Violence Against Women: Can Indian Parents Finally Have Their Daughters' Backs?
National Family Health Survey says 30 percent of women in India between 18- 49 years experienced physical violence
(25 November marks International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. This story highlights the meteoric rise in gendered violence and its wide-ranging implications in the light of recent incidents in India.)
The brutal murder of a 28-year-old woman from Mumbai—Shraddha Walkar allegedly at the hands of her live-in partner has sent shockwaves across the nation and doing rounds in the news cycle for the past many days for its gruesome yet sensational nature.
However, the conversations emerging around this case are concerning for their discursive nature. From Love Jihad to victim-blaming, social media is brimming with discourses in every possible direction on the incident except for the correct one.
Walkar had reportedly moved to Delhi with Aftab Ameen Poonawala in May this year as their families disapproved of their interfaith relationship. In a recent interview, her father claimed that he had approached Aftab’s family with a marriage proposal back in 2019.
Shraddha's Walkar had reportedly moved to Delhi with Aftab Ameen Poonawala in May as their families disapproved of interfaith relationship. Father debunks claims.
Police said, the couple frequently argued over suspicions of infidelity. A friend of the deceased also claimed that Poonawala used to physically assault Walkar frequently.
This case should motivate Indian parents to change patterns and talk about toxic relationships and abuse with their kids.
A 2017 in Malaysia found that unconditional support from families and friends, apart from government aid, helped women survivors maintain their commitment to end abusive marriages.
Marriage Was on the Cards for Shraddha’s Interfaith Relationship
According to him, Poonawala’s family had not only rejected his proposal but also insulted him as well. However, earlier news reports on the case suggested that Walkar and her father had eventually cut all ties with each other due to the relationship.
While the timeline and version of events being presented in the media are still debatable, there is a certain consistency in reporting over what led to the young woman’s death.
Just days after the couple moved to Delhi, Poonawala and Walkar got into an argument after which he allegedly strangled and killed her. What followed after that is known to everyone as it got pegged as being the infamous "Delhi Murder".
According to police, the couple frequently argued over suspicions of infidelity. A friend of the deceased has also claimed that Poonawala used to physically assault Walkar frequently. “She wanted to leave him but couldn't do so,” he told ANI.
As is our tendency, people are busy dissecting the case trying to pinpoint the cause behind the incident. Or let us rephrase that, endorsing a cause that suits their agenda. There is a section that has already painted the incident as a matter of Love Jihad, without any substantive evidence.
Then there is another section that is using the narrative being presented in media as a horror story that would grant them control over the lives of young unmarried women in their families.
Media Trials, Blame Games and More..
This is what happens when you don’t listen to your parents. Women should always trust their parents’ opinions. After all, they speak from experience. What if this had happened to a woman in an arranged marriage, though? What if both Walkar and Poonawala had hailed from the same faith and their parents had accepted their alliance? These were some of the narratives that were conveniently spun around the murder case, directly or indirectly putting the onus on the victim for being in the fault of her independent choices.
While these surface, it's also important to reverse the lense on this matter and ask some pertinent questions from the other side. Can Indian parents assure their daughters that marriages and relationships approved by them will guarantee safety from abuse and violence? Can those crying Love Jihad swear that intimate partner violence only occurs in interfaith relationships? If not, then how is policing young women and their choices the solution here? Why aren’t we talking about enabling women to walk out of abusive relationships by assuring them that they will have unconditional support from their families?
Family Support Can Be Safe Haven for Women in Abusive Bonds
Mind you, neither Walkar nor her parents are to be blamed in any way for this tragic mishap but we need to address the set of problematic discourses that we see developing around this incident.
If anything, this case should motivate Indian parents to talk about toxic relationships with their kids. Indian parents seldom talk about abuse in relationships with their wards. They never encourage them to ask questions as the subject makes parents uncomfortable for the fear that children may expose the double standards prevalent in our society. As a result, most suffer in isolation, some ending in horrible states.
In October this year, a woman was killed by her husband in front of their nine-year-old daughter due to marital discord. The child told the police that her parents used to quarrel frequently. In September, a Ghaziabad-based man hit his wife with a bat and then strangled her to death. The deceased woman’s parents accused her husband of demanding dowry.
And who can forget the case of from August 2022? The New York-based Sikh woman who died by suicide, having endured domestic abuse for eight years at the hands of her husband. Kaur’s father later accused his son-in-law of demanding a dowry worth 50 lakh rupees. This union which had the blessing of Kaur’s parents, ended traumatically but where’s the discourse on abusive husbands and partners, or dowry demands in matrimonial alliances forged by parents?
These are just a few of the many incidents of Intimate Partner Violence that make it to the news every year. Sadly, we only pay heed to agenda-driven or sensational incidents like the Walkar-Poonawala case.
Each case of domestic abuse speaks of the society's failure to address the issue sensitively and protect vulnerable women and men from the throes of an abusive relationship, so that the survivors feel empowered enough to walk away and seek refuge in friends and family.
Prioritising Self and Safety Over ‘What Will People Say?’
If as many as of women between 18 and 49 years of age in India have experienced physical violence (as per National Family Health Survey 5), then it is a clear indication that many families are still not raising boys to see women as equal partners, or even humans who deserve to live with dignity. But, when it comes to domestic violence, the conversation can’t stop here.
Why not teach our daughters and sons to spot early signs of a relationship turning toxic? Why can’t parents tell children to always prioritise well-being over social reputation?
Parental support can not only encourage women to walk out of abusive relationships but also provide them with necessary emotional, financial and social support that is necessary to take a step that could have multifaceted implications on their life.
A 2017 conducted in Malaysia found that unconditional support from families and friends, apart from assistance they received from government agencies, helped women survivors of domestic violence maintain their commitment to leaving abusive marriages.
Not just parents though, every one of us needs to accept this bitter truth- our loved ones will take decisions in life that we won’t approve of. Some of them might turn out to be good, while others could have poor repercussions. When that happens, they don’t need our silence or I told you sos. They need our love and kindness that could keep them from harm’s way and help them restart their lives.
We can prevent another such tragedy, but not by controlling young women’s bodies and robbing them of their agency, because that will do nothing to discourage abusive behaviour. Instead, let us talk to our children, friends, and peers about domestic abuse. Let us change the dialogue around this taboo subject and focus on aspects like healing and support, rather than indulging in a blame game.
(Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is the author of The Laundry Girl ebook series. She formerly worked as Ideas Editor at SheThePeople.TV. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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