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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Bells and pink chaddis

There is an ad that sets my teeth on edge. It tells you to ring the doorbell if you hear a woman being beaten or abused. Yes it will work for a couple of minutes, but the man will go back to beating his wife, because she is still frightened and tearful. I personally know of too many women who are beaten or brow-beaten by their husbands. Beating is physical violence, brow-beating is mental violence, but both have one aim in mind – to destroy the woman’s belief in herself.

I know a maidservant whose husband would put his fist into a steel tumbler and punch her in the eye. Why didn’t she leave him, I asked. Then who will do the kanyadan for my daughters when they marry? He died a year later of cirrhosis of the liver and a few years later she got all her daughters married.

I know a middle-class woman who caught her husband in flagrante delicto with their maidservant. She sacked the maid and he began beating her regularly. Why did she take the beatings when she was a solidly built woman and could give him a proper thrashing? I don’t know; I just cannot raise my hand to him, she said.

I know an aristocrat who is pushed around and brow-beaten by her husband who is a respected member of society and has the morals of an alley-cat. Why don’t you throw him out? I can’t, she said, I love him.

An abuser is often extremely charming to outsiders, making it difficult for a woman to complain about emotional abuse. An old friend far from having a happy marriage was being brow-beaten by her husband, continuously and methodically so that now she is a nervous wreck with no family and nowhere to turn if he should throw her out of her marital home. An abuser first isolates his partner from her friends, family and colleagues, then sets out to destroy her sense of self-worth in her own eyes. Finally her self-esteem becomes so eroded that she diminishes what is happening to her. She becomes so psychologically battered and socially isolated that she believes whatever her husband tells her about herself.

Research has it that men who bully their wives are emasculated and see the terrified battered woman as an antidote to that emasculation. The mystery is why does a woman allow this treatment? There are solutions. One wife told me that after he hit her the first and only time, she told her husband with a chilling smile that the kitchen is an armoury by itself, equipped as it is with cleavers, scissors, knives, grinding stones, poisons, boiling oil, boiling water, boiling custards (which one hears inflicts the worst kind of burn because it sticks to the skin and continues cooking) and gas. She told him that he had to eat and he had to sleep, so he would do well to think many times before hitting her again.

The solution is to stop it the first time it happens. If it happens a second time, walk away and start your own life. The trouble with most women is that they feel the power of their love will change the man. Or if they don’t fight back the beating and brow-beating will end. Sadly this does not happen. And when they finally realize it, it is just too late; the pattern has set.

Goa’s police too, including the Women’s Cell, tend to treat wife-beating as a minor domestic spat. It is only when Chief Counsellor of the All India Women’s Conference, Goa Unit, Madhuri Rao’s name is used that they are galvanized into action.

Yet the times they are a-changing for the better. If an internet campaign against the Sri Ram Sene can get 7000 women and men of all ages to join not only in cyberspace but also in the flesh to send a message in the form of cartons full of pink chaddis to the head of this group; chances are the day is not far when battered women will find shelter and support in their immediate neighbourhood. Until then, don’t just ring the bell. Give him hell.

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