aberration in India, sadly, it seems to be too common although under reporting of cases makes the statistics seem abysmally low. Nonetheless, they are alarming. According to Wikipedia, “According to a National Family and Health Survey in 2005, total lifetime prevalence of domestic violence was 33.5% and 8.5% for sexual violence among women aged 15–49.The instance of violence was reported to be lowest among Buddhist and Jain women, and highest among Muslim women in India.”
Domestic violence in India
Of course, one of the reasons for the low rates of intimate partner domestic violence is the abysmally low percentage of cases that actually get reported. A survey found that only 1% of women who experience violence within a marriage report it. In 2006, the then Union Minister for Women and Child Development stated that 70 per cent of women in India are victims of domestic violence. A 2013 BBC report stated that of the 309,546 crimes reported against women, 118,866 were for domestic violence alone.
What impact does growing up in a home environment with domestic violence have on the mind of a young child?
Domestic violence trends in India based on the 2005-2006 India National Family Health Survey III stated that 31% of respondents had experience some physical violence in the 12 months prior to the survey. Interesting, a study by Michael Koenig about the determinants of domestic violence in India published by the American Journal of Public Health in 2006, stated that higher socioeconomic status reduced domestic abuse. According to a 2005 study published in World Development, domestic violence was also correlated with dowry expectations. Hitting and abuse in such cases often escalated to dowry deaths. Beyond patriarchy and dowry, other factors that affect rates of domestic violence are low education, poverty, marriage when young, having many children and more, according to a 1999 study published by the American Journal of Epidemiology.
And all we can do is hopefully is keep asking the questions of ourselves, no matter how uncomfortable they are
What impact does growing up in a home environment with domestic violence have on the mind of a young child? How does it affect his or her thought process? What is the environment we have created if over half our adolescents feel that domestic violence is justified? What does this augur for the next generation of homemakers? These are disturbing questions that have no comfortable answers. And all we can do is hopefully is keep asking the questions of ourselves, no matter how uncomfortable they are. And teaching our girls to stand up for themselves.