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Domestic Violence Not a Subaltern Issue

  • Jainab Tabassum Banu Sonali
  • 17th May, 2022 06:29:42 PM
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Domestic Violence Not a Subaltern Issue

Domestic violence has been a common practice throughout history. It is a form of violence and oppression that may happen to any family member. According to a 2015 survey by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics and the United Nations Population Fund, almost 70 percent of married women go through some sort of domestic abuse –   physical, emotional, financial and sexual – by their male counterparts. Even during the pandemic in 2020, in the first nine months, at least 235 women were murdered by their husbands or the in-laws as reported by Ain and Salish Kendra. Ironically, while becoming a developing country, Bangladesh also ranks one of the highest in the world with respect to domestic violence. The cases are increasing in number because no effective action has been taken by the victims.

Conventionally, people think that domestic violence takes place mostly in the lower class— the subaltern class. And, as Gayatri Chakravarty Spivak says, “The subaltern cannot speak”. Even when they speak, they produce an inaudible voice that is not heard by most people, especially the privileged class. In such circumstances, the subaltern women are taken for granted since they are mostly uneducated and employed at survival jobs or not employed at all. The entire capitalist and patriarchal social structures are to be blamed. These downtrodden people commit heinous crimes like domestic abuse and get over with it to carry on its dark legacy because the cases are mostly not filed and dissolved. In a word, domestic abuse in the lower class has been normalised. It has become a part of their everyday life, a way of living and a lived experience. Therefore, victims themselves do not really feel abused. So, they rarely raise their voice against any assault.

In some cases, a single incident becomes a regular practice and one kind of ritual because of remaining silent for years. Many women from the subaltern class, with broken hearts, assume that the police and judiciary system would not listen to their cries because they are poor and helpless. Hence, instead of lodging a formal and written complaint against abusers, a victim chooses to remain quiet and gets used to this ‘norm’. Audre Lorde says, “Your silence cannot protect you”. Surely, the silence of these abused women neither protects them nor prevents their children from witnessing and then internalising the violent, yet normalised act.

Due to not having a specialised, specific and structured policy against domestic violence, the matter is never resolved. However, many NGOs and private organisations have been working to empower the subaltern victims by providing them with various kinds of support they may need to take action against domestic violence (DV). Bangladesh has many support systems at the government and non-government levels to support DV survivors during their crises. However, the caregivers and service providers are not properly and professionally trained. As a result, the victims do not get effective solutions to their problems.

As these victims are the subaltern, they are conventionally and unfortunately thought of enduring anything that happens to them. However, domestic violence is not a subaltern issue. Shockingly, there are many DV incidents in educated and well-employed families. Let me share a real incident with fictional names. On one fine evening, suddenly Renu came out wailing from her flat along with two of her adult daughters aging 26 and 22 and hid inside a neighbour's place. Her abusive husband Rashid chased them and stood outside the door. Shouting and cursing like a hog, he verbally abused these three women and at any cost wanted to continue beating them up to death.

Why? The younger daughter Tara (22) took his car's key without seeking her parents’ permission. She went for a short drive with one of her male friends and had a minor accident. Fortunately, she was safe, but the accident caused multiple damages to the car, which turned Rashid mad at her as soon as he found out the truth by checking out the CCTV footage. He immediately felt betrayed as none of his family members informed him about the incident and accident beforehand. So, out of anger, he started beating his daughters and wife.

Now, the question is why were the wife and the daughters afraid of telling the truth to Rashid? They were scared of his inhumane behaviour and ill-tempered mood. The seed of this fear was sown a long time ago when Rashid beat his wife for the first time privately and Renu did not disclose it due to shame and despair. Renu and her daughters were scared because every time an unwanted incident happened, Rashid lost his temper and inappropriately treated all of them. They remained silent and their silence became a silent weapon to destroy the peace of their mind and family. Rashid, the husband, the father, and the ultimate patriarch became a fearful and ferocious person to all of them. Instead of becoming a shelter, he became a source of terror to his family members.

Tara told the security man that she took permission from her mother. But her mother denied and confirmed that she did not know anything about it. Then how come Tara took the key without letting her mother know and went away? Why would a 22-year-old young woman lie to her mother? It is because the long-standing history of her mother’s abuse never let Tara view her mother as an important person despite Ranu’s financial independence. She saw her father mistreating her mother for years. Since the father was not there, Tara did not bother taking permission from her submissive and abused mother and went right away. To tackle the security hurdle, she lied to the gateman. So, Renu has been undervalued by her daughter.

Then when Rashid came back from work and found the damages in his car, he blamed the security service and then checked the CCTV footage. The revelation of the incident brought the animal out of his personality. He ferociously beat them all! The patriarch in him could not take the fact that his daughter went away with a male friend without his permission. It set fire to his male ego. He could not handle his anger when his wife tried to stop him from crashing and smashing Tara's head. So, she got beaten up too. To Rashid, the best way to deal with a disobedient daughter is to beat her up to death. He was about to commit homicide as he thought that his daughter brought shame to his family’s reputation. The neighbours interfered on time and the honour killing could not take place.

What Tara did is definitely unacceptable. She should have sought permission from her parents. She should have told her father before he got to know it from other sources. Ours is not a westernised country where children above the age of 18 would readily take the responsibility for their own lives and bear the consequences of their own actions. Tara could not do either of the aforementioned things, because her father never gave her the comfort zone to talk and share her mind. He never listened to her, rather silenced her and her mother every time they wanted to assert something. The authoritative father failed to become a friend. He even failed to become a good father. He became a tyrant who made his subjects obey him at any cost. And for every disobedience, there were physically torturous punishments.

In the aforementioned case, Renu and Rashid do not seem to share a compatible conjugal bond. Though both of them are breadwinners and almost equally contribute to the family, in their relationship they are utterly unequal. Here, the man is superior and the wife is subjugated and subdued by him. Rashid plays the tyrant role who thinks that the job of his wife is to primarily serve him and endure all his abuses. Since they cannot make a good couple, one of them fails to be a friendly parent. When parents are amicable towards their children, the children find more space to breathe.

Domestic violence leaves the children with traumatic experiences and thoughts. It negatively impacts emotional regulation too. As a result, children directly or systematically internalise and externalise problems and post-traumatic stress. While dealing with post-traumatic anxiety, they often become the replica of the abuser or the victim. Tara becomes like her abusive father and does not think of the consequences her mother may have to face due to her bold actions. Tara, like many other youngsters of the contemporary world, has developed a harmful carefree attitude. It happens when children are not taught to conform to the tradition.

Renu and Rashid are educated and employed middle-class people. But like those uneducated, poorly employed subaltern women, Renu could not raise her voice against DV. Rashid, despite being an educated man, behaved like those abusive rickshaw pullers who beat their wives on a daily basis as if abusing women is a routine job of a man. There have been many measures already taken to prevent domestic violence from all levels. Still, we need to recurrently remember and remind of the steps to stop DV.

First of all, it is important to see people as human beings regardless of their class and gender. Showing disrespect to women may lead to more serious consequences for the next generation. The relay race of violence will go on if it is not prevented right now! The man should not treat the woman as the ‘second sex’, rather he should respect him as the significant other of the family. The conjugal bond is built on love and respect. When any form of violence takes place, the love and respect are gone!

Moreover, parents should develop a friendly relationship with their children. There should not be a communication gap between parents and children. When children see friendliness in their parents and warmth and appreciation in their treatment, they tend to share almost everything with them. Sharing is a way of caring and it can prevent further dangers from occurring. However, good parenting does not necessarily make a man a better husband anyway. He may still be abusive towards his wife. 

In that case, the victim is the one who can take the first and foremost action against DV. If someone experiences DV, she must raise her voice. She should reach out to neighbours, family members, friends and well-wishers at the moment of abuse. And she must inform the police or the legal support system as soon as she feels endangered. On the other hand, if someone locates a woman in danger at her domestic place, he or she should make sure that further damage does not happen and that the victim finally reaches a safe destination.

Since religious stigma and cultural practices contribute much to domestic violence, it is crucial to impart proper religious knowledge. In every living religion, women are respected and embraced. Still, in the name of religion and customary patriarchal culture, there are many incidents of honour killing and violence. Women also keep shut because raising their voice against the man in the house may pollute their religious spirit. However, true religious people are never violent. This must be taught and learned by both men and women.

There are a few victim-support centres in the country. However, it is time the government developed more effective and stronger prevention mechanisms to stop DV. Legal laws should be passed and implemented, if any case is filed against an abuser. Since the victims may find it difficult to physically go to the centres to lodge complaints, there should be constructive online services for filling against all sorts of gender-based violence.

Domestic violence is a grave violation of women’s rights. People in the dark ages used to do it abruptly. The society has always been progressing. But if around one-third of the population remains in darkness, will the nation really progress? The human race is created from the genes of both men and women. If women are suppressed, oppressed and humiliated, will the race sustain with dignity? Let’s raise our voice against DV because our silence can never protect us.

(The writer is an Assistant Professor, Department of English Language and Literature, Premier University Chittagong)

Source: Sun Editorial