Just a Slap? Domestic Abuse, Violence & Living With Trauma
Injuries, scars and depression — the health impact of domestic violence.
(As the pandemic confines us all to our homes, a spike in domestic violence is being reported from across the world. FIT is republishing this story in that light.)
What happens when you get slapped?
A series of events get triggered. The ringing sensation in your eardrum travels across the body to the other end. You try to regain the balance you lost when your firmly planted body was shaken with the force of a thunderbolt. Your face is red, perhaps bruised. As the ringing in your ear continues and all other sounds mute, you wonder what it will take for the throbbing pain to fade away and for each standing hair on your body to settle back down.
One slap. Just one slap?
Behind closed doors, the reality of many households is strikingly similar to what was just described. A slap, two slaps, or ten; rape, emotional manipulation, threat, or just silence — domestic abuse takes many forms.
Findings from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) and an ethnographic study in a Mumbai slum, revealed that the majority of Indian women do not share their ordeal with anybody or seek help. They suffer in silence, as their physical and psychological injuries continue to torment them with each passing day.
Getting Into the Minds of the Abuser & the Abused
FIT spoke with Dr Rajat Mitra of Swanchetan Society of Mental Health. As part of his work with the Delhi Police in crimes against women, he shares that a commonality he observed among the victims was the feeling of helplessness. “They feel that whatever they do will not better their situation in any way. They stop responding to situations, thinking that either way, they are doomed. This feeling is rooted in an upbringing and a cultural background that has taught them that they have no alternate or independent realm of existence.”
“The helplessness and habituation to the violence leads to endogenous depression in a lot of cases, where pain becomes a part of their lives.”Dr Rajat Mitra
He adds that women very often defend their partners and deny the abuse, and a big reason for this is the cyclical behaviour that men portray. ‘Fraudulent guilt’ followed by intimacy, with phrases like “I’ll change” or “You’re the only person who can change me”. This hooks the woman and the process repeats itself until she becomes numb to her suffering. Breaking this cyclical pattern becomes very difficult.
Nayana Chowdhury, Director, Program at Breakthrough India, an organisation working on violence against women and girls, speaks out of her experience at working closely with cases of domestic violence. “Physical violence is perhaps the only widely acknowledged form. Others like emotional violence and verbal or economic abuse are not even recognised, but they are all around.”
The blame is often put on women for ‘inviting’ abusive behaviour, and the constant doubt and disbelief from those around can cast a shadow on her self-esteem. “She feels reduced to nothing, as if she’s just a piece of furniture.”
“A lady once told me that she is not even sure if she can hang a photo frame right. That’s the level of self-doubt that is instilled when somebody so close to you hurts you again and again.”Nayana Chowdhury
The helplessness and the feeling of being alone can lead to suicidal tendencies among women of all socio-economic strata, she adds. In fact, according to data from India’s National Crime Records Bureau, housewives constituted one of the largest groups of suicides in India (17.1 percent), wherein around 63 housewives killed themselves every day.
The fact that death is a direct and indirect consequence of domestic violence — begs the question once again: Is it ever really ‘just a slap’?
(For long, women's health has been sidelined and put on the back burner, not taken seriously, not researched, not explored, silenced. FIT is launching its 'Her Health' campaign, that will focus on health stories that put women and their health issues front and centre. What would you like us to talk about? Write to us at FIT@thequint.com)
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