by Pooja Garg
In the end,
If they knew where it was
All women would go home –
That One Billion Rising movement against domestic violence should choose Valentine’s Day to dance and shake silence out of domestic violence seems both ironic and heartwarming in parts. Statistics show that one third of all women in India and one fourth of all women worldwide remain victims. Yet, domestic violence continues to be the elephant in the room and the dialog on the subject remains sparse.
Not the least because survivors do not step up and talk about their experiences. There is always the shadow of the attached guilt and shame. Guilt that one let it happen to oneself either for one’s acts of omission or commission towards husband. In other words, failed to be a dutiful wife as defined and desired by husband. The other factor which leads to guilt especially in educated, independent women who continue to be victims is that one was not strong enough to resist or to put a stop to it. It is in fact a big misconception that it is only illiterate or financially lacking women who are victims of domestic violence. Shame comes from talking about one’s body as not being inviolate or honored any more. In that sense, shame is almost, if not equal to rape.
Perhaps it is time to take one step further and use Valentine’s Day to talk about moving from abuse to self-preservation and self-love. As one billion rise to dance in various parts of the world, one hopes the din reaches the women trapped in the cycle of abuse. For most, it is anathema to even think of a way out. Even as they live in constant fear, any talk of leaving their situation is met with bewilderment and confusion. Sapped of independent thought, their entrapment is complete.
It does not help that a lot of families choose not to interfere blaming the girl for creating cause that led to violence. Families who do start by supporting the girl also give up at some point when women themselves choose not to walk away. This is the most misunderstood part of domestic violence. Why does a woman being offered protection not take it? Is she really being abused if she does not walk away? Agencies working in this area talk of the ‘cycle of abuse’ where every incident of abuse is followed by ‘honeymoon phase’ and which gives hope to the abused that all will be better in future.
Here is a piece of advice for anyone who is in an abusive relationship, or to pass it on anyone in such a situation : do this one little thing for yourself today. Pack your emergency bag.
What are the things you will need to take if you had to suddenly leave in an event of fire? Think of a similar emergency and pack accordingly.
Things that such a bag may contain:
Passports, ration cards and other identifying documents
Your bank documents and credit card
Cash for at least meal and cab fare to the airport or bus/train station – cards can be a fickle thing
Emergency contact list
Phone and phone charger
(If you have) laptop/ipad and its charger
One set of clothes
Something which inspires you – a book/a quote/a poem
Some of these things may take days to organize, such as your documents. Or your emergency contact list. Or money. Or phone. So make a start. Today.
Don’t worry about other keepsakes, clothes etc. It is hard, but don’t. Don’t worry about using this emergency bag either. The idea may seem overwhelming. So relax. Just pack and put it away somewhere safe. You will know when it is the right time to use it. Even if it takes years for you to decide. It is possible you may never have to use it. But it helps. A lot.
Because the day you pack that bag, you have taken the first step towards your freedom. You have let your subconscious get used to the idea of a life outside what defines you currently. The more you live with it, the more you will find the idea empowering. Hopefully it would make you think more about a life without abuse. The possibility of such a life. The possibility of being your own person again.
Your silence today is not a measure of your strength. Always remember that. In the quiet of the night, hug yourself. Think of a billion outside in the world dancing for you.
And then there is this poem by Osip Mandelstram which will make for a great addition to your emergency bag:
You took away all the oceans and all the room.
You gave me my shoe-size in earth with bars around it.
Where did it get you? Nowhere.
You left me my lips, and they shape words, even in silence.
[Pooja Garg is Founder Editor of The Woman Inc and is working on a project to chronicle domestic violence survival stories.]