Should I leave…. or should I stay?
I was taught when I got married that I should never leave my man, no matter what happens, because you promise before GOD when you get married, that you will “stay for better or for worse… till death does us apart.”
I have heard people express the opinion, that even if a woman is abused, she should not leave her husband- That is the will of God.
Some people say that the woman should stay on and pray for her husband and so convert the husband into a better person.
The people who talked about this to me had not been abused.
Though it confused my way of thinking, I did not question it then.
In the past one month, I got to talk to women who had been abused – and had stayed. I got to interview women in the villages in south India who talked about their attitudes to abuse.
When you google definitions of domestic violence, there are so many that it is confusing. The words are complicated and large, the prevalence varies from article to article.
To the women I talked to, who have witnessed their grandfathers beating their grandmothers in drunken stupor, their fathers beating their mothers, who quietly took it, and seen their brothers beating their wives over tasteless food- to them it was abuse when it was physical. An occasional slap was normal. Abuse was when the husband beat the wife causing injury.
Verbal abuse, ie calling names, insulting them and their parents, humiliating them in front of their friends was normal. In their own words- “Which husband does not shout at their wives? That cannot be normal.”
Another interesting thing I observed was their definition of a good man. “A man who is otherwise good, as in provides for the family and does not squander money in alcohol can be tolerated even if he is occasionally violent, after all he is good otherwise.” A bad man is someone who is violent and alcoholic and does not provide for the family.
I found a lot of self blame. “When I have not prepared tasty food for my husband, I am prepared to accept the punishment for it. I would try to improve myself the next time.” One woman told me “I am not a good cook, it is my fault.” Another woman who was chronically abused expressed “I must have done something wrong, without knowing it, otherwise why would he be so angry with me?”
I found that this theme of tasty food came up very often in the conversation. I interpreted it in two ways, firstly that food was culturally very important and secondly, that the wife was seen as responsible for making sure the husband has tasty food to eat, and that it was the husband’s right to eat good food. This view was accepted by even the women.
Why had they stayed?
Some stayed so as to not trouble their family, since it would be bad for their reputation. Also it was common in this community to intermarry in families, particularly common was being married to the mother’s younger brother (Maternal uncle). A separation in the family would be very complicated.
Staying alone as a woman was impossible, since single women were a target of abuse by all the other men in the community. The target woman will then be labelled bad and shunned by the entire community, including the women thereof.
Some stayed because they felt sorry for their ‘otherwise good husband’. ‘A man also needs a vent for his frustrations’, they explained, ‘and may they vent it on their wives, because they are closest to them.’
Some stay for the sake of their children, the children’s reputation and their name in society.
One filed a divorce case after her husband broke both her hands over a suspicion, but was forced by the police to look after him when he met with an accident. They are now back together, the abuse continues.
Many took pride in not having complained about their husbands to anyone and for not having asked for help from their family. It having been kept within the family was an accomplishment.” Husbands are our living Gods, we should not say anything bad about them.”
With time they would repent. Things would become better.
For us who have such high expectations of marriage, this way of looking at things was unacceptable, not just in any sense, but to the women this was a way of life.
In this age of feminism and women rights, I do not know where to fit this in.
I do not know what to do with women who are not aware of and forsake their rights voluntarily, but don’t have an option of standing up for themselves either.
I admire each of the women I have talked to. All of them have scars- physical and psychological. But it has not brought them down. They have survived the odds, come out strong.
I did not approve of their self blame or justifying the abuser, but may be that is the only way they could make sense of things.
This is what I wish I could tell them:
You have been abused, physically and psychologically. It is not fair, it is not just. You did not deserve it and it was not your fault in any way. I wish your mother in laws had taught their sons respect for women. I wish your husbands had been taught self respect. But you cannot change that. Many of you cannot change your situation.
But you can do two things:
- You can teach your children to respect each other regardless of gender. Teach them that every human being deserves respect. Train your boys to be chivalrous towards you first, then others, reward them with plenty of love. Teach your girls that they deserve to be treated like princesses and give them good education. Teach them that in this world there are plenty of bad people, but also some good people and that they choose which category they belong to.
- Talk to young wives, while they are still in the honeymoon phase of marriage. Teach them that it is not OK to be abused. Teach them that they are worthy of being treated well. In my country, I can say with confidence that the government will not help you. But you can help each other. Do not blame women who are undergoing abuse. Be friends with them, wash their wounds. Don’t let them go through it alone.
I have run out of ideas, but if you have suggestions on what could be done for these women, please let me know.
Dear Lord, I pray for all the women who are undergoing abuse, physical, verbal or emotional. I pray that they realise that they are worthy of love and worthy of life. I pray that they understand how much you love them. Lord, hold each one of them in your mighty hands. Bring to them people who can shelter them and protect them from harm. Open doors where there were none, and lead them to life in its fullest. AMEN.
Photo credit- http://www.expressivehearts.com