Wednesday, October 19, 2011
When is violence truly violent???????
The very thought of domestic violence is chilling. It is something that should never happen. And yet it does, in many homes, in all social classes, with varying frequency. My questions here are very difficult ones- does a single act of violence signal the end of a marriage? Should it? What does a couple need to do to be able to go beyond it? Can they? Is physical violence more demeaning than verbal violence that goes on and on, destroying the victim's self -esteem? There are so many many questions, and no simple answers. So much depends on the earlier nature of the relationship, the perpetrator's genuine remorse and horror at his act, the victim's own assessment of the situation....
A few examples from real life, names obviously changed. After a huge verbal fight, Ria is screaming and threatening to jump off the terrace. Amit catches hold of her arms, but her struggles are violent and the parapet is low. She is in real danger. Amit slaps her hard, and she collapses, trembling, in a heap on the floor, not quite believing that Amit hit her. She has, herself, hit him several times, but since she is a woman she doesn't think of it as abuse. Amit feels terrible about hitting her, but feels that he had no choice. What do you think? This relationship didn't last, despite several attempts at rapprochement.
Manasi and Vinay have been married for a while. Manasi was head over heels in love with Vinay, he perhaps less so. After the initial euphoria faded, he lost interest in Manasi. Since they were staying with his parents, the occasional kitchen dispute would occur, and would add up in Vinay's mind as yet another black mark against Manasi. Gradually his disenchantment with her grew, as did the distance. Manasi tried to do anything she could to gain his attention, including going out with male colleagues in the evening and coming home after having a drink or two.
When 'provoked' by this attention-seeking behaviour, his only response was to hit her. When this became a regular pattern, a heart-broken Manasi went back to her parents, and the couple divorced.
Dipti is deeply ashamed that she actually hit her beloved husband when he kept nagging her to drive when she didn't want to. He thought he was boosting her confidence as a driver, but she was exhausted after a long day and just lost control. She shocked herself with her action, and is still contrite about it, though she has been forgiven long ago.
Ramesh has slapped his wife a couple of times, is grieved about it, but feels helpless at times. She will go on and on and on about whatever is upsetting her (usually his mother) and there is no way she is willing to stop. He is ashamed of his actions, and yet does not know how to deal with the situation. Rani does not feel that she has provoked him- she feels that all she wants is for him to listen to her vent without getting enraged. Neither of them feels that their marriage is over, both of them are trying to learn to communicate without anger, although they know have a long way to go.
Mita remembers her father banging his own head against the wall- that would be the only way her mother would stop ranting when she lost her temper. Although he never raised a hand on his wife, the children would be terrified. Was this a violence on his family? He injured himself, but the entire family was pained.
When a spouse deliberately breaks things to express his/her anger- does this count as domestic violence??? The classic stories cover breaking china and glassware and remote controls, TV screens etc., undoubtedly better than hitting a spouse, but nonetheless damaging. The funniest story I heard about this was when a friend's mother was throwing plates and glassware on the floor and breaking them, and her spouse was handing her things to break. Despite her rage, she would calmly put aside the more valuable items, like the Pyrex dishes, and then take the next proffered plate and smash it.
Many of these couples are perpetuating behaviour they have seen in their own childhood. Some of them recall violent physical fights with their siblings in their childhood, which continue with their spouses in adulthood. Adulthood requires us to control our hands and fists, and yet many of us have smacked our children at some point of time or the other. Smacking , slapping, hitting or punching anyone is not desirable behaviour. Nothing justifies it. But surely a single/occasional episode does not/should not signal the death warrant of a relationship in which both partners are willing to learn and willing to change.