The United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (1993) defines violence against women as: 'any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.' There are areas of violence within the home that are so subtle, so deeply embedded into their mindsets and so invisible that even the women subjected to such violence are not aware of these and accept this as an integral part of their roles as wife, mother, sister, daughter-in-law and daughter. There is no region of the world, no country and no culture in which women live free from violence.
Women and girls, married, single, widowed or divorced, are constantly subjected to emotional violence. Ruchira (name changed)’s telephone conversations were restricted by her father except if they were for professional reasons. Her two younger brothers did not face such censorship. The movements of Indian girls and women are restricted in terms of time, space and occupation and social networking. The reason given is that it is not safe for girls to move and mingle freely beyond the ‘protective’ environment of the home. The parents and husband are not aware that this ‘protective’ censorship is emotional violence. As girls, most of us have been conditioned never to question the restrictions placed on our movement, education, space, occupation, relationships, friendships, dress habits and choice of marriage partner.
Leena’s husband paced up and down while Leena talked on the phone, never mind who she talked to. After five minutes, he would send signs asking her to call off because either he was expecting some ‘important call’ or he had to make an urgent call. After five years, Leena lost her temper and insisted that she would either take a new connection or would split the bill. The cell phone thankfully, has cut down on this constant monitoring of telephone calls made by women.
At a seminar on violence, a participant expressed how her husband forced her to cut off all ties with her parents’ family even for family functions like weddings, birthdays and bhau beej. He would flush down the sweets and gifts her parental family sent in the toilet. But he did not drink or womanize or beat her up. This is emotional violence which women rarely question because they accept it as part of being a woman. As if being a woman is a crime!
Sometimes, a woman is sidetracked by family members while making introductions when guests arrive. She is only called to serve the tea and eats. The guests expect an introduction which does not happen. This is emotional violence. This happens to high-achiever women and women who are full-time housewives. A noted doctor complained to her friends about not being introduced by her husband when friends dropped in. The husband felt threatened to reveal that his wife was an achiever. The housewife is given similar treatment for the opposite reason – there is no need to introduce her to anyone because she is no one, anyway!
A man did not take his wife to social gatherings because ‘there was no place in the car.’ It took ten years for her to question why it always had to be she who was left behind and why not someone else! She created her personal network and went to functions without the husband! She used public transport. Ignoring, humiliating, insulting can happen for any reason – the woman is very beautiful or the woman is very ugly. In English-Vinglish, the housewife is insulted by her own husband and daughter because she cannot speak English. In another Indian film, the husband repeatedly points out that the wife speaks English all the time and is therefore, is cut off from her roots! Even watching television or listening to music is restricted for many women, specially ageing mothers forced to live with adult children.
Emotional violence happens when the woman is deprived of every human choice that is hers by right and by birth. Theatre personality Usha Ganguly says- ‘they insult you because you are ‘indecently’ dressed and they insult you because you have ‘covered yourself too much.’ Criticizing your body language, your appearance, your weight and colour of skin or hair, your vocabulary, your culinary skills are part of this collective conspiracy of emotional violence on women. There is no law you can take recourse to, your only lawyer is you.
Violence against women is not only a manifestation of unequal power relations between men and women; it is a mechanism for perpetuating inequality. Most housewives, employed or not, do not know how much their husband earns, whether he is saving for a rainy day or for the children’s education. Most of them are conditioned to silence. My mother never ever knew what salary my father was drawing. Yet, he was a self-proclaimed Marxist who strongly believed in the equality of the sexes and in women’s education! It was only after he passed away and she began to get widow pension could she guess what his last drawn salary was.
The main wage-earner hands over a fixed amount to the wife if the wife is controlling the family expenses. The money that the husband hands over is less than the money he draws as his take-home salary. What he does with this ‘difference’ is his business even if he is saving it for the family! That is why when the male earning head suddenly dies, the wife and kids do not have the slightest clue about his financial status. Instead of grieving, they are forced to run from pillar to post to take stock of their financial standing.
Mrs. Rao had to write the daily outgoing expenses in minute detail. When her husband came back from work, he would ask for the notebook and circle the items he did not approve of with a red pen! If the red circle ran to more than five items, the wife would be thrown out with her three small daughters without dinner to spend the night on the doorstep of their flat! Yet, she ran a tuition class for small children during the day. She was educated and modern. But can modernity resolve this extreme economic violence?
“The countless chores collectively known as “housework” – cooking, washing dishes, doing laundry, making beds, sweeping, shopping etc. – apparently consume some three to four thousand hours of the average housewife’s year,” writes Oakley in The Sociology of Housework, 1974. It does not even account for the constant and unquantifiable attention mothers must give to their children. Just as a woman’s maternal duties are always taken for granted, her never-ending toil as a homemaker rarely occasions expressions of appreciation within her family. The Census of India classifies homemakers as ‘non-workers’ on par with beggars, prostitutes and prisoners.
Married working women do not necessarily have control over their income. The two incomes of husband and wife are often pooled for the family budget. Mostly, the wife does not know how to file her income tax returns. Many women do not even know that they need a PAN Card or even has one because the pooled income is taken care of by the husband. It never occurs to her to keep some money aside for personal expenses. At work, she is often not aware that she is due for an increment and cannot read her own salary slip. She only reads the total and hands the cheque over to her husband. She does not press for promotion in case it involves a transfer to another city or sometimes, even to a different branch within the same city because this will topple the balance of her household responsibilities as wife and mother.
We have no control over the shelter we live in. When we are little, we live in our father’s home. He does not give daughters a share of the shelter in most cases because they are daughters, per se. Then it is the matrimonial home of her husband. Even if the flat has been purchased in her name (to save on Wealth Tax) or she has inherited it as an only child. She has no control if her husband is dead and has willed away the house to her. She is constantly under pressure either to leave the home or to transfer it in the name of some son or daughter. Wherever she lives, it is not her house and she has to remain grateful living under this roof. Even in legal parlance, she either lives in her PATERNAL HOME or in her MATRIMONIAL HOME. Virginia Woolf lives in India!