We have entered the 21st century, and yet women are treated poorly all over the world, just as they were decades and centuries ago. Admittedly, tremendous progress has been made in many parts of the world, but barely enough.
I was deeply touched by the story of Kiranjit Ahluwalia, who had an arranged marriage with a ‘suitable’ groom from England in 1979. She left her motherland, left all her family members behind and crossed the ocean to make life with her new husband whom she hardly knew. The next ten years were to be a total nightmare of almost daily mental, emotional, physical and sexual violence at the hands of her husband. Her mother-in-law ignored her plight. She could not turn to anyone for help or support. Domestic violence is a taboo topic in most cultures throughout the world. In desperation, she killed her husband who had tortured her so long. She was sentenced to life in prison in 1989, as even the justice system failed her. But, in jail, she finally found the freedom that she had never known in the outside world of her husband’s adopted country. Her cell-mate, a victim of husband-abuse herself, trained her in English, restored her self-confidence and referred her to a famous lawyer. A team of social workers from ‘Southall Black Sisters’, a non-profit organization, played a key role in helping Kiranjit. She was finally freed in 1992, and was honored by many, including Cherie Blair.
Domestic Violence occurs when a family member, partner or ex-partner attempts to physically or psychologically dominate or harm the other. The most common form is wife-abuse. The domestic violence can be physical, sexual, economic, emotional or other psychological abuse. It involves misuse of power and control by one person over the other. The latter may include intimidation, harassment, damage to property, threats, financial abuse, or in cases of immigrants, threat to deport to the home country or report to immigration authorities. Domestic violence affects all women regardless of class, race, age or national origin. In many cultures, it is rarely discussed in public. This social taboo makes it even more difficult for the abused to seek help.
25% of all families will experience domestic violence at some time in their lives! On an average, a woman will be assaulted by her partner 35 times before reporting it to the police. In 90% of incidents, the children are in the same or the next room! In households where women are abused, it is twice as likely that children are also abused. Domestic abuse is universal and occurs in all cultures. Alcohol, drugs and psychological disturbances are not cause but factors which may make the situation worse. Most people affected by domestic violence are often unaware of the resources available!
Some of the common beliefs which are oftentimes incorrect need to be recognized by all:
• It affects only a handful of households
• It affects only women
• It affects only individuals from disadvantaged, marginalized and deprived sections of the society
• It is provoked
• It manifests itself only with individuals who were victims themselves
• It should be solved within the four walls of the house
• The family should stay together for the sake of the children
Himsa or violence is not at all sanctioned by our scriptures. Women are accorded an elevated status. According to Manusmriti, “where women are respected, there the Gods rejoice; where they are not, no sacred rite yields rewards. Swami Vivekananda said that, “women are the living embodiment of the Divine Mother. From the Bhihad Samhita, ‘Men treat women with contempt, but women possess more virtues then men. Men owe their birth to them, ungrateful wretches, how can happiness be your lot when you condemn them?’
It is important that we understand the effects of domestic violence so that we can be smarter about spotting it within our circle of family and friends:
• Victims may resort to (legal or illegal) drug abuse, alcoholism to cope with the situation
• Difficulty with attention and concentration
• Emotional instability
• Difficulties in sexuality
• Panic attacks
• Eating disorders
• Sleeping disorders
• Suicidical tendencies
Education, Legal Reform, Social Activism, Shelters for the victims of domestic violence are some solutions which we should all strive for.
Education and Social Activism
• Leverage mass media to discourage abusive behavior (using celebrities, if possible).
• All religious centers should be used to spread the message that none of the ancient civilizations or scriptures in any way promoted discrimination or abusive behavior of any kind against women.
• Victims should be told that it is not their fault, and should be encouraged to seek help.
• Parents, especially mothers, should be encouraged to train their off- springs, and taught to respect all other living beings.
• All relatives of potential victims should be encouraged to help the victims.
• Support groups should be set up at all NGO’s.
• Campaigns against Dowry, Female abortion should also be strengthened.
• UN should take the lead in reforming the legal codes in countries by leveraging the code from the developed countries (e.g. the provoked defence in UK).
• Batterer’s Registry should be created.
• Immigration laws should be amended to ensure that victims are not summarily deported, but given a chance to settle themselves in the adopted motherland or fatherland.
Shelters for Victims of Domestic Violence
• Victims should be given shelter in all churches and temples.
• More shelters should be set up throughout the world.
Asian Comunity Resources
For our readers in North America of Asian origin, who would like to seek help, volunteer or learn more about the disease of domestic violence, the following are some useful organizations:
1. Sakhi (North-east)
2. Maitri (San Francisco area)
3. Narika (Berkeley, CA area)
4. AASRA (San Francisco area)
References: GuruMaa’s pravachans, Book and movie, Provoked, various websites in UK and US dealing with these issues, Sonal Kisnadwala, former social worker at Queens Child Guidance Center; Speaking the Unspeakable: Martital Violence among South Asians in the US by Abraham, articles from Hinduism Today, etc.