Sometimes even recognising patterns of abuse is a challenge for a lot of women.
When Kolkata-based psychotherapist Mansi Poddar got a divorce in 2008, she sensed a sudden change in how people in her extended social circle interacted with her. For starters, many men, especially married men, assumed she was ‘available’ to have sex with them. And many women assumed she must have been at some kind of fault for her husband to have ‘left’ her. Which means she must be ready to ‘hit on’ their partners.
“When I went through a divorce, I had both men and women judge me. God, it was terrible,” Poddar told HuffPost India.
Poddar managed to tide over the hurdles, but following her divorce, she realised why so many Indian women choose to suffer bad marriages instead of looking for a way out. Social stigma, Poddar told HuffPost India, is so pervasive even among the educated and affluent that economically independent women too often stay in physically and mentally abusive marriages.
According to National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4), nearly 38% women in India have experienced spousal violence. And that is just the number of cases that women reported, there’s always a vast number of cases which never reach the police. Equally staggering is the number of women who choose to stay in abusive marriages, despite laws that protect them from marital violence.
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HuffPost India spoke to therapists to understand why Indian women, some of them economically independent, choose to stay in abusive marriages.
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Failure to recognise abuse
Narendra Kinger, Clinical Psychologist and Marriage Counsellor from Mumbai, remembers a distraught client whose husband simply refused to interact with her. He would not tell her what was going on at work, he never revealed his financial details and investments to her, they never spoke about important issues at home and work and at times, he simply refused to talk to her. The woman tried her best, she requested him, she complained and tried to start conversations. “But she was always rebuffed. Their sex life was miserable too,” Kinger said. Occasionally, when the woman pushed her husband, he shouted at her and at other times, ignored her.
Initially their families supported her, but later, his family asked her to leave him alone citing ‘work pressure’. “The woman wanted to know her husband better, have a deeper connect with him, but he was not interested,” he said.
Often, Kinger explained, it is difficult for women and the people in her ecosystem to identify abuse, especially mental abuse. The fact that a man hasn’t manhandled his wife is cited as reason enough to stick around in a marriage.
And in cases of physical abuse, a large number of Indian women tend to end up blaming themselves for somehow having done something wrong to have deserved the violence inflicted on themselves. At other times, they normalise it as regular male behaviour that must be put up with. Though relentless abuse leads to anxiety and depression, they hold themselves responsible for feeling this way.
“This happens mostly because we are not trained from an early age to understand what an abusive relationship is. Children in our country are not taught about conditions and situations that qualify as ‘abuse’. As we grow up and marry, women continue to bear it, while men carry on with their abusive behaviour,” says Kinger.
Seeing their mothers suffer
People often tend to follow and copy what as children, they have seen adults do. And more often than not, they tend to replicate their parents’ behaviour.
“For example, if a son sees his father abusing his mother, there is a chance he sees that as acceptable behaviour and becomes an abuser himself. Similarly, if a daughter grows up seeing her mother mistreated and disrespected, she tends to normalise such behaviour,” says Kinger.
The occurrences of the mother being abused at home slowly become acceptable and normal. Therefore, when the daughter gets married and is subjected to similar toxic behaviour, she accepts the abuse and the abuser. In her world and as per her experiences, ill-treatment of the wife is not a valid reason for separation