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Stage 1: Dissonance. Denial. Disbelief.
Stage 2: Distress. Desperation. Despair.
Stage 3: Rinse. Repeat.
It creeps in slowly. First, there are the ‘accidents’. His leg just happened to be in the way, so you tripped. The door just banged on your hand – he didn’t see it, honest. He really needed to get away from you and YOU were in the way. You fell. So what?? So #$*king what?
Then one day, you cannot hide behind ‘accidents’ anymore. He actually hits you. Slaps, punches, kicks you. You reel around – in pain and in disbelief. Your heart and mind cannot comprehend that the man you love could hurt you like this. Contrition, extravagant gestures of love and promises that it will not happen again follow. And you believe. You MAKE yourself forget, you look ahead. Because, you WANT to believe.
What is scary is that as women, we are primed to forgive, tend and nurture in the face of any crisis that threatens our survival. Is it physiology, social conditioning, a mix of both?
Looking back, I feel it is also the ego of the intelligent, successful woman that comes into play. The cognitive dissonance, disbelief and denial cuts both ways. How can you, as an educated, ‘empowered’ woman be a victim of ‘abuse’? Education, independent employment and supposed empowerment become further reasons to stay. Seems illogical? Take it from me – it isn’t.
You are a woman who has always succeeded at whatever you tried. So how can you fail at marriage? You will make it work. You have to. He is a victim himself – he saw the same thing growing up. But you will help him. It will stop. So, added to layers of social conditioning, there is also little-understood and even less internalised feminist baggage – that you can do it. You can change the unchangeable.
You can. Definitely. But not by denying. Not by accommodating. But by standing up. Challenging the abuse.
The first tentative step is usually gathering up the courage to talk to someone. You try out various ways. A dear friend of mine made me watch the Dixie Chicks’ music video – Goodbye Earl – before mustering up the courage to tell me she was being beaten regularly. Maybe, she was also trying to tell me she knew about what was happening with me. But, at that point, I was still in denial.
Anyway, you start talking. And again, you hit that wall of disbelief. You are counselled and told that it must have been a one-off. But, one day, when you sit down to count the ‘one-offs’, you see the total does not fit on your fingers. Or your toes…
But still nobody believes you. Even if they do, there is not much they can or are willing to do to help. So, you go on. Till the day your child sees you being hit. And the next day when your husband raises his voice, your 5-year-old son runs to stand in front of him – hands outstretched. Your child is now in a position where he feels he has to protect you. And that is not acceptable.
Yes, I love my husband. I always will. Not least because we share a beautiful child together. But, if I am to stop history repeating itself, if I am to stop my child from seeing me as complicit in the abuse, I have no option but to protect myself. My safety, security and dignity.
I chose to protect myself not by walking away. But by holding him accountable for his actions with the help of the law.
A friend had introduced me to a lady who had been helping women in this situation for years. She knew the law inside out. And being a survivor herself, she anticipated and understood my concerns. The first thing she told me is that this law safeguards the natural rights of a woman without seeking punitive action. She told me to place my trust in my country’s laws and in my country’s judiciary. And, in myself.
So I did. With my family’s unflinching support, my friends’ unconditional love I filed a case under PWDVA in June of this year. Whatever has happened in the five months since then has only bolstered my belief that the law is the only recourse, the only way out.
To all the cynics out there, let me tell you – this law not only exists, it actually works. I am not talking of the now-infamous 498 A. But, the PWDVA, 2005. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act – a forward-thinking law that recognises the unique issues that a person fighting domestic violence faces – sharing a domestic relationship of some dependence with the perpetrator of the violence.
There are various aspects to it – emotional, social, spiritual, financial. Each with numerous challenges. Which I will talk about in subsequent posts. But, this is one law that the law-makers got right. The contribution of hundreds of women’s rights activists is commendable. This is one law that has so many safeguards in place that even judges with feudal mindsets cannot but protect a woman’s inalienable rights.
I used it. Will you?
About the Author: Sukanya Das writes columns and contributes articles for leading magazines and newspapers when she gets time off from playing mom to her 6-year-old son. She gets panic attacks if she finds herself without a book and cannot imagine life without dancing.
Image Source: The Hindu