Monday, March 12, 2012

A poet-activist's horrific, first-person account of domestic violence

I don't know why some women continue to stay in an abusive relationship.

My advice to women, if they ask for it: If your man hits you even once, walk out. He is going to do it again. And again.

My advice to men, if they ask for it: Never ever raise your hand against a woman. No situation or circumstance can justify violence against women. I have no respect for wife- or girlfriend-beaters.

Why am I talking about this now? It's because I have just finished reading Meena Kandasamy's horrific tale her own story of domestic violence in the latest issue of Outlook.

Here's a chilling excerpt:

The first time he hits me, I remember I hit him back. Retaliation can work between well-matched rivals, but experience teaches me that a woman who weighs less than a hundred pounds should think of other options. It also teaches me other things. I learn that anything can become an instrument of punishment: twisted computer power-cords, leather belts, his bare hands that I once held with all the love in the world. His words sharpen his strikes. If I deliver a quick blow, your brains will spill out, he says. His every slap shatters me. Once, when he strangulates me, I imbibe the silence of a choked throat.

And when I tell him that I want to walk out of the marriage, he wishes me success in a career as a prostitute, asks me to specialise in fellating, advices me to use condoms. I shrink and shrivel and shout back and shed a steady stream of tears. He smiles at his success.

Kandasamy, a poet, writer, activist, and translator, walks out of the marriage ultimately and moves back to her parents' home in Chennai. But she suffers, and suffers terribly, because she is reluctant to call it quits. And why is she reluctant? She explains at the beginning of her article:

In the early days, his words win me back: I don’t have anything if I don’t have you. In this honeymoon period, every quarrel follows a predictable pattern: we make up, we make love, we move on. It becomes a bargain, a barter system. For the sake of survival, I surrender my space.

Read the article in its entirety here: "I singe the body electric".
  • Photography courtesy: Outlook
  • UPDATE (March 14, 2012): As I expected, Meena Kandasamy's heart-rending account of her violent marriage has drawn a flood of responses from readers. Read their comments here.

Brutal. We've done so many features on abuse and when we started, I used to wonder why the women took it. Why didn't they just get up and leave? And then, in telling their stories and speaking to victims, shelter workers and those who counsel abused women, I learned how very difficult it is to break the cycle of abuse. 

It follows a pattern, as though there were a manual for abusers. They isolate the women, make them feel worthless, abuse them and threaten them with worse if they dare to leave. There's the fear of not being accepted by one's own family. As one woman who has written a book on her own experience says, when a Western woman leaves a marriage, she leaves a man. When a South Asian woman leaves a marriage, she is often excommunicated by disapproving parents, siblings and the extended family for having stepped out of her role. I can't give you the name of the book as it is yet to be published, I read the manuscript as she wanted a blurb for the cover. But she describes the situation a majority of the victims find themselves in when she says the women who choose individual freedom over cultural practices are among the loneliest creatures in the world.

"WHEN KIDS ARE INVOLVED": If there are children involved, it's even more complicated. One women told me she was beaten viciously and often but took it because her husband threatened to keep the kids away from her if she left she was a stay-at-home mom and with no money, felt she had little chances of being able to look after them on her anyway. One day, when her daughter screamed at her to leave before she got killed, she did go, but came back after sleeping for two days in her car. It broke my heart when she said she would have gone back to the same abuse if he hadn't changed the locks. 

Meena Kandasamy's experience is nightmarish. And yet, horrible as it sounds, she is one of the fortunate ones in that she managed to escape and her family welcomed her back, supported her. She could pour out her anguish in her writing. Countless others are silenced, pushed right back into their abusive homes. That's their lot in life, they are told, deal with it. 

"MEN GET BEATEN UP, TOO": After we did a cover on spousal abuse, I actually had someone call and say it was one-sided, that men get beaten up too. Of course they do. But not in such numbers, not in such horrific ways. But even if for the sake of argument we said they did, that still does not take away the women's rights to tell their stories. And the more I hear/read such stories, the more angry and frustrated I get. The more helpless I feel.
  • ALSO READ: Journalist Nita Bhalla, who covers women's issues in South Asia for the BBC, recounts the lingering scars physical and mental from an assault on her and draws a wider lesson about violence against women in India: "Becoming an abuse statistic in patriarchal India".

1 comment:

  1. While physical abuse is painful. Emotional abuse is unescapable, often innocently done, a whole life can wither away in pain and loneliness and with no-one to witness it, even harder to prove to oneself...


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