There are a few questions that come to my mind when I think of violence against women. Please don’t get me wrong. I am not justifying violence in any form, but I feel that it is very difficult to define violence that is subtle and difficult to prove. A couple may be leading a normal life. A small act that hurts her self respect may not amount to violence as such but leaves a scar all the same. Let me explain-
I’ll call her N because women like her are seen in our neighborhood, workplace and just about everywhere. She led a normal life with her husband and children – the kind most middle class women lead. Her husband gave her a fair amount of freedom and had no problem when she wanted to go to see her brother’s daughter who had been diagnosed with blood cancer with very little chance of survival. She spent a week with the ailing child and returned. Within a week after her return the child passed away. This was a grief that had shattered her parents since the girl was the first grand daughter and they could just not cope with the loss. That apart, N’s brother and sister in law had not opted for a second child and with the sister in law having crossed 35 years of age, it was not clear if she would think of another child and who would have the courage to bring up the subject. N wanted to visit them again even if it was only to shed a few tears with them. She could not concentrate on her work with the memories of her niece haunting her. Her husband was adamant. There was no purpose in her going a second time and that too within a week of her return. It was not unexpected. The dead niece was no blood relative of his and he did not share her grief. According to him, he had done his duty by sending N to her brother’s place when the child was alive. N’s parent agreed. They asked N not to disturb the running of her house, the child would not return anyway. She could come over when the children’s vacations started. N left it at that. But something within her went missing. She became numb with grief.
It was then that trouble started. Her husband began to pester her for his routine quota of sex but she was in no mood to oblige. Even when she did yield it was just a mechanical act and her husband could sense that and he became very angry. N said that this was all she could offer, take it or leave it. He could have been gentle with her. Showed her that he cared for her feelings and abstained for a few weeks. But no, he accused her of behaving as if she had lost her own child, forcing himself on her and blaming her if she did not satisfy him in bed. To her, he seemed a different person from the man she had known for the past 15 years. Like an animal she thought in her uncharitable moments. It would be months before she forgave him for his behavior. She confided her agony to me in a weak moment. I suggested counseling. But her husband refused to accompany her.
“You are the mad person” he had said. “I am very normal. You can go on your own if you want”
Had he accompanied her to a counselor the wound that he had unknowingly caused would have healed without leaving a trace. Now the wound has healed but the scar remains.
The purpose of my narrating this story is to ask –
Several such acts of mental torture take place and a woman feels helpless in dealing with her hurt. Society may not call this an act of violence. A man cannot be denied his conjugal right they say. Is a woman not supposed to grieve? Had he allowed N to go on a two day visit to her brother’s place she would have been spared of a lot of mental agony.
Another case is that of K. She is not in the best of moods when she has her periods and her husband knows it. He provokes her and she gets upset. They quarrel like school children and sometimes resort to actually hitting each other. She is physically the weaker one and he gives her a sound thrashing. On one occasion she was so badly battered that she had to take leave from work for three days. When the two make up, he somehow convinces her that she was responsible and she ends up feeling guilty. Again here the husband refuses to accompany her for counseling sessions. Yes, she was responsible in a way, but she claims to have told him repeatedly that he should leave her alone on those three days. Is it not his duty to get her some kind of psychiatric treatment? Is beating her up a solution? What if he inflicts a fatal wound and she dies? I am told that it almost happened on one occasion.
These are cases that do not merit a divorce. But they are serious issues and need to be addressed nonetheless.