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I was born in an age when it was assumed by the general majority that it was quite okay if the man hit his wife occasionally (all for her own good) or even on a regular basis for her ostensible ‘mistakes’ like putting too much salt in the curry or not serving the tea at that right temperature.  Ohh he has got a temper the ladies of the house would whisper in awe scurrying to do his bidding making sure they did it his way. They, the women, never thought anything was too amiss if the man roared in anger or slapped or sent the plate of food flying because he found a tiny stone in the rice. They only stood there scared hanging their head in shame, trying to be that perfect representation of all-suffering womanhood.

I have had the misfortune to have had a ringside view to many such incidents in my childhood. Of course not just such mild ones, but also ones where yanking of hair and slapping hard enough for teeth to get dislodged not to mention black eyes and bruises all over the body and such were common. It happened all around me. It seemed a part of life. The women carried on as usual, injuries and all, and the men, some pillars of society, others so mild mannered and soft-spoken that one could scarce believe that there had been a tornado raging inside their house the previous night with frightened children witnessing horrifying scenes or worse, being at the receiving end of well aimed kicks and blows.

Sometimes alcohol was the reason, but some men didn’t need any such stimulant to fly off the handle and start physically abusing their partner and frightening the children out of their wits. An imagined slight from someone in her family was enough a pretext to start the show. People not directly involved either whispered among themselves in sympathy or laughed in derision as it wasn’t happening to them. No one interfered; it was after all a part of married life, a woman’s accepted lot. From the illiterate to the educated memsahibs, they all took it in their stride.

Even as a child, my blood pressure shot up when I witnessed such scenes of violence. I longed to barge in and give a piece of MY mind to the bullies and their pliant victims. My blood boiled in anger and roared in my ears. I clenched my fists in anger as my heart raced. I so wanted the women to object to what was happening, hit him back and throw him out of the house. I wanted the women to stand up and look the perpetrator in the eye and say, “No, you will not!” None of them did of course. Some of them groveled trying to please their Lord, others stood dumb, some answered the questions he hurled but got hit anyway, others argued or even abused in return which then became a free for all. But none of them stood up straight looked the man in the eye and said, “No you will not!”

I brooded long and hard about it. The unfairness of it ate my insides even as a child. How can someone use his brute strength this way?? Wasn’t his adult partner a human being worthy of respect?? Did adults settle things in this manner?? It was not even an equal way of settling things. One of the partners was not allowed to hit back, or defend herself. No one helped the victim of domestic violence and she had to carry on as if this nothing untoward had happened, as if she somehow had deserved it. People, including the woman herself excused such behavior as temporary aberration, the effect of stress at the work place, the temporary effect of alcohol some such balderdash. And lets not even look at what people said if the woman had done something ‘wrong’ in the eyes of society, in which case she was supposed to have ‘deserved’ it! The worst one of them all was the argument put forward by the suffering woman herself, “I was somehow the reason for this”

Were humans allowed to hit each other citing stress and alcohol as reason?? Did adults settle things by punching the other?? Was that the law of the land?? Then how come violence at home by the husband on his wife is condoned and accepted as normal?? And why were the women taking it all meekly?? My child brain could never understand. If we the children had a fight, one or other of the parents in the neighborhood would step in and threaten us with punishment and warn us to settle our disputes amicably. If siblings had fights parents punished them. Then how come it was okay for the man to punch his wife for something she had done or not done??

Why do some women take abuse whether physical or verbal?? There are a lot of reasons perhaps, like lack of financial security, dependence on the spouse, to keep the home intact and unbroken for the children, lack of support to move out and set oneself up, fear of ostracism from society et al. But even where these are not applicable people do stay in abusive relationships. Is it a matter of low self-esteem?? Or the misplaced belief that she can set things right, the love of the victim for the supposed dependence of the perpetrator of the violence on her at other better times??

What my ears and eyes and brain gathered from all around made man as a gender fall down several rungs in my young eyes. Anyone who used brute strength to settle things with his partner was not a worthy human being I decided all those years back. I looked (and still do) at such men with disdain and contempt. They were lower life-forms than the lowest of worms in my eyes.

Moreover, I decided, when I grew up and got married, I was NOT going to take any such behavior from the man I would marry. I had my argument ready, “You wanna hit?? How about hitting the concrete wall over there if you have the guts??!” No economic consideration or ‘for the sake of children’ argument was going to work with me. If ever it happened to me, I was going to walk out and make my life on my own, however poor I was going to be.  I was going to be the change I wanted to see. If each of us made our own life an example of what we believed in we wouldn’t have to go far to have done our bit.

All this was so long ago. But I look around and see things haven’t changed all that much. It is true that earlier police wouldn’t register a case against the husband if the wife was a victim of domestic violence. Things have changed since in the legal sense. But reality is something else. The law does help. A change in the attitude of people towards domestic violence is necessary. Yet, part of the answer to this problem lies in the way girl children are raised. Teaching her some self-respect, instilling self-esteem and making her self reliant may lessen the problem to some extent, only to some extent. Violence has to be condemned unequivocally at all levels by everyone concerned. What if it is happening inside the four walls of the house next door??!! Bell bajaana hi hai!

This is my entry for the Indusladies International Women’s Day Blog Contest

I now tag MRC, Pal and Sandhya. and since an extra one won’t hurt, my sis Shivaja too.