Domestic violence- psychological & social aspects
By Dr Akmal Makhdum
Domestic violence is common. This is a statement which is true for many societies. It is common in countries like the UK and also common in the US. These are societies which enjoy rich economies, high educational standards and affluence.
What about societies which are poor, uneducated and struggling? Societies in Pakistan and India?
We know from whatever research is available, that domestic violence is almost endemic. We also know from anecdotal evidence, personal and media observations that this domestic practice is rampant in the Indian and Pakistani cultures, whether in Indo-Pak or in the UK.
This was the evidence of the observer. Now, let us view the societal initiatives which highlight domestic violence as a major challenge for these, already poor and deprived societies.
There are numerous charities and non- governmental organizations, which are working on this practice, for decades. There are safe havens for women who are victims of domestic violence. There are special charities which are trying to fight abusers in the courts and highlight the plight of the women victims of domestic violence. Indian Pakistani police statistics reveal that hundreds of women are killed every year, as a result of domestic violence. The famed “cooker explosions” is a synonym for wives being burnt to death and blamed on faulty cookers.
It is open to anyone who is interested in the issue, to seek such evidence, from the media, the internet and the relevant researches done by local charities and organizations like amnesty international etc.
Now, let us look at the possible motives and psycho-social dynamics of this practice, in these societies.
For the sake of simplicity we can separate such influences, into the following;
- Zaat & Bradri
- Personality & sick minds
If a woman is respected in a culture, she is less likely to be abused and beaten. An appropriate simile is the attitude towards the elderly in our traditional societies. There is an attitude of reverence and respect towards the elderly. The words, “bazurg” and the “old wise man” are reflective of the society’s attitude towards the old and the wise.
If you see the western cultures, there is no such reverence given to the old and the “Bazurg”. There is a distinct and clear attitude of each society towards groups of population, based on their age and experience. It is so common a practice that it is palpable and clearly observable, in such traditional societies. In Pakistan there are no old peoples’ homes, yet. This is cultural reflection of the ownership and value that this society attributes to the elderly. It keeps them close to the bosom of the biological family.
There is no such tradition and practice granted to women. When you see women, either they are absent form the collective life of the community or they are trying to hide themselves. If you go to the bazaars and market places you shall observe the relative absence of women. They are either scant or in hiding. This hiding is in the shape of hiding in the house or hiding under a veil. These veils come in numerous forms, full, partial, head scarves and chaperons. Chaperons could be mothers and elderly women of the household to women servants and friends. It is rare to find a solitary woman, unveiled and dressed in the clothes that she may wish to wear, enjoying the market place.
These Bollywood and Lollywood films are fantasies, unrelated to the daily life as any Hollywood film. They have no correlation to the real life experiences of women except when they are in captivity, with the villain in control of their lives. That bit is realistic.
Women are unacceptable in the market place, in attire that the group of men, present at that site, at that moment in time, does not approve of. It is not acceptable for women to be out of the house, alone, in some segments of these cultures. Some allow that, but with chaperons and in company. The feeling of danger and apprehension is serious, about women moving freely in these societies. It creates a sense of unease in men. It stimulates them into action, of violence and naked aggression.
They would accord some respect to the elderly, the “Bazurg” woman, but not to any woman. Younger women are at risk, not respect.
Many cultures are still immaturely viewing women as either the mother figure, “the Madonna, the nurturing mother” or “the whore”. There is no middle ground. Women are perceived as either full of motherly attributes and grandeur or they are declared amoral, deceitful and treacherous. The “Whole” woman, a balance of all these potentials, a human being, who has all the attributes, good and evil, is not acceptable to the man dominated societies.
Does it have something to do with man’s infantile experiences? Is man unable to see any other face of women? She has to be seen as the mother to be respected and all other aspects are allocated to the deceitful “Salome”.
Does this view of women also reflect man’s fear of woman? Men oppress those by whom they feel threatened, in some way. Men do not oppress mothers when you need them. They start to oppress them in many societies, when they start to grow up, when their need for others in not so immediate.
They move onto oppressing other woman; wives, daughter etc. Why?
There is a possible psychological hypothesis. This deals with unconscious factors, which threaten men.
To start, the first one is the enrichment of a woman’s being compared to a man’s. Woman has a world of wonders in her existence; the capacity to feed, nurture, care, grow and arouse. No other creature has these wonders in one except a woman. Woman is the producer of life, from where all creatures are born, the feeder, from whom all seek nourishment to exist, at the most vulnerable time. The woman is the protector of the infant, who would forsake her own life for the sake of her offsprings. She is the one who attracts attention, whose features determine beauty. These are attributes of a very powerful creature. No wonder, the barren man is scared. He is scared because he is apprehensive of the power of woman. He cannot deal with it. He is aware of the attributes of a woman; caring, cruel, devoted, deceitful, loving, hateful, resourceful, emotionally strong and patient. So, he oppresses her.
Pakistani and Indian societies are still run on tribal lines. The majority of the population lives under rural and tribal control. Landed classes rule and the local leaders are the main determinants of the life styles of these “subjects” who live on their lands. We only have to see the political landscape of these large communities and we shall be struck by the overwhelming presence of the feudal, land-owning, high caste and the rich, in the social establishment.
Feudal societies are notorious for their treatment of women. There is no education; no freedoms and women are treated like slaves or prisoners in the households. It is either traditions or rituals that determine how woman would behave or live her life. She is either a “purdah” observing wife or a servant girl in a land-owner’s house. This is the situation of the majority of the rural women.
Domestic violence in these societies is very common. Some tribal societies consider women as the sourced of all evil. There is a famous proverb, used and believed so universally, in such societies, “Zan, Zar, Zameen” (Woman, money, Land) being the source of everything bad. Man is not mentioned in any evil doing! This is sound wisdom in these cultures. But, these are used, not as a source of learning but as blame, against the existence of the woman.
The primal sin, attributed to “Havva” (Eve) has not been forgotten nor forgiven. In tribal societies, woman is not allowed to go out of the house. Men fear that if a woman exercised the right top roam freely, she may exercise the right to commit the primal sin again; taste the forbidden fruit!
If women are allowed out, they are only allowed as if invisible. They can move out in company but under the veil or “Chador”, with other women, being used as camouflage, blending in a group, without identity and without personality.
In such societies, women’s personality is determined by the man’s wishes. If she is non-compliant, she is rebellious and is punished, through beatings, isolation, virtual imprisonment and sometimes, murder.
Rituals like “Sutti”, servile submission and domestic existence, are engrained in the psyche of these male dominated and male ruled societies. “Sutti” was controlled by the British Raj, promising the hangman’s noose for the men responsible. It did deter them, but the minds were not changed and such practices, in many parts of that society, in many shapes, continue.
In the frontier provinces of the Afghan belt, it is considered masculine to beat wives. Here I shall tell you an anecdote. Many years ago, we had a chauffer. He was from the tribal belt and used to spend holidays at home in his village. His wife was there, in the ancestral home, looking after the children. He would go there once or twice in a year for two to three weeks each time.
I asked him once what he did there. His narrative was something like this,” I would go out in the morning to see my friends in the village. I would come home for lunch, eat food, beat the wife, sleep and then go out. Come back home in the evening, eat food, and beat the wife and sleep”.
I was intrigued by the recurrence of “..beat the wife..” with such regularity. Upon enquiring why he did it, he said,” it is good to do it. It keeps women out of trouble”.
This was quite a revelation. It was a reflection of that tribe, that mini-society, which treated its women in that manner. Abuse and violence were considered wise and acceptable (rather preferable) practices, condoned by tribal traditions.
Economy of any society has an impact on women. They have to find ways to feed their children.
In troubled times, when men are away, fighting wars, women are the main bread winners and protectors. In times of migration of manpower, men go to far away lands and women have to provide the domestic cohesion, as a father and as a mother.
Such economic conditions have a dual impact. They allow women to receive more freedom.
When the man is sick or parents are dead or ill, it is the woman, if she is of employable age, who would take the task of feeding the family.
More recently, in the urban cultures in the Indo-Pak societies, middle classes have had to allow women to seek employment. In some areas women have been encouraged to work outside the house and contribute to the economy of the family.
This has seen some changes in the attitude towards women, but in isolation and only in these urban social groups.
As it is also considered an allowance granted by man, it is“permission” and not a right. At any time, this permission could be revoked and the woman would be brought back to the life of submission.
What happens in families happens through generations. Families in our cultures are close knit and tribal. Our role models are our parents and elders. If they beat their wives then we beat our wives. If they beat their daughters then we beat our daughters. This is learned or hereditary, is open to discussion. One fact remains; familial influence is strong and endures through time.
Families are seats of real-life learning. They teach us our primary survival skills. If domestic violence is a part of that learning, then that is what we shall learn. Some are traumatized by it, some not. The former may not practice it in their lives but others do. That was something which was part of their learning and we know from research that familial influences endure and influence generations.
Zaat & Bradri influences
Zaat (caste) and Bradri (extended family/tribal group) have strong influences on people from the Indo-Pak regions. We see this in our daily lives, even in the UK that these groups hold strong. They vote according to their caste/tribal groups, not of ideology or in the larger interests of the community. They also socialize accordingly.
Some castes are more man-dominated, traditionally, compared to others. These are the ones which hold onto their women in a suffocating manner and indulge in domestic violence, as a tool to control them. This is in line with their traditional behaviors and men in these groups are liable to beat women in their families. It is rampant in India and Pakistan. It is not uncommon, in these groups, in the UK.
Historically, in the Indo-Pak tribal and rural cultures, women were treated as the property of men. When there used to be disputes between tribes, goats, sheep and women were traded for reconciliation.
Marriages, for political and tribal amity were common-place. There are similar practices still ongoing, in these areas and cultures.
In some parts of these countries, women may not go out of the house at all lest they are sighted by someone of a lower caste. Some families do not allow their women to marry lest their ancestral lands would be shared by someone not from the blood-family. Some women are forced into a life of celibacy and isolation so they do not become wives of other men.
There is akin to psychological incest reflected in these practices. Many women are not allowed to marry outside the “bradri”, caste and extended family. This is tribal incest. This is the attempt to retain the woman within the extended family whether she likes it or not. We see this in racist policies of certain groups when they oppose any diversity in their cultures and especially when women are inclined to marry outside the ethnic and cultural groups.
This could also be due to financial and land retaining practices. These restrictions are applied to control women from inheriting land, property and precluding their offspring’s, from another man, to inherit the family land and influence.
These practices are rampant and part of everyday life.
Marriages with the holy books are a practice, still alive, in many parts of the region. Historically, in the Indus civilizations, role of woman has been submission, to serve as a commodity and to sacrifise herself for the sake of values determined by man. This she has done, for many centuries, with a smile on her face.
Now, she is beaten and killed, for the sake of man’s ethics and man-made values, once again. This time she is not happy to be the slave and the victim.
Earlier, we discussed larger cultural and social influences. These impact the collective and the individual minds. But there is also personality that determines what an individual man would do, after having appraised these influences.
All our great leaders and revolutionaries were born in the same cultures but tried to change them, sometimes successfully. They were different personalities and enriched themselves from their experiences, for the better. They tried to change societies and were educators for change. They did not preserve traditions, they destroyed them. They destroyed old idols and sabotaged old practices. They were born of the same inheritance but destroyed their legacy, for the sake of justice, fairness, equality and emancipation.
There are inherited and ingrained personality traits that predispose some men to behave in a malicious and aggressive manner towards women (and other men). These habits are deeply ingrained and resistant to change.
Some men are suffering form “morbid jealousy”. This is a mental illness that makes a man suspect woman. They suspect their mothers, sisters, daughters and of course wives. This is a disorder of mind which is resistant to treatment, it is enduring and malignant. It takes over a man’s personality when evoked. The sufferer seeks evidence of infidelity, checking, following, and sniffing and in apprehension. Sometimes, the whole life is spent, in this suspicion. One sees evidence when there is none. One finds disloyalty when there is none. Many acts of dastard cruelty have been committed on women due to this mental disorder.
Long term psychotherapy, behaviour and personality moderating practices are needed to modify these maladaptive responses towards women.
Some men are easily influenced and are swept by the “macho” culture where man is boss and wishes to assert himself through violence.
Violence against women, in the shape of domestic violence is also a part of those traditional and macho cultures.
It is surprising that religious societies are more inclined towards violence towards women. Violence against women comes in many shapes. Violence of women’s rights, violence of their right to choice and freedoms, are all akin to domestic violence. In a society where there is little or no respect for women, it is inviting violence towards women.
All religions have women at the heart of faith. The first Muslim was woman. The first benefactor of Islam, on whose personal and moral wealth, foundations of Islam were laid, was a woman. The first supporter of Islam was a woman. The only terrestrial employer of the Prophet of Islam was a woman. He (PBUH) held women in the highest esteem. His dealings with women were respectful and he held them in the highest of regard. In the last sermon He (PBUH) urged Muslims to care for women.
In the Hindu religion, there are women deities, from Sita to Kali, both seen as mothers and held in reverence.
In Christianity, Mary (ASWS) is the holiest of women. She (ASWS) is also the holiest of women in Islam. The role of Mary Magdalene is also symbolically important where a woman is revered regardless of what she does but for what she stands for and what she becomes. Jesus’ (ASWS) dealings with woman show us reverence and respect.
How religious practices are distorted to victimize women are interesting socio-cultural and anthropological phenomena. Here we see cultures and traditions overwhelming religious beliefs and religious doctrine subdued by tribal rituals and customs.
In Islam, I the holy Quran, verses from the Al-Nur Sura, clearly give woman’s word the finality, when dealing with criminal and moral issues. Woman’s word is stated as the final word, rendering man’s word as void, when it comes to the holy Book of God. In view the sayings of Prophet Muhammad PBUH, heavens being under the feet of the mother; to rather serve elderly mother than go for the pilgrimage to Mecca and many similar ones, clearly reflect the place of the woman. It is surprising that some religious societies are active in oppressing rights of women in clear contradiction to the teachings of their religions. So, we see that religion is not full adhered to when women’s rights are involved and they are treated poorly.
Over all, domestic violence has many causal factors but one factor trumps it all; the individual responsibility. He who is guilty of domestic violence has the ability to control (or not to control) these violent impulses. Acts of domestic violence are individual acts, committed by one man. Sometimes a group of men perpetrate acts of violence, in contempt, under influence of alcohol, drugs, tribal or bradri tradition, vengeance or whatever. This brutalizing of women is individual responsibility, for each one of them, separately and personally. When they are perpetrating these violent acts, they are doing them to someone’s wife, someone’s mother or someone’s daughter. If someone did it to their mother, wife or daughter, what would be their emotional state? What would they want to do with the perpetrator?
Here is the challenge; like all the reformers of civilizations, individual men should look upon their actions as contributing to the well being of their families, tribes and communities. Like all reformers of past, they need to start reforming their own selves, by showing respect and equal consideration, as they would have others show to them.
Domestic violence is based on helplessness, fear of women, inability to control relationships and loss of self respect.
A confident person would never commit domestic violence. A dedicated and loving person would never commit domestic violence. These are the acts of an insecure, emotionally weak and physically strong person, who uses this primitive act to oppress a woman, who is (most probably) totally dedicated and committed to him. It is ironic that in overwhelming cases of domestic violence, women are innocent of any crimes. They are completely and utterly devoted to their husbands and families. It is surprising that this positive aspect of traditional cultures is somehow unable to influence the negative cultural practice of domestic violence. Such societies are built on the strength of women’s dedication yet they suspect that dedication, committing crimes of violence against the core pillar of these societies. Crimes against women are crimes against humanity and attack the core of communities. These crimes must be met with the most severe reprisals from the every society. Every woman is someone’s sister, daughter, mother and wife. Those who do not respect woman are not worthy to be treated as man.