Does celebrating Women’s Day make sense when domestic violence is still prevalent across the entire social spectrum? City Express had a chat with Prasanna Poornachandra, founder and CEO of the International Foundation of Prevention for Crime and Victim Care (PCVC), an NGO that was set up as a support system in the city to help the survivors of domestic violence (DV). Excerpts follow…
How has domestic violence changed over the years?.
When PCVC began in 2001, nobody, not even senior government officials, had a clue on what was ‘domestic violence’. Even after the 2010 DV Act, nothing had changed much, as emotional and economic abuses continued to be misunderstood. Today, forms of abuse have changed. DV is not just among married couples or those in committed relationships any more, and it has gone beyond black eyes or broken bones. Around 20 years ago, there was no digital stalking, no emails or selfies or social media to threaten women with. Now, dating violence is high; boy has selfies of kissing the girl and blackmails her to stay in the relationship. He threatens to post it online or mail it to her relatives. Mind games are a key component of violence. Making her believe it’s her fault, isolating her from her parents and friends, etc. are common patterns among young couples who date but they’re too young and immature to identity abuse.
Even educated women fall into the trap of abuse?
Yes, but let’s look beyond academics. Where’s sex education among school or college? We should talk to both men and women about challenging traditional practices and beliefs that are abusive. Women must know that being jealous and possessive are not indicators of love. Also, we must give space for young men to cultivate healthy non-violent relationships. We teach them to be dominant and powerful. Be a man – what the hell does that mean? How can we expect any change when you expect them to be bad and assertive, which is a common understanding of being a man? Sex education is a must, and we need combined learning sessions, because DV or abuse is not a gender-specific problem. There are perpetrators and victims in both genders in any kind of relationship.
So DV is prevalent among same sex relationships?
It’s definitely there but much less. But when couples adopt gender-based roles of husband-wife, it becomes similar to a heterosexual relationship.
Why do women stay back in abusive relationships?
Because they are conditioned to believe that family structures are important. Forgiveness is still being hailed as a virtue, especially among women. They’re constantly told to adjust and accommodate. So outside of their roles as wives and mothers, they have no sense of self. I’ve known cases where the husband doesn’t hit his wife or even verbally abuse her. In such a scenario, she doesn’t blame the husband. We make her understand that he is still an abuser even if he is a silent bystander and letting others abuse. Even when abuse ends, there’s still no real happiness.
What does that mean?
As in, there is no intimacy of any kind between the couple. Nowadays, there’s a shift we see in relationships, where women, say ‘No’ to sex. Family members don’t know about this. For many, it’s comfortable and also more functional. I’ve known couples who have not had sex for more than three years. That’s a huge step – from giving into sex to saying no.
Is the youth aware about their conjugal rights?
Yes, and consent is a part of the conversation. College students already know their rights. Why wait for the law (on marital rape) to change mindsets when it comes into the picture ONLY after it happens? We can do it with enough awareness, education and sensitisation.
What role do films play in glorifying gender disparity?
A very big role! We continue to glorify abuse in love songs. What’s the message we’re sending here? That accepting violence is equivalent to love? Instead, why can’t they make films on some specific issues every year? If the representation changed, imagine the kind of impact it would have. The medium is so powerful
Are you saying that nothing has changed?
Not, not at all! The Nirbhaya case changed a lot of things. Police are a lot more sensitive and also know that if they don’t act right, they’ll be in trouble. In public spaces too, the dialogue has changed on harassment. Encouraging people to stop being spectators hasn’t directly influenced DV but holding a mute bystander responsible has. But then again, we still have a long way to go. To reach anywhere, transitions and transformations need to happen. We cannot get there through a time jump. It’s a slow process of questioning and recognising rights. It’s happening. There’s lots of hope.
What does Women’s Day mean to you?
For me, it’s one day for myself. For survivors of abuse, it’s a day to reflect on moving on — from being a survivor to be a ‘thriver’ to thrive, live and move on. That’s where real empowerment lies.