And Then She Spoke: A Qualitative Study On Domestic Violence

Paromita Adhikary & Pranjal Rawat

“As a young under grad studying History in Presidency University, Kolkata. I have dream of making this world a safer place for everyone to live in. Growing up in a suburb and studying in a convent school provided me with just the ration of will and will power to pursue my dreams. The women in my family and the stories of their selves and other women they spoke of, give me a glimpse of a world of individuals who wish to live a life different from the one conferred upon them by society. Hence my fight to voice stories of such individuals.” – Paromita

“This survey was conducted by Paromita and me, along with other students from Presidency University: Trisha Chanda, Priyanka Garodia, Brishti Modak, Ankita Bose, Aishwarya Kazi. It took us 15 days in December to collect the data from 3 locations – Kolkata, Khardah and Shilai (village in Katwa). I learnt a lot during critical discussions with my co-learners, and the earth shattering narratives of the respondents. I thank Sayan Kundu from Princeton for the funding. There are others, but I would single out Prof. Upal Chakraborty, who reminds me always to be both critical in thought and in practice.” – Pranjal

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“Riya and Manas were happily married. Three months into their marriage, Riya noticed some unusual behavior from her husband. She began to find her husband coming home late in the evenings and he was sometimes missing at night. She began to suspect, and soon did investigate. To her utter shock she found him in bed with his brother’s wife! When she tried to protest, she was beaten up and faced cigarette burns all over her body.”

This story is not some sick horror story pulled out of some third rate movie. This story is a living, breathing reality. And it is but only a figment of the entire reality of domestic violence.

This essay will try remind the reader that domestic violence is a burning issue. It is a complex issue, no doubt, but one that can be addressed from various angles. It will draw from the testimonies of 17 subjects, mostly women who were willing to speak out, to throw some light upon this sorely unaddressed issue. Our 17 “subjects” were from very different strata of society in terms of caste and class. While some lived in parts of Kolkata city, others stayed in the suburban town of Khardah, and the rest were from Katwa.

But first, a brief overview. Domestic violence is a rampant issue, and cuts across class, caste and nationality. Surveys show that anywhere between 10% to 50% of women in a given area will attest to this. The negative effects of domestic violence upon the woman’s physiology and psychology has been documented widely. Apart from causing serious physical injury, domestic violence has serious implications for mental health as well. It also has an adverse effect on the behaviour of children who routinely observe it. In addition, it hampers public participation and engagement of those affected. Some researchers have explained wife beating by linking it to alcoholism, while others have claimed that it exists due to unequal access to resources, namely ‘money’ and ‘education’. Some studies have shown that with increasing formal employment and job opportunities for women, domestic violence can be greatly reduced.

The gender-blind perspective of the Indian state is hardly encouraging to this discussion; it was as recent as 2011 when the Census reports began to include a special section for statistics concerning women exclusively. Also, it was only in 2005 that the Indian judiciary undertook a major review of laws concerning domestic violence, which concluded in the Domestic Violence Act (DVA). The DVA does extend the definition of domestic violence to cover its physical, sexual, economic and psychological aspects. But the DVA is not short of problems: (i) it does not adequately recognize ‘marital rape’ (ii) it overlooks potential harassment by the in-laws (iii) it leaves unresolved an internal conflict with the personal laws (Hindu, Muslim, Christian) concerning maintenance (iv) it is concerned mainly with ‘married’ woman only (v) it failed to implement public campaign to dispel legal illiteracy on the issue. In overall, the DVA does provide relief, but only commits a temporary solution. Thus more permanent solutions to conflicts within the home continue to be sought in the personal laws.

With this brief overview underway, we will now present the narratives of our 17 subjects. The names of the subjects have been changed to protect their privacy. A note of caution, the reader is not advised to trust our generalizations so easily. The best way to check our arguments is to actually talk to married and unmarried women (and men) about these issues.

“All men here, talk badly, behave badly with their wives, always”

—Namita Das, Katwa

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