Domestic Violence: The Public and Private of Abuse

Have you heard of the phrase “Not reporting a crime is as good as committing it?” This is how we, at CSR, educate people to report cases of domestic violence. This is done because, the word “domestic” renders everything within it as ‘private’, and a private matter within the bounds of domesticity is considered outside the purview of the public consideration, even if a husband abuses his wife in broad daylight out in the streets – this is not an odd example. It is not restricted to class prerogatives, and happens everywhere in India, in all classes and castes and communities in India, within most households. However, what changes is perception.

Domestic Abuse

When abuse is perpetrated in the lower income communities, it is understood as class behaviour, while in actuality it is being perpetrated almost equally and simultaneously in all social classes, in plastic shanties and in gated communities, underneath leaky parapets as well as corporate offices. Domestic abuse is not rooted in money, or in the lack thereof. Neither is it rooted in caste, class or religion – it is solely a product of inequality based on gender, where one is born with all the power and the other, none.

It is hard to determine, when this inequality began, but we do have evidence of it existing since recorded history of human kind. However, with the existing methods of dealing with the problem of domestic violence in our society, we tend to either pretend that it only happens in the lower income group of the society, or that the occurrence is higher and worse for the women who have no access to help or education to escape such situations. My view is that this phenomenon is not limited to the partially educated or uneducated lower income group women.

Largely, as per society, it is assumed that the women who have received education and are financially stable, do not have to face such issues, or even if they do, they do not require assistance to the extent that the women in other worse situations do. I disagree. It is common knowledge that women everywhere face abuse and violence, and the “degree” of violence does not really differ between different income groups. We assume the degree is higher in the low income communities for two reasons, (a) the low-income neighbourhoods are usually small crammed up colonies with high population and low space allocation and thus the “private” does not always remain private and the domestic affairs often turn into communal spectacles; and (b) that those within such economic confines, abuse of the weaker gender by the powerful becomes a cycle of amusement and disgust, which has been a recorded reason of abuse in intimate partner violence.

Now, in the same way, we assume the occurrence of domestic violence is lower in high income groups because of (a) education, (b) access to money and hence resources, and (c) inclusion of modern urban lifestyles. As an assumption, it is quite powerful, as it drives the general consensus on how we view domestic violence – clubbing it within economic precincts – enables us to concentrate on the class issue rather than address the general social outlook towards violence against women.

For this reason, there are many organizations working with lower income group women and girls on issues of partner violence and domestic abuse. This enables us to address the rudimentary aspects of gendered violence, while brushing the more subtly perpetrated abuse under the rug. Assuming that education and adopting an urban lifestyle lets women escape from abuse or violence is not only skewed, it further perpetrates the patriarchal system of internalizing gendered violence. Higher income group women find themselves confined within the monetized dynamics of abuse and denial, for reasons such as (a) family honour, (b) father/husband’s standing in society, and largely (c) to avoid the stigma of being the one to drag a “private” matter into the public sphere. The attitude of victim blaming and shaming is, in my opinion, the most central reason for the under reporting of domestic violence cases in the middle and upper income groups of society. This, however, does not translate to a lack of it thereof. As a result, we don’t many (if any at all) organizations working with educated and wealth-bound women to discuss the occurrence of violence within air-conditioned walls, and inside affluent households. Where do these women go? Who helps them? Access to money does not translate to access to freedom, as lives of women everywhere is tightly bound around cultural tropes and the will of the patriarch.

Whenever a case of gendered violence arise, it is primarily viewed through the victim’s shame, never through the perpetrator’s guilt, maybe because society wants to save the stronger gender the humiliation of claiming its own power over the weak. Furthermore, we see that, whenever a woman reports a case pertaining to abuse, violence or assault, to her “own” self (body), she immediately becomes a victim. This is why recently, in a surge of political correctness, rape victims were reconstituted as rape-survivors, while in reality their victimization has not decreased or changed its system. In fact, it is this systemized violence that constitutes for underreporting of violence. Sometimes, a woman thinks to herself (as is often the case with non-familiar abuse and/or violence) – maybe if I forget this whole incident I can regain normalcy… which, I believe, is the farthest from a crime as it can be. Because, we must sensitize ourselves to understand what degrees of alienation a person has to feel to not report their own abuse, which can only stem from the understanding that in this hypocritical society reporting abuse only leads to more abuse.

Unless, we change it, of course.

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