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Intimate Partner Violence: Breaking the myths of a phenomenon all women experience

Often it is heard from ‘erudite’, so-called ‘polished intellectuals’ of society with a bent of mind to dissect sociological phenomenon, that the discourses of the female liberation movement do not reach ‘those’  rungs of society that ‘need’ it the most. What they indicate is the demographic of the working class people when it comes to respect and safety for women. It is a common presumption that only working-class people, who inhabit the lower rungs of society’s economic hierarchy, drivers, cleaners, sweepers, janitors, e.t.c are the only men who go home intoxicated to beat up their wives, or perpetuate heinous crimes against women, rape or molest or abduct them. The filter of ‘rich’, ‘classy’, ‘educated’ almost, it seems, exempts men from even entering the imagination of the general public in shapes and forms of harassers and abusers. The other presumption that goes hand in hand with this one is the thought that the bracket of economic class and richness automatically bestows women with awareness or a safety cushion against men or from being abused at the hands of men.

Several survey reports conducted across the country have shown how intimate partner violence is a phenomenon well spread amongst both India’s rich as well as poor. Several times, ideas of middle-class morality, class honour and prestige prevent class privileged women from going public about oppression at the hands of partners as much as does lack of awareness or societal normalization which prevents class compromised women from reporting or taking action. And this is to speak of the demographic of older women in marital relationships. There is a much unspoken of demographic comprising of women abused by partners in non-marital relationships that makes accountability an even more slippery slope.

It is a common notion still prevalent in the country that abuse in romantic relationships is limited only to physical beatings. Even narrower is the idea of the kind of relationships in which partners can be abused in the name of love. ‘Domestic violence’ is the only known form of intimate partner violence to the general Indian population. Even in that category, violence extends only to considering physical oppression. Emotional, psychological or manipulative torture is hardly considered a reality although for almost every other woman in a relationship can attest to having suffered considerable misery at the hands of immature, uncompromising partners with stunted emotional abilities. Intimate partner violence extends as much from violent spouses or boyfriends to gaslighting ( emotional abuse) ones, emotionally manipulative ones, passive-aggressive ones, narcissistic ones, verbally abusive ones and, most importantly sexually abusive ones.

In India, the idea of sexual abuse is only limited to non-consensual penetrative sex, or rape, as most Indians know it, with the criminality, validated only if the perpetrator is a stranger. While reports show that most women have experienced sexual violence or abuse at the hands of known men or relatives, India still doesn’t have laws against marital rape. That the act of sex is comprised of layers and layers of seeking consent, that an act that started consensually can quickly degenerate into non-consensual forceful assault, are difficult concepts for Indian men to internalize. Even more difficult to be internalized is the idea that wives too can be raped by their husbands. Several women in India are married off without any prior idea, experience or knowledge of their own sexuality. Leave aside experiencing pleasure, several are doomed to suffer nights of discomfort and pain at the hands of rough, oftentimes brutal spouses with no understanding of their partners’ pleasure points or bodies. The fact that all of these experiences count for silent suffering and their perpetration for assault, is an idea hardly explored by Indians.

Intimate partner violence is prevalent across all social strata, across all age groups, across all demographics. It is one thing that stands as a universal experience binding women if not any other: emotionally (often sexually) stunted, non compromising partners. It is important for us women to recognize our areas of discomfort, be it even the most trivial of gestures like a touch against our will. With recognizing and awareness comes the rest of the fight. We women need to be aware of our boundaries and areas of the comfort in personal or intimate spaces from a very young age and need to educate our progeny about the same. For, the personal is always political and the first marker of empowerment.

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