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February 18, 2013 / Man in the Mirror

The Times of India: Violence against women hurts men, and deeply

By Frank Krishner

He is tall, broad-shouldered and has the rugged look of a rock star. He wears a hat while he strums his guitar and belts out a song about love. It’s Valentine’s Day, “and I ain’t got nobody”, he says, adding “Girls like my singing, but they move away when they see the other side of my face.”PrakashSharan, a 22-year-old psychology graduate, earns a living teaching music at a school in Khagaul. He’s sensitive about burn scars on part of his face and forehead, memories of childhood trauma. When he was two years old, he was severely burnt. “It is an old police case, still not resolved, hanging fire from 1993. You read about these things in the newspapers. Woman and child set ablaze by dissatisfied in-laws. Mother dies of her burns. Child survives. And ironically, my murderous father is still on bail. Money talks and my mother’s family didn’t have much. Twenty years have flown. Justice, if it exists, must be travelling on a very slow bullock-cart.”

He looks at a One Billion Rising poster and says, “Violence in Bihardoesn’t only affect women and girls. When it’s murder for dowry, it’s not just the woman who under threat, but also her child, especially if it’s a boy.

Kundan Kumar, a third-year history (Honours) student doing a computer course in Patna, is from Panchrukhi village in the Lalganj block of Vaishali district. He narrates his sister’s story with tears in his eyes. His father, Harinarayan Thakur, refused to allow his sister to return home even though he knew that she was thrashed everyday by her husband and in-laws. “He would talk about family honour. I asked him what family honour is there when your daughter is beaten in full view of the street and thrown on the road in her petticoat? I was only about 16, but when I couldn’t bear it any longer I threatened to leave the home. It was then that he brought my sister back.”

For Kundan’s sister, the trauma didn’t end there. After a month, things were ‘patched up’ between the families, and she returned to her husband’s house only to be battered once again. She returned to her home pregnant, and in due course, a son was born. The husband returned once again.

“This time I gave her two cellphones, one to keep hidden, and be used only in emergencies. After a while, the threats and demands for money began again. Her husband swore to kill her and her son. He attacked them. She managed to lock herself in the bathroom and phone me, but the phone was cut off. I had to shout and make a huge noise in order to persuade my father to leave immediately in the night to get there as soon as possible. In the meanwhile, they had tried to hush up the affair, but we got my sister and child admitted to a hospital, and then registered a case. It took us several days to convince the policeman to file the case,” says Kundan.

Educated people are worse than the illiterate, Kundan believes. “I hate this patriarchy and this system and concept of ‘honour’. He was beating my sister everyday so that she would file for divorce. My parents say divorce means ‘family dishonour’. I am afraid that one day my little nephew will be murdered by his own father because of the inheritance angle.”

Males are victims of domestic violence aimed at their mothers. The trauma extends to their loved ones. The roots of such violence are embedded in rural tradition, says Kundan. “My father had forced my elder brother, an army man, to marry. As a result, my brother, unhappy, hardly ever visits the home. He does send some money for the family and his wife, but there is no affection. He feels his life has been ruined. I feel my bhabhi’s life has also been ruined. There’s no end in sight to this mess!”

For Deepak, a 15-year-old living near the Patliputra area, it was the treatment given to his old grandmother that he couldn’t bear. His father, a chauffer by profession, lives with his family of seven members in a one- room tenement near the Nehru Nagar police station. “My grandmother was like a shuttlecock, being shuttled from my father’s house to my uncle’s house. My father and my uncle fought. No one wanted to keep her. Once, my father even slapped his own mother. That time there was no food to eat because my father had lost his job and she said she was feeling hungry. I knew a social worker, so I asked him to help to get my grandmother into a shelter home. He took two days to arrange for this, but when I told my grandmother, “Dadi, I will take you away from here to a nice place, my grandmother slapped me and spat on my face, and my father gave me a good beating and said never to dishonour the family again. He said he should never have admitted me in an English-medium school.”

Deepak didn’t mind the beating. “After that, my grandmother was given a bit of more respect. Probably my father also understood that if she would be mistreated, then he, too, would lose his children’s respect.”

On Valentine’s Day, women’s organizations joined the One Billion Rising campaign and raised their voices against female foeticide, domestic violence, rape, and other forms of women’s abuse. There are thousands of men – young, middle-aged, and old – who don’t need to be lectured on how awful such violence is, they have experienced the effects in their own lives. Their voices are important as well.

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