(This was first published on 24 June 2021. It has been republished from The Quint's archives after a Kerala court found Vismaya Nair's husband Kiran Kumar guilty of abuse, instigating her suicide.)
A famous line that often makes the rounds on social media – “A divorced daughter is better than a dead one.”
I might disagree with a few things about it, but considering today’s grim reality, I do think this statement holds true. Since the horrifying news broke out about Vismaya Nair’s death on 21 June 2021, I’ve received phone calls from a few women who couldn’t control how triggered it left them.
“It could have been me,” said one girl.
I run a support group for divorce – it’s inclusive of all genders, and applicable to those going through a divorce, gone through one or are contemplating it.
Frankly, we’re at a very confused place as a society right now. With the advent of the internet, and the education we generously receive from it, we see a change in behaviour.
We want to be seen as ‘woke’, ‘modern’ and ‘really cool.’ In the same breath, we’re also caught between what we’ve been taught all our lives – stigma, shame, and fear.
‘What Would People Say?’ – A Nightmare That Rings Through Households
Let me paint you a brief picture of where we stand today.
Do you think urban India has ‘accepted’ divorce as a concept? Think again. Snap out of the bubble.
With my own personal experience of having a supportive family throughout my divorce, I too once believed we’re progressing. Maybe we are, at a snail’s pace, I thought. But it was only when I started interacting with more people who’ve been through a divorce that I understood the gravity of it.
Families do not want their daughters to return home because –“What would people say?” This one sentence is a real nightmare that rings through most households.
A friend was not allowed to come back home from an abusive marriage because her cousin’s wedding was around the corner. And this ‘drama’ could affect the family, they felt. She pleaded with her parents, but they refused to take a chance.
‘Hide It With Lipstick’, ‘Wear Long Sleeves’ – But For How Long?
That’s just one story from a sea of horrors. I facilitate support groups every once in a while, to get people together and can say that abuse can come in many forms – physical, emotional, financial, among many others.
We’ve heard ‘hide it with lipstick, wear long-sleeved clothes, use a dupatta’ far too often to hide wounds, scars, bites, slaps, and abuse. But for how long?
Why do women continue to stay in abusive relationships despite all of this?
One of the main reasons, particular to the Indian context, is that women are financially dependent on the husband. This makes it 10 times harder for them to leave the house.
Where do they go? If kids are involved, what happens to them? In many instances, parents threaten and emotionally blackmail to cut ties with their child if they leave the marriage.
It’s extremely difficult to ‘just leave.’ Many a times, it is not even an option that women have.
Unfortunately, abuse is accepted as a ‘very normal’ part of marriage so often.
Women, if you have family or parental support for tough decisions you make in your marriage, it is nothing but a privilege. Use that privilege to help others in whatever capacity you can.
When I started writing under #DivorceIsNormal on Instagram, something I kept emphasising on was that this conversation wasn’t just for those who’re directly involved in the divorce, but for others around as well.
It’s applicable to everybody thriving in this society. We’re all complicit in pushing the stigma ahead if we don’t learn to break the chain.
Start a Conversation, Spark a Thought
Take, for instance, you are at a family gathering and you notice someone making a comment on divorce in some way. What are you doing about it? It doesn’t hurt to start a conversation then and there.
Whether you’re married or not, have you spoken to your parents to understand their take on divorce?
Education can present itself in many forms, and most of it involves conversations that spark a thought. Today, it could be a comment or a joke at a public event, tomorrow it could be their own daughter they don’t welcome back into their home.
If you’re a parent reading this – let your daughters know that you will support and accept them and their decisions. It doesn’t matter if the neighbours make a snarky comment, or if an aunt calls out of the blue with bizarre marriage advice.
What truly matters is that your daughter is safe, happy, and cared for. Now that really isn’t too much to ask for, is it?
How to Help Someone in An Abusive Relationship?
Social media has also not made it easy for us, right? We all feel the pressure to put up the best version of ourselves out there. The best of pictures and videos.
The couple might have an abusive relationship, but a picture with a #couplegoals is what you and I witness on their profile.
I’m not here to comment on whether that’s right or wrong, but I’m here to say that a lot of reality is hidden. Abuse happens in silence, secretly locked behind doors that conceal the truth and beyond social media.
So, what can you do to help someone in an abusive relationship or marriage?
- Check in with your friends. Don’t push, but let them know you’re here to help.
- If a victim opens up to you about abuse, DO NOT invalidate their experience.
- Don’t offer solutions to them unless they ask for it. Taking a vacation does not stop abuse.
- Be gentle, be kind, and find the right resources and help for them.
- Support groups are a good resource for help, and it helps to talk to others who’ve been through similar experiences.
- Offer assistance of whatever kind you can – shelter, finances, therapy, even the right words will do.
What we need is a change in attitude towards divorce. To normalise divorce in every household across the country.
Divorce is a marriage that didn’t work out, why does it need to be a thing of shame? Divorce IS normal, and I will continue echoing this until I’m alive.
The responsibility of changing the narrative doesn’t lie solely on my shoulders, it’s on you, you, you and hey, also you. That could be the only way we can avoid another heartbreaking incident like Vismaya’s.
I cannot help but think of how she could have been saved had her family acted swiftly and did the right thing.
(Shasvathi Siva is a Chennai girl settled in Mumbai. She runs a support group for divorce and is on a mission to normalise divorce in every household. Her first book ‘Divorce is Normal'’is due to be published in 2022. She writes at @shasvathi on Instagram. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)