Latent Heat of Society
“The first principle of non-violent action is that of non-cooperation with everything humiliating.” - Mahatma Gandhi
Every year, on the 2nd of October, we celebrate the life and living of the father of our nation. The United Nations marks this day as International non-violence day. A lesser-known fact, however, is that October has also been marked as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. These two pieces of information act as important testaments to our hypocrisy, where on one hand, we remember the Gandhian principles of non-violence, and on the other, turn a blind eye to the increasing cases of domestic violence in India.
Whenever we hear the word ‘crime’, we think of murder, rape, and other associated crimes that happen in the public domain. Here we miss out, crimes associated with the private domain. Domestic violence is one of them. This happens because, for some people, domestic violence is an issue, not a crime. Furthermore, some others see it as ‘Ghar ghar ki kahani’ (story of all homes).
The seemingly distant and indirect impact of domestic violence in our lives and the serious disparity between the number of existing cases of domestic violence and the number of those reported, has led to the significantly lesser discourse around the issue, as opposed to violence associated with other kinds of crime. This grave lack of discussion and action around it leads one to the speculation that it is considered as a minor crime, in terms of both its magnitude and importance. This assumption, however, could not be further from the truth.
The influence and capacity of the mainstream media, in moulding mindsets, is widely known and appreciated. We are all aware of the ability of a simple hash-tag to start a nationwide trend, and yet all this potential to stir change is channeled towards creating discourse and discussion on matters associated with the public sphere. There is a general avoidance of addressing what are deemed as personal issues of individuals, relegated to the private sphere. It is important to understand here that domestic violence is far from a personal issue, belonging only to the private sphere. The knowledge of the fact that people don’t interfere with others' private matters, is often used as an advantage by perpetrators of domestic violence. It is more a societal problem than a personal one.
In the words of Pope John XXIII – “The family is the first essential cell of human society”, and thus has the potential to negatively or positively determine a society’s values, just like a fish can pollute an entire ocean. The age-old saying, ‘charity begins at home’ has never been more relevant, than it is in this context.
Victims of domestic violence themselves, may take time to recognize or accept the reality of their situation, and then proceed to acknowledge their trauma. As a consequence, abuse victims may suffer both short and long-term emotional and psychological distress, including but not restricted to feelings of confusion or hopelessness, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and post-traumatic stress disorder(PTSD).
Data as reported by the online journal, Lancet Public Health as part of the Global Burden of Death Study (1990-2016) threw light on the immensity of the problem. According to experts, South Asian countries have the highest number of reported cases of domestic violence, and India is one of them. Even the National Crime Records Bureau’s (NCRB) Report 2019 (published in September 2020) sharply highlighted that domestic violence and other family problems are leading contributors to suicides in India. It is remarkable and unfortunate, that numbers reported by the NCRB report are this high, even though they are based only on the handful of cases that are reported, as opposed to the number of cases that actually happen.
Amidst the stifling numbers reported, it is important to note that women are the primary sufferers of domestic violence. According to Peter Mayer, a professor at the University of Adelaide, Australia, and author of Suicide and Society, numbers of housewives who committed suicide were double the numbers of farmers who committed suicide in India.
It is saddening that not only did the issue seriously lack political clout and attention, even for the sake of publicity or as a rally for votes. It also received little or no coverage from the coveted fourth pillar of democracy, i.e, the media, except on the “relatively rare occasion when … it is almost always framed in terms of mistreatment by in-laws and harassment for dowry,” in the words of Professor Mayer.
Here it becomes relevant to note, the youth seemingly rages discourse only for events in the public sphere. The discourse and discussion for serious societal problems such as domestic violence can be noted to be absent. Although the youth is considered to be the change-maker in any given society with their new mindset and fresh perspective.
Apart from its effects on the victim, domestic violence can instill fear and confusion in a child, all while their caregiver is often physically or emotionally unavailable. Children who witness domestic violence during their growing years are more likely to struggle with insomnia, bed-wetting, verbal, motor, or cognitive challenges, anxiety, depression, self-harm, aggression, and domestic violence as an adult.
The effects of domestic violence to fear, shame, denial, stigma, and a lack of equal treatment. As a result, men minimize the abuse to protect themselves. One study participant explained that he feared being “laughed at, humiliated, or reversely accused of being the abuser due to a belief that men are physically capable of fighting back when being challenged.”
The issue of domestic violence is like an all-season fruit because the numbers never go down. But Covid-19 and the consequential lockdown have created circumstances conducive to the conduct of domestic violence. A survey recorded more domestic violence complaints during COVID-19 than recorded in a similar period in the last 10 years. But even this unusual spurt is only the tip of the iceberg as 86% of women who experience domestic violence do not seek help in India.
The reasons behind this peaking of numbers include loss of employment, which leads to economic insecurity thus making them exercise more control over their spouses. This situation gets further aggravated in cases where females are unemployed and dependent on males for financial support. This dependence leads to loss of social ties and containment with the perpetrator around the clock, making them more susceptible to violence and abuse. The situation is slightly less bleak for employed women with a steady source of income because this acts as a buffer against violence since the family income is not dependent on the perpetrator.
The title of this article was chosen after a lot of thought, and analysis and its relevance must be explained. The harsh truth is, domestic violence is the latent heat of society. It has spread like wildfire and is still ablaze, it’s smoke polluting the society and its flames ready to engulf us, if not put out. This article aims to provide a glimpse of how domestic violence affects not only the victim and the perpetrator, but affects every individual of the family, physically, emotionally, and psychologically.
Everything starts at home may sound like an everyday saying, but children take their first steps at home, speak their first words at home, and can be observed to constantly be trying to imitate the behaviours of adults around them.
The collective failure of our society, our leaders, and our media stares us in the face in the form of the rising number of cases of domestic violence in the country.
There are innumerable helplines and organisations available for victims of abuse to reach out to, but while some victims are unaware of the means of reaching out, others are held back by the shackles of the stigma attached to being an abuse victim and the fear of the consequences of taking action, among other reasons. It is here that it becomes a cobweb of problems, with no one seeking out solutions.
These questions are a glimpse of what the nation really wants to know. To summarise, in consideration of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, it is pertinent to note that there is nothing ‘domestic’ about domestic violence.
By Uddeshya Singh and Madonna
B.A. (Hons) Political Science, at Hindu College
Uddeshya is a student of Political Science at Hindu College. He is suffering from cerebral palsy. As a result, he is unable to walk, talk, eat properly. Whenever he performs any action or holds any thing, his body becomes tightened. Inspite of these problems, he is a good keyboard player, an actor, writer and poet. He has received two national awards by Government of India - BAL SHREE AWARD 2013 (in normal category) and BEST CREATIVE CHID OF INDIA WITH DISABILITIES 2016. Recently he has made a short film FAISLA with his two batchmates, Parul Kataria and Gaurav Kumar, based on multiple issues like patriarchy, depressive situation of Indian housewives, etcetera. He loves to do something new and creative in academics, music and acting.
Madonna is a political science major at Hindu College. Madonna vests her faith in the 'disco' of discourse, and likes good strong words that mean something.