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Crossroads

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Beaten, but not broken

...is what some parents say to daughters who are being battered in their marital home.

Much newsprint and television time has been devoted to Rahul Mahajan and his battered wife Dimpy. The new Mrs Mahajan recently alleged domestic violence and walked out of her husband's house, only to be returned dutifully to him by none other than her own father. "I am a middle-class girl," said Dimpy at a press conference. "I want to give my marriage another shot." Her parents, of course, were extremely proud of their daughter's decision to go back, unmindful of the fact that the son-in-law had thrashed her hard enough to leave ugly bruises. And these are just superficial wounds. That their daughter will be emotionally scarred for life does not seem to be paramount for the Gangulys, who are just relieved to see her 'back where she belongs'.

Stay on? That's rich

It isn't unusual for parents in India to urge their daughters to stick around in abusive relationships. And the practice is prevalent among the upper classes more than anywhere else. "Sunday is no different from Monday," rues Dimple Vakharia, 38, as she supervises the cook in her kitchen, which overlooks a well-manicured garden in a Surati suburb. "Except for second Saturdays, when he goes to meet his spiritual guru near the Ahmedabad highway. He also has sex with female sex workers in the vicinity, he told me once." Her eyes are limpid pools, fraught with helplessness, and you wonder where life went wrong for this beautiful, bright girl. Dimple belongs to the Gujarati Khatri community and was married at 20 to a 'suitable boy', a complete stranger. "Her in-laws are very rich and stalwarts of the community. She has all the luxuries in the world," says her father Kishore Vakharia. "The going gets tough with her husband sometimes, but then all marriages have problems," he casually assures us.

Now a mother of four, Dimple finds it tough to get a grip on life, "The physical abuse started from the first night itself. But before I could figure out where my marriage was going, I was pregnant and my parents advised me to stay back. They said once the child is born, all couples settle down. My mother-in-law is sweet but helpless. My husband says I am deranged. Maybe the problem really is with me," she trails off.

Shamsah Sonawalla, a psychiatrist at Mumbai's Jaslok hospital, says this is a typical reaction. "The victim feels so guilt-ridden that she believes she must be at fault. In such cases, it becomes extremely tough to convince the woman that the abuse - physical, emotional, social - is not something she brought upon herself."

Conspiracy of silence

Parents seem to have their own reasons to urge their daughters to stick around in a bad marriage. Societal shame is the foremost. The parents of Sahana Majumdar, a doctor in Kolkata, urged her to stick on with her abusive, alcoholic doctor husband "for the sake of her daughter and also their position in society". "With nobody else to turn to, Sahana gave up the idea of divorce and gave in to fate," says psychologist Rinku Pathak. Pathak says that most parents are unwilling to take on the finanial burden of their daughter and her children. "They might just end up citing the daughter's attention to her career as the reason for her husband's behaviour."

Shanthi was 28 years old when her husband threw acid on her in Mysore, in 2001. Her face completely disfigured, she recently suffered cardiac arrest. "My parents married me off very young. We stayed with them for about three months after our marriage and never had a problem," she says. But Shanti's life changed dramatically once the couple moved out. "He would beat me up every night. And my parents kept saying I should return because society would not accept it any other way." Besides the obvious horror, the acid attack also ruined Shanti and her family financially. "My parents had to mortgage all their belongings for my treatment. If they had stood by me initially, I wouldn't have gone through all this."

Don't come home, stranger

Divorce lawyers are quick to acknowledge that Dimpy Ganguly's father is not the only one who took up for his son-in-law. A look at the divorce cases that clog the courts across cities shows that the parents of daughters caught in bad marriages often look the other way or encourage them to stick on with lessthan-sober son-in-laws. "It's usually among business families that married daughters are unwelcome if the marriage sours," says Mridula Kadam a seasoned divorce lawyer in Mumbai. "Young professionals and career women who face harassment from their husbands, however, are not as reliant on their parents except for moral support and usually do not find themselves in a dilemma," she adds.

In a recent Mumbai case, a Marwari family were aghast when their daughter wanted to leave her husband. They were worried that the girl's in-laws and her husband would isolate her from family functions and not give her food or 'pocket money'. Her parents' advice: "There are always ups and downs in marriages. There are no easy answers. Coming home is not an option."

Many a time, a girl's parents make it amply clear that she is not exactly welcome when she has children and is not working herself. "If her brother and sisterin-law are living with her parents as a joint family, the sense of being an interloper in her own house is greater," says a woman's rights activist in Mumbai.

The other side

Sometimes, parents do end up being a girl's rock when her marriage shatters. When A Geetha decided to walk out of an abusive marriage, she was worried how she would support herself. Though she was confident of getting a job, she had a young child to look after. That's when her parents decided to step in. Her father got a transfer to Chennai and they moved in with Geetha, caring for her two-year-old while she went to work. "In our experience, we have found most parents are extremely supportive if there is any threat of danger to their daughter," says Prasanna Poornachandra, CEO of Chennai's International Foundation for Crime Prevention and Victim Care. "Parents are scared about their daughter's safety," says Prasanna. "Young women now opt to walk out of abusive marriages and their parents stand by them."

In a lot of cases, it is the woman who wants to continue in the bad marriage. "In one instance, a retired government official brought his daughter to me, asking me to drill some sense into her," says Prasanna. The woman, who had been married for about 20 years, had put up with years of abuse. "Her husband had an extramarital affair, but she refused to leave him. Her family knew about the abuse, but was powerless as she refused to get out." Though the woman was counselled, she eventually went back to her husband. Asha has lived with abuse all 12 years of her married life. The boy who was madly in love with her and would not even let her carry her own books in college transformed into a foul-mouthed, abusive husband after marriage. He would hit Asha regularly, hardly do anything at home and treat her like a servant. "When we had children, he turned out to be a great parent. The choice between a bad partner and a good father was obvious and I stayed," she says. Apart from not wanting to separate the children from their father, women in 'love marriages' don't want to return to their parent's homes as they believe they will lose face, says family therapist Brinda Jayaraman. But perhaps it's time victims of domestic abuse stopped walking into doors and started walking out of them.

(With reports from Priya Menon in Chennai, Shobita Dhar in Delhi, Swati Sengupta in Kolkata, Aashlesha Khurana in Ahmedabad, Swati Deshpande in Mumbai, Senthalir S in Bangalore) Some names have been changed to protect identities


NOT JUST WORDS. . .

(Popular dialogues used to make the girl stay with an abusive husband)

Sab theek ho jayega beti

Ye sab hota rehta hain, woh tujhe itna pyar bhi toh karta hai

Usne tujhe sabhi aish-o-aram diye hain

Ladki ki kismat mein yehi likha hai

Hamare ghar mein kabhi koi shaadi nahi tooti

Ab teri chhoti behen se kaun shaadi karega

Apni nahi toh apne bachchon ki soch

Reader's opinion (9)

Ankita GuptaMay 2nd, 2012 at 13:57 PM

very true....we shud take a stand and not support the abuse. its not the woman's fault alone

Anjali PaiJan 12th, 2012 at 09:55 AM

Its really difficult to take the step when the family does not stand by you. Finances may not be a problem as you may have a job...but moral support counts too.

Prerna VijayeniJul 23rd, 2011 at 09:57 AM

The women in a bad marriage should walk out as early as possible. She has to understand that if she stick around for the sake of her children, it won't help. In fact the children will turn out to be emotionally detached to the idea of family, and psychologically vulnerable adults.

Shipra ChamoliJul 9th, 2011 at 03:46 AM

Its true.Facts,statements quoted above are correct.but ,we women shoud not consider ourselves helpless in any situtions .I think ,financial independence is a big thing,which plays role ,in making women self reliant.I feel,god has given us all the power .

Aahuti GargJun 21st, 2011 at 14:40 PM

Out of every 10 women I know,more than 5 are facing domestic voilence in some form or other.We are told to continue and keep trying.Speaking out or reaching out for help is never taught as an option.

Sneha PhadkeMay 9th, 2011 at 19:45 PM

I walked out on a horrible (love) marriage and my parents were and are extremely supportive. God and my parents have been very kind. Also, I have done my share to contribute to the society by helping 2 more girls end their miseries. Today, one of them is happily re-married and living life queen-size

Geetha ManianNov 23rd, 2010 at 17:55 PM

Right from my illiterate maid servant to my well educated and financially independent lady living next door I have seen women who undergo constant physical and mental trauma through their husbands. Social stigma and a boycott by her own family members prevents a woman from coming out of this hell.

Shefali Nov 23rd, 2010 at 12:07 PM

Yes its really important to get out of such marraige early.Most women choose to live with the attrocities hoping conditions would improve only to find that after so many years of abuse they have lost all confidence and become helpless with no option left but to hold on.Better stand than regret.

Jyotika SharmaNov 22nd, 2010 at 14:18 PM

The article is very correct. women in abusive marriage are surely told to adjust. as if it is their mistake. And all this is due to the narrowness of the society. But i would suggest the woman out their to be brave n take a new chance with their life instead of bearing the burden of bad marriage.

 
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