I generalize here but my generalizations have so often been the face of reality that I cannot ignore them.
In the drawing rooms and clubs of privileged India, I have heard violence against women spoken of in ways that speak more about the bindings of an insidious conditioning as they do about violence itself. Heads are shaken sadly about maids who have been beaten up and abandoned by their men. This is usually linked with the sorry state of the maids, how they can’t go home, or how she was in a sad mood, how she can’t see her children – the poor thing. There is not much anger here. There is however an a vague compassion and underlying sense of pride i and magnanimity; we are making their lives better than that hell-hole. Then there is that scandal, that one story sometimes about ‘someone we know’ where he beats her. There is curiosity highlighted by gossip. It is also offensive since its closer home, a bit of outrage, but its hard to get too involved except perhaps by lending a shoulder, an ear.
On the whole (and here I generalize even while there are exceptions) Violence against Women is something out there – tragic but blurred, vague, details unknown – a cause. There is a degree of anger directed against some broad segment – men, government, politicians, mothers-in-laws, panchayats, the education system. There are jokes too – for when you don’t want to get too close and get uncomfortable, you find ways to distance yourself. The distance could also be regional and economic. Those are the usual hollow buffers set up protectively, preventing awareness.
Scratch below the surface, listen and explore, and there is a rampant violence which can startle you, a violence even the women deny because admitting to it may destroy fragile identities, social standing and perceived security. The violence takes many forms, the most common and eventually the most erosive being that which takes away choice. From the patterns of daily life, family relationships, social commitments and structures, even food and dress to the choice of work and leisure and an engagement with the world, a woman’s freedom of choice is violated time and again. Often, she doesn’t recognize the violation till its too late and by which time the pain and damage is construed as her own vacillation, a phase of her life, and often a depression – but always, as her failure. There is (also common) the violence against her identity – and you see this often even in families which seem supportive – spouses, in-laws, even children who ‘lovingly’ mock her ignorance, her idiosyncrasies, her feminine frailties and preoccupation with the less serious business of life. There are too many women I have met whose sense of worth and esteem have been intrusively violated and who think they are to blame. There are women who are successful at work and whose very energies are violated by expectations at home. And yes, there are the women, and too many of them, in these privileged circles, who encounter physical and emotional abuse, sexual violence, neglect, and cannot break free, cannot make a scene, cannot fight back – no, cannot even admit it. Its just not done. So, unacknowledged, least expected, the violence against women springs up in groups where you and I may deceive ourselves and believe that these are the people – both men and women- who are set up to be progressive, and with their education, privilege and influence might be strong voices in fighting the violence against women. Think again. And also think of what would make it possible to accept and fight against the injustice of it.
~ Thoughts-in-Progress ~ Anita Vasudeva, co founder Fleximoms