By Shweta Sangtani Nov. 26, 2022
Reaction to the recent incident in Delhi has been consternation around Shraddha Walkar’s perceived reluctance to ‘walk out’ out of an abusive relationship. On United Nation’s Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, I’m writing to tell you, it’s not as simple.
“Why didn’t she just leave?”
I have heard this question repeatedly over the last few weeks. I’ve felt uncomfortable, bemused and often even angry, at the fact that we understand so little about how domestic violence works. Unfortunately, I speak from personal experience when I say that not only is this question a gross oversimplification of this horrible incident, but it also underlines the naivety of people who have asking it out loud. Abusive relationships do not begin by being abusive. How easy would it then be to detangle yourself if only a relationship showed signs of abuse right from the beginning. These relationships however, begin like any other relationship– with hope, tenderness and the innate aspiration to make it last.
It could all be as innocent as two people falling hopelessly for each other, but validation is central to any form of attachment.
It usually starts with ‘love bombing’, where the focus is on giving excessive attention and adoration to create an image of oneself, an image that can depended upon. Not to say that all relationships that begin like this necessarily become abusive. It could all be as innocent as two people falling hopelessly for each other, but validation is central to any form of attachment. Unfortunately, this validation can at come from basic acts like being cared for, or even being controlled. While this may feel ideal and perfect for months, once the abuser realises they have the desired control over the other person, the slow process of isolation begins. The tables, in terms of status quo, change to the point that walking away, becomes impossible.
In my case personally, this translated to my abuser making sure that I no longer had any real connections outside of our relationship, be it with friends or family. By the time the isolation was complete, the façade of this ideal person dropped. What ensued was manipulation, gaslighting and tantrums. For some time, you live with it, tell yourself ‘Love after all isn’t supposed to be easy’. We’re taught by our family, or cultural gurus in general, that you can’t give up on relationships. It’s sinful to even think so. ‘Beta, you have to adjust/compromise’. We’ve all heard these words of wisdom. There is also a stunning lack of alternatives. A woman can neither leave nor return to a home that is not considered ‘hers’.
By the time emotional abuse leads to physical violence, the person being abused has had their spirit fractured to the extent that they’re really just a skeleton of the person they used to be.
In reiterating this pledge over and over again, what message are we really sending out? That you try as hard as you can because nothing is worse than ending a relationship and being lonely or starting with someone new, all over again. Worse if you’re a woman. Our identities are tied with having a significant other. Why is it then such a shocker that women don’t just leave? Apart from the systematic disintegration of mental health and the sheer isolation that is brought about by emotional abuse, we aren’t exactly brought up to think that we are complete individuals in the absence of romantic relationships or at least men by our side, however despicable or violent. Even though families find the idea of reconciliation repugnant, we ought to do better than cut off from women who suffer, even if they can’t call out for help. Cutting off is not an option.
By the time emotional abuse leads to physical violence, the person being abused has had their spirit fractured to the extent that they’re really just a skeleton of the person they used to be. This wound is deepened by the internalisation of blame. Women, in this country aren’t invited to question authority but blame themselves for their routine misery. “It must have been my fault”, the tell themselves. And so did I. It’s no wonder then that they stay, taking their chances on the inside rather than on the outside.
If we just took the judgment away from those stuck in this cycle of abuse, then maybe, just maybe we can help them realise that they’re not alone in their suffering.
It is incredible that people expect the one who is bruised and battered to get up, take charge and walk out. The conversations rarely revolve around creating an environment where not only can domestic abuse be recognised, but its victims be humanised. Because It isn’t about the willpower. It never was. If these people could leave, they would. If I could leave sooner, I would have. Asking this over and over again is yet another form of victim blaming. If we just took the judgment away from those stuck in this cycle of abuse, then maybe, just maybe we can help them realise that they’re not alone in their suffering. Then maybe this discussion would simply be an academic exercise and not an article commiserating the ones we have lost. The ones who could have been saved, by sampling accepting that we don’t make it easier. Never have, but hopefully will.
There are places women can reach out to. Mumbai-based Akshara Centre, has created a website- www.standupagainstviolence.org which not only gives more information about the issues, laws but also provides list of available services which can be accessed. The group is available on the Arre Voice app (DM for invite), and on insta at @aksharacentreindi.
"Shweta Sangtani is a litigating lawyer at the Bombay High Court and a Co-founder of Sangya Project (@sangyaproject), an online pleasure store and initiative to reconstruct common perceptions of sex and sexuality."