Dimapur | November 28
To better understand how stigma, fear and lack of legal or societal support often deters women from filing complaints against rape and other forms of violence, The Morung Express spoke to victims of domestic violence.
While there are many causative factors, in the back drop of the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations had observed that the combination of economic and social stresses along with other lockdown measures, have dramatically increased the number of women facing domestic abuse, as self-quarantine puts them in perpetual proximity with their abusers.
‘Bear with it’
The observation holds true in the case of Sarah*, a 40-year-old victim of domestic violence, who suffered increased physical abuse at the hands of her husband who was let off from work and remained at home, after the pandemic ensued in Nagaland.
In an interview with this newspaper, Sarah revealed that she made a desperate phone call to her brother, pleading with him to make arrangements for her to travel to the village with her children, earlier in June this year.
“I told him about how my husband had been beating me over the past few months and that sometimes, he would even threaten to hit my children without any provocation. But all he told me was to bear with it,” she said.
Narrating her ordeal, Sarah shared that she took her brother’s advice to ‘bear with it’ because she had no other option.
When asked why she did not report the matter or seek help from others, she reasoned that “Growing up, my mother and aunts would often tell us that a good woman should be subservient and strive to please her husband and family.” “Besides, what would society say if I left home with my children,” she added.
For the sake of ‘family honour’
Close to a year after leaving her husband, Lily* still gets blamed for the breakup—even her own parents think she should give the marriage another try and restore the ‘family honour.’
“Everyone has been judging me. My neighbours and relatives say I made a mistake by leaving. They say the marriage is about compromise and that I am being selfish,” said Lily.
“When I lived with him, I was always scared, there was no peace in my heart,” Lily said, describing how her husband took away her mobile phone after she could no longer endure his beatings after two months of marriage and called her sister for help. He even stopped her from visiting friends and prohibited her from inviting them to their home.
“He said that I was his and he could do whatever he wanted with me,” she said, adding that though her sister wanted to help, her parents had forbidden her from intervening saying it was a ‘family matter’ between Lily and her husband.
According to Lily, she left her husband almost 5 months into their marriage and moved in to a rented apartment because her parents refused to take her in. Soon after, she began to receive repeated phone calls and visits from her in-laws, parents and relatives, who tried for months to convince her to reconcile with her husband—some even promising on her husband’s behalf that he would not beat her again.
“For them, it’s about family honour. For me it’s my safety and sanity,” Lily stated matter-of-factly, adamant that she would not return to a home filled with violence.
‘Just a few slaps’
Beyond the perceived shortcomings of government and societal efforts to tackle domestic violence, several women’s campaigners say progress requires changing deep patriarchal beliefs such as the notion that wives must obediently serve their husband and his family.
In the case of Juli*, her two-year marriage took a harsh turn after her husband’s verbal abuse manifested into beatings.
A working woman, Juli said she was initially verbally abused on days when she had to work late or was a little late in cooking dinner and other ‘small things.’ But all that changed when she suggested that they hire a helper to help with household chores.
“I was accused of being lazy and when I tried to reason with him (her husband), he called me various degrading names and slapped me several times,” she narrated.
According to Juli, she took the matter up with her in-laws but it was brushed off with a cursory ‘It was just a few slaps.’ She was asked to leave her job if she could not handle both her work and family—a decision she has not taken so far.
None of the women approached government agencies or sought help from NGOs and other organisations.
*Names changed to protect identity