Nandhini* believed in second chances. And then a third, followed by a fourth. With every chance she gave her husband, her body bore signs of the violence inflicted on her. She stayed on for her children. She stayed on because she was scared. She was convinced her husband would come around. It took her two years to walk out.
For Nandhini, the decision clearly wasn’t immediate. She wanted to work on the relationship and was ready to seek help; she needed the courage and support to stay as much as to leave. She got in touch with the International Foundation for Crime Prevention and Victim Care (PCVC), a Chennai- based NGO that supports women who face domestic violence like her. Multiple counselling sessions provided by the organisation helped her build the resilience to navigate through an abusive relationship and negotiate with the perpetrator, her husband. In the end, the decision was hers. To leave.
Often, survivors of domestic violence are presented with the choice of either staying or walking out of the marriage. Lack of awareness on support system and the stigma further alienate women and deter them from seeking help. PCVC’s latest campaign, ‘Shut Up Pannadhinga’, is for these women and their families. The campaign encourages them to seek help and to spread awareness about Dhwani - a 24/7, multilingual national domestic violence hotline.
Talking about the need to widen the spectrum of intervention in cases of domestic violence, Swetha Shankar, Director, Client Services, at PCVC, says, “The solution to domestic violence is not binary. It is very important to not frame domestic violence intervention as staying or leaving. It’s a wide spectrum. It can include staying and working on the relationship if that's what the woman wants to do, or it could be leaving - and it could also include coexistence where you’re not necessarily living together.” From family negotiations and temporary separation at a safe shelter, to police interventions and maintenance arrangements, there are several options which must be given to women, adds Swetha.
Swetha believes that many women are scared to seek help as there is a sense of hopelessness, so the discussion around domestic violence intervention needs to change. Cultural and popular narratives only suggest the extremes – to adjust or walk out of the marriage. “The primary message we want to convey is that solution will emerge over time. Through the negotiation process we can develop emotional and financial support. Financial support gives a woman more negotiation power,” she adds.
Cases of domestic violence have seen a sharp increase during the nationwide lockdown that began in March. As per the official data available with National Commission for Women, Indian women filed 1,477 complaints between March 25 and May 31. This records more complaints than those received in the previous ten years. The pandemic has escalated violence against women and made it worse for them to seek support.
Swetha also points out that the ‘Shut up Pannadhinga’ campaign is a starting point to encourage more survivors to come out and share their experience in a trusted network. The idea is to make them feel safe and empower them to take decisions that benefit them individually and their family as a whole.
Over the years, activists have identified that one of the key reasons for women’s reluctance to leave abusive partners is the fear of children’s future and lack of financial support. Access to well-equipped and sensitive support system helps the survivor in the decision-making process. “Facing trauma at a young age, children of domestic violence survivors are deeply affected. We provide them counselling, vocational training and educational assistance. This helps the survivor gain confidence in their ability to provide for children’s future,” Swetha adds.
With a spurt in domestic violence cases, it is important to streamline the narrative around Domestic Violence interventions. A survivor centric approach should inspire confidence among women to reach out and not suffer in silence.