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In my growing years I had no knowledge of the term ‘Domestic Violence’ or its repercussions. Whatever little we saw in films, was a very distant, almost mythical representation of violence, which was certainly not prevalent or visible in our urban surroundings. Its not that the adults, including my parents, never fought, but their fights were mostly verbal, sometimes very silent, or long drawn debates and arguments but always very controlled and measured and often we were never exposed to their differences.
I was about 18 when we shifted into a very up-market housing society. The neighbors are mostly very polite, highly educated, progressive group of people. My mother soon found a group of ladies who formed a club, to organize various, social, cultural events, opening a library, plantings trees etc. As an active member she would often initiate many activities and would come back and discuss all their activities with my father.
One Sunday, some ladies of her club came to our house, there was a huddled discussion and they went out for a meeting. When she came back she looked visibly upset and very agitated. Assuming it was just another of her club issues, me and my sister didn’t ask her anything. We guessed it was something quiet disturbing, as she just sat quietly without talking to anyone. But as soon as my father came out to ask her what happened, she burst into her narrative. She and her club members had gone to another member’s house as mediators. I listened gaping with horror that our gentle looking neighbors had been regularly beating their young bride.
I couldn’t imagine that the handsome looking man, whose wedding we attended barely 3 months back, was accused of abusing his fairly educated wife. It was something very shocking for me. I just couldn’t put the face of the man, the pretty wife and the polite family in a frame that is quiet repulsive and violent. My mother by then was getting quiet upset, “You know what the father-in-law told me,” she was telling my father. “Its ok, Mrs.Das, we didn’t hit her that much. A husband, if angry can always slap his wife, if she is not listening to him. I’m sure Mr.Das has also slapped you sometimes.” My father, who was pacing up and down till then, stopped and frowned at my mom. Both of us sisters were unsure what was going to be his reaction.
He didn’t say a word, instead kept staring at her, waiting for her to continue. “I just lost my cool at that very moment. I told him – Firstly Mr.Das has never ever slapped me. Forget about slapping he hasn’t even used a dirty abuse on me. Secondly, he wouldn’t ever dare to slap me. If he had ever tried even once, my mother-in-law herself would have broken his arm. And finally he knows that if he ever slaps me, then, first I will give him two tight slaps in reply to one, and then I’ll pack my bags and take my daughters and walk out of the marriage.”
My sister and I, who were used to being the silent audience akin to any tennis match, shifted our gaze to and fro. Whenever the volley of words ensued, we slowly looked up at my dad. There was a strange churning in my stomach and my sister looked like she had gulped a worm.
The frown on my dad’s face vanished and there was a very satisfied look on his face. He nodded, “Good”, he said and started pacing again, “You should have told him that next time we’ll call the police.”
After that I never heard my parents dissect the subject again. Although later she narrated the incident to many people. Some people felt uncomfortable, some didn’t like my mother’s choice of words. Some people assumed that what my mother said was a warning or an insult to my father. But in reality, my father seemed very proud of my mother’s stand because he was certain and strong enough to know that such a situation will never occur in their lives.
He was so strong in his stand against violence that there was no question of him attaching her response to himself and let his masculinity get hurt or injured. Also I feel he felt good that my mother had a certain amount of confidence in him that she will never be slapped thus there was no question of being prepared for it. It was an unsaid moment of trust between them, where he kind of silently approved of my mother’s viewpoint. It was difficult for me to judge at that moment, whether my mother was a bigger feminist or my father.
Later in my life, I heard many educated, progressive, supposedly liberated women talking casually, “It’s just a slap”. But in my mind I have a very strong memory of my mother’s words and my father’s stamp of approval on that, “Even a single slap is not acceptable.” Many women I meet say, “Even my husband slapped me several times, but in the end we still have love and respect for each other.”… “A slap is nothing, one shouldn’t make such an issue out of it”… “Think of all the good things he is doing”… “She must have angered him enough so naturally he slapped her”… “There must be something bothering him”… “Maybe he was upset over something”… “Maybe he is having some problem at office”.
After all these excuses, I narrate them this story. Many women are stressed due to work load or other factors, can she use her stress as an excuse to slap her husband? If it is so natural that any and every man can slap his wife, can that be applicable to the women as well? A woman also can get angry, but is it okay if regularly she takes out her anger by slapping people?
Finally I have some questions for men — Will a man be able to respect or love a woman if she slaps him, for whatever is the reason? She doesn’t need to be his wife. Say any random woman slaps him. Will all her culinary skills, skills in bed and other gifts in kind can make him forget a slap. Is one slap just a simple slap or does it become a reminder of lack of respect for each other?
About the Author: Sangeeta Das is a writer and illustrator, mostly for children and young adults, who has challenged gender stereotypes since she was a young child.
Image Source: Artiii