The Shraddha murder case has sent shockwaves through the nation. Its brutality can be termed as novel or expected, both incumbent upon one’s experience of domestic violence. Some of us are struggling to understand how someone can commit such a heinous crime and others are wondering what makes women stay on in such dangerous situations.
It is not quite as unfathomable as it might appear to be. Having been witness to intimate partner violence faced by a dear friend, I can say with certainty that victims are motivated by several factors when making decisions to either leave highly-toxic relationships or stay on.
One of the foremost is their belief that their ‘credibility’ will be called into question if they open up about the relationship. It is often the case that women in such situations find themselves utterly alone, with no support outside the abusive relationship. The abuser, an expert manipulator, usually goes to great lengths to leave an impression of bonhomie and good temper about himself and that of a belligerent/ill-tempered hag on the part of the victim.
Another reason why victims choose to deal with the abuse ‘on their own’ is the emotional insecurity they are saddled with. Having made the decision to, in an overwhelmingly-large number of cases, go against the wishes of their family members and enter such a relationship, they are left with the formidable choice of calling it quits and coming to terms with the collapse of such a union or continuing to put up with the mental/physical/emotional violence.
Social stigma is another reason why we see women ‘staying on’ instead of either reporting the abuse to the authorities or seeking help through informal channels (anonymous complaint/confidential counselling). It is a deeply-ingrained belief among us Indians (in particular and south Asians, in general) that reporting the abuse would ‘bring shame’ on ourselves and our families and this holds us back from looking for assistance and potentially coming out safe from such a pernicious state of being.
Also, this kind of abuse builds up over time. It is rarely sudden.
Writing in the National Herald, women’s rights activist Kavita Krishnan says, “I’ve seen posts saying the couple (Shraddha-Aaftab) fell in love, lived together and suddenly one day Aftab strangled her when she suggested they marry. The sad thing is, I’m sure this wasn’t sudden. Usually boyfriends/husbands murder women after long periods of domestic violence.”
Intimate partner violence is invariably followed by expressions of remorse and obsequious grovelling. In case of my friend, the violence began over trivial matters and got progressively worse. After each incident of violence, her partner would begin to weep. This would be followed by profuse apologies and promises by him of never repeating such an act. Expectedly though, the violence would recur, with increased intensity and fell into a pattern of abuse-apology-more serious abuse.
It had come to a point where I had begun to fear for my friend’s well-being and safety.
As is now being reported, it is a fact that the degree of violence in such instances keeps getting worse, starting from a slap on the face and/or banging the head against the wall to degenerating into more severe, potentially-fatal beatings and assault.
Shraddha was estranged from her father and her mother had expired. This would leave any average person feeling emotionally astray and bereft of a psychological anchor. It is my conviction that her live-in partner Aaftab knew this and exploited it to the hilt.
As in the case of my friend, who was drawn back time and again into a highly-toxic situation due to her erroneous belief that her abuser was ‘apparently-sincere’ in his apology after every episode of violence, I am convinced Shraddha was motivated by similar hope of a course correction in the abuser’s behaviour. That she did not have an emotional support system among her immediate family may have proved to be the last straw, ultimately leading her to meet such a gruesome end at the hands of her partner.
However, there is no reason all such cases should have similar endings. Help is at hand and there are systems in place to assist victims of such abuse navigate the troubled waters of intimate partner violence. Once your partner becomes violent, it is no longer a ‘personal/private’ matter. Taking some, any action, at an early stage, is critical.
As Krishnan points out, “If only people reacted to domestic violence and took some action to stop it, it could save women’s lives. Sadly, domestic violence is largely seen as a ‘private matter’, a ‘lovers’ quarrel’ and hardly anyone interferes. Moreover, the woman’s own parents and natal family often discourage daughters from leaving an abusive marriage, telling her instead to adjust or merely try to get the husband to behave better, because in Indian society, divorced women are stigmatised.”
That this is not a one-of-its-kind incident is evident if we recall the gruesome murder of Dehradun-based Anupama Gulati in 2010, where her husband Rajesh Gulati chopped her body into more than 70 pieces and kept them in a deep-freezer for three months. Gulati would get rid of the remains in batches in the jungles of nearby Mussoorie. This was usually when he would drop his children off to school in the morning.