Saturday, September 13, 2008

When Is It Okay For A Man To Beat His Wife?

Well, the girl in my last post said there was no problem and they were both fine. Chapter closed.

I got a feeling, from some of the comments on that post, that some bloggers feel, that under certain circumstances, some amount of domestic violence is tolerable.

Others feared that the wife was beating the husband. I have not witnessed or heard of any such case, but, even if violence against men by their wives is not as common as violence against women by their husbands, abused men need justice just like abused women do.

It's not men verses women. It's abuser verses victim.

I have heard of, and witnessed countless cases of women being physically abused. Mainly domestic helpers, living in servants' quarters, the proximity exposes you to their lives, like nothing can. Women of all ages are beaten and bruised. It is not uncommon to hear of a woman being beaten in our society.

I wanted to know why violence was acceptable and under what kind of circumstances. I am very clear that I don’t think any kind of domestic violence is acceptable, under any circumstances. And I quite admire Renuka Chaudhury for the Domestic Violence Act 2005.(I am aware of the criticism.)

So I’d like to know this: Under what circumstances is it okay for a man to beat his wife?

I started with asking my domestic maids.
Maid 1 Age 34, looks 50, hollow cheeks, has three school going kids. When she saw our weighing scales she requested to check her weight, I still remember it was 34 kgs.She cleans my house for 800/- per month.
Maid 2 Claims she is 25, born two years before Mrs Gandhi was killed (1984). Looks eighteen, has three small kids. She cooks and does kitchen work, for 1300/- pm.

IHM: Under what circumstances is it okay for a man to beat his wife?
Maid 1 Such things happen in jhopad patti, not in decent families.
Maid 2 He should not hit her, but if he is angry, she can keep quiet until his temper has cooled down, then there won't be so much violence.

IHM: So would you blame the woman?
Both: Only if she talks back.

IHM: So if he talks back can she also beat him?
Maid 1 Giggles...what kind of stuff does didi talk!!
Maid 2 Looks like she thinks I have come from another planet. Which I have... in so many ways? Sigh.

IHM: Fine. So it is okay if he beats her when she answers back?

Maid 1 Not okay, it's not good, but what can she do? Why invite trouble?
Maid 2 If we go straight, then there is no problem; if we walk ikde tikde then he will beat us.

IHM: If he walks ikde tikde you can also beat him?
Maid 1: My niece had such problems, her parents went to Mahila Mandal, they kept the husband inside (locked up) for two days, they called and questioned her in-laws, now they are all fine. She has two daughters. He doesn't abuse her anymore. Don't write our names!!
(I wanted to know more about this Mahila Mandal, but she had no idea.)
Maid 2 - No, how can a wife beat her husband? The Police should beat him.

IHM: But you do think it's okay for a man to beat his wife?
Maid 1 It's not okay didi, but this happens when the girl is from a weaker or poorer, family, then her parents say, ‘We can't feed ourselves, how will we feed you? You just adjust with your husband.' Boy's family knows she has nowhere to go...
Maid 2 says nothing then, but after Maid 1 has gone, she confides: My husband works only when he wants to, but can I watch my kids starving? When he is sitting idle at home he creates trouble, but I keep quiet, to maintain peace. Maid 1's husband drinks...but don't tell her I said so...

And I am thinking maybe I am wrong to ask them such questions. The cruelest thing is they can't even talk about it. It is something they are so ashamed of! Alcoholism and violence at home are called 'family matters'.

IHM: When you vote, can't you demand that the liquor bars be closed, if someone gets liquor banned in your area will you vote for him/her? Can't you women demand that?

Both the maids brightened, they have no doubt that liquor is the root of most of their troubles.

Liquor is as dangerous an addiction as drugs, we take drugs so seriously, then why is alcohol not taken seriously? Go to any slum, ask any women there and they will say everything was fine until liquor ruined their husbands and then the whole family.

IHM: If it's your child, your son, beating his wife, what would you do?
Maid 1 Usko galee degi! (I will curse him)
IHM: If it's your daughter being beaten, will you bring her back home to you?
Maid 1's face falls. This is a cruel question, she has two daughters. I add, It will never happen. I know you will never let such a thing happen, but imagine any other girl dear to you, if it happens to someone you know...
Maid 1 (Looking determined and stronger suddenly) I will bring my daughter back. A mother can manage anything if she has to, but what can I say about her brother? Will he take care of her after me?
IHM: What if she is earning? You earn as much as your husband, don't you?
Maid 1 If she earns she will be able to manage.

Edited to add : This post found mention in the F word, an online magazine dedicated to talking about and sharing ideas on contemporary UK feminism.


Monika,Ansh said...

Kudos to u for at least talking it out. & that too with people who face this day in & day out.
Makes things clearer. It is really sad that women are so helpless even when they are the bread earners of the family.
There shuould be no circumstances whatsoever under which any kind of domestic violence is OK.

Mampi said...

On these same lines, kindly also interview the strata from which your neighbor couple came. The socio-economic strata that the maids represent finds a justification for the wife beating episodes. Does the former also find the same justifications?

dipali said...

Alcoholism apart, it still exists, and in all sections of society. People in upper socio-economic strata only talk about it if the marriage is over. Although violence per se is to be condemned, perhaps a single episode actually serves as an eye-opener to a couple- making them realise their limits. If not repeated, perhaps it is a valuable lesson for both.

Indian Home Maker said...

@ Monika Ansh I agree it is never okay. I caught them because they were right here.

@ Mampi That is a good idea. I will do that, and post the results here. But actually, after the incidence, everyone was talking about Domestic Violence and everybody had stories to tell. It was shocking how much more prevalent it is than we realise...
btw I liked maid 1's response. She is a strong mother.

@dipali Yes I also hope it changes their lives for better:) That is why I did not want to go to the Police. And I agree it is present and hush hushed in upper strata too.

my space said...

It is NEVER ok . But sadly IHM domestic violence is not isolated to any one strata of society..Remember Zeenat Aman? And of late ,Aishwarya Rai?Women are ,in every section of society asked to Adjust. And sometimes they genuinely believe that all women are beaten and there is nothing to complain about...My maid says 'Hamare yahan sab chalta hain..iske liye aadmi ko chodenge kya?'..It is a sad life ..

Unmana said...

When is it okay for a man to beat his wife?


Vioence cannot be justified unless it is in self-defense. That said - I can sympathise with someone who is tempted to hit out in anger sometimes. But the anger is your problem, and you have to learn to manage it. Physical abuse cannot be justiied.

As you said, it's not about men vs. women, it's about abuser vs. victim. A man suffering physical abuse wouldn't make it any different.

Thought Room said...

Great Ihm. That was a great set of questions to ask. I cant think of anything else to add to what you have written. It is just like the questions I would want to ask. Many a times it is untalked of or not considered serious when words are used as violence. After all bricks and bones......But just wondering in an off topic kind of way, what would be the general openion of mental abuse too. After all it is a part of domestic violence that gets under the radar, and can still cause a lot of damage.

Indian Home Maker said...

@my space I am glad you gave those example, clears my own doubts also. Yes domestic violence is not restricted to any one strata:(

@unmana I agree 'Violence cannot be justified unless it is in self-defense'

@thought room Many people will say mental cruelty is worse, but I think both are equally dangerous.

Lekhni said...

You'd think such things happen only in India..I was driving through a town in Montana and was shocked at the number of posters against wife-beating/ domestic violence there.. (okay, it's Montana, but still..)

And it really isn't restricted to the poor either :(

Anonymous said...


I never meant that IT IS OK TO BEAT THE WIFE..

As I always say,beating never happens where there is love and compassion.Beating happens when one feel the need to dominate the other..I always tell my husband that I'll do anything in this worlg,but never if he 'orders' me to do it..He needn't make a request either..There is something called moderate line of thinking..So,dominating each other is something i hate to hell.

I still don't know what do i do if i get beaten myself one day..If he says sorry,i think i may forget it as a somethiung which happened at the spur of the moment..Otherwise,if he feels that i deserved that slap or beat,well,that isn't acceptable..I don't think i'll leave my house as i hate the idea of going back to ym house once i am married off..I don't know if my thinking is right,but i don't like staying much in my own house.don't confuse that my parents are bad to me..They are too good,and thatz why i don't want to bother them..

If i had a job,i may have found a way out..See,i am not trying to convey the wrong message that women should cling on,no matter what..No,that is not what i am saying..Instead,i am just saying that walkign away is not so easy..

What is the choice left?Live whole life getting abused..Grr,that is never acceptable.

Oh,i don't know why is my mind so messed up regarding this matter..I am finding myself in a convolution,where every argument imake comes back to me..

I am sorry for spoiling your comment space..but i have no clear idea on what to do..My mind and thoughts are struck between independence and submission..I am so bad..

Anonymous said...

Just to add to the part where they siad that women should keep quiet..

My husband says me not to argue with him when he is i fid that such self analysis helps a lot and in maintainig better life..I don't agruse much during then .but later talk to him,and he agree to what i say and correct himself in case he is wrong and is wlays open for suggestions..

so,on the practical side,i think it is helpful in my lufe bcoz both of us remains quiet when the other is angry..since it is a two sided business,im fine with it..Otherwise not...

pseudo intellectual said...

domestic violence is never, ever acceptable. your point about the "abuser versus victim" is SO right. though, if i may add, violence is the extreme case of abuse. insidious abuse goes on silently, unremittingly, in many households. which can sometimes be worse.

Vinod_Sharma said...

It is never OK to beat your spouse. It is never OK to beat your child too. Abusive husbands, wives, mothers and fathers are all a blot on society.

But we know beating happens. And since it is a physical act, it is almost always the physically stronger who beats. The ability or lack of it of the one getting beaten to face the consequences of refusing to accept the beating often influences the beater to decide whether to exercise restraint or not.

This applies to both the visible physical and the even more dangerous and mostly invisible-to-others mental beating.

No abusive relationship should be accepted. But, as you maids admitted, often there is no choice. That is the fodder that abusers need and exploit.

Somewhere, the idea of nurturing love and respect as the best means to avoid abusive behaviour seems to have been forgotten...the crutch of law may or may not prevent violence but it will certainly not foster much needed finer human qualities.

Amrutha said...

How is domestic violence acceptable by any stretch of imagination? It's wrong to beat someone, husband or wife. Period. Those who justify it are either too scared to protest or enjoy doing that someone else...

Anonymous said...

I know of so many women (domestic workers) who are the sole earners in their family - they cook and clean in other people's homes, then go back and do the same work in their own home - while the husband, usually a drunkard and unemployed, whiles his time away and beats her at night. In all these cases, the woman is totally self-sufficient but needs the 'married woman' chaap for protection against society. I have heard 2-3 maids tell me this in so many words... It's like - I know this man is useless didi, but I need to feed him and put up with his abuse to retain my status in society. Now what does one say to that?

And about your last post - I know of a situation eerily similar to the one you described, the wife was a friend. It was a love marriage and they were both well-educated and had high-paying jobs in the IT industry. The couple had married pretty young, so both were quite immature and hot-tempered. Some routine arguments at home led to physical scuffles - the kind siblings usually indulge in, as the wife described it. No one was hurt but there was lots of pushing around and raised voices and screams and some roughing up (I don't know the details) from BOTH sides and always initiated by the wife, she admitted with much shame. (She is the more short-tempered of the two, I know.)

I heard this story from the wife a couple of years into their marriage. She wanted to know if she should walk out? I didn't know what to say. The fault seemed to lie with both. She was confused too - she felt very guilty and ashamed of it all and admitted her husband felt the same. They always regretted it later and apologised to each other and promised to never behave that way again - and the story repeated itself after a few months. Was this abuse or just immaturity on both sides? I didn't think it qualified as abuse.

Later they talked about it amongst themselves and decided to get over it and never repeat it again (I don't know how they managed that!) and are now very happy together, I can see. My friend told me it hadn't happened for more than a year now and they were pretty civilized in their arguments now. Must have 'grown up', I guess?

Incidentally both these people are good friends of mine, very nice folks and very much in love - its apparent to anyone who sees them together. Shocking that this could happen to them na? Makes me feel marriage counseling is the need of our times...

~Hemanth~ said...

1. The answers your maids gave you are indeed true. Sad thing is, they want to adjust and give the poor old hubby one more chance if he behaves good or quits liquor. Like you said in an earlier post, once the hand has been raised there is a good chance that it will repeat.

2. As for voting to a party that will ban liquor: are you kidding me? Liquor is one of the biggest bribes during election times. NTR tried it in Andhra, he lost the next elections. Yes, we can change all that but tell me; how many of us actually go through party agendas or atleast the background of a neta before we vote for them? Usually, we are content with selecting the lesser of two evils. Maybe, if people who are as educated as us are prone to such apathy...then, I think then we cannot 'condemn/comment/look down upon' the maids giving their husbands a second chance.

3. A gentle reminder. As per new laws, violence initiated even for self defense might not be condoned by courts (I think that was the gist of the judgement passed by SC).

4.@jottingsnmusings: "Makes me feel marriage counseling is the need of our times..." Indeed. But, let's pause and ask ourselves the question, 'Why do we need marriage?' I have never found a satisfactory answer to that question, yet. Ok, if indeed there is a satisfactory answer to the getting married question, the next immediate question that should pop up in your mind is, 'Am I good enough, mature enough to share my space, life with a different person?' Most often we don't pause for these questions to be answered and jump right into the midst (or in most cases someone nudges us in there).

Priyanka said...

Its almost every maid's story in India- Husband does not work, gets drunk, physically abuses wife for money. Our maid in India tolerated it for almost 30 years till her husband passed away. Then her daughter got married, had kids, her hubby owned a rickshaw, they were happy till he started drinking. Sold off his rickshaw, abused his wife. The good part is that she has moved in with her mother now along with her kids. She too works as a maid.
Now, our neighbors in India, a normal middle-class family. The hubby started drinking country liquor. God knows how he fell into that habit. He would get drunk, and so many times we have stopped him from killing his wife. He ran after his wife with knives and koyta (the one used to break coconuts). But poor female never left him, they are still together and he still drinks.
Selling country liquor should be banned !!

Indian Home Maker said...

@lekhni I agree it is not restricted to the poor. But putting posters and creating awareness is a very good idea and required here also. There should be no guilt or shame associated with it.

@Nimmy Nimmy I just wanted to discuss 'this thought', did not mean to imply any one comment said that...just needed something to refer to. The fact is in real life I meet many educated men and women who think violence is bad but should not be made into such an issue!
I know you are a thinking, intelligent and courageous woman, your blog reflects that too.

@pseudo intellectual That's a cute name for a blog :)
Yes and such abuse is easier to get away with ...

Indian Home Maker said...

@Vinod Sharma Very well conveyed!!! Agree and appreciate :)

"The ability or lack of it of the one getting beaten to face the consequences of refusing to accept the beating often influences the beater to decide whether to exercise restraint or not." - Is the secret to handling it.

But your last lines confused will the idea of nurturing love and respect be best means to avoid abusive behaviour?

I feel the biggest use of the law is to make it clear that such behavior is not acceptable.

Indian Home Maker said...

1.I think these women realise that he is sick. Alcoholism is not a sin, it is a disease. These guys die young.
2. 'Usually, we are content with selecting the lesser of two evils.'- but Hemanth what is the option?
They win elections by banning bar dancers, mobiles, helmets - none of which do the damage that alcohol does.
3.I don't know which judgment is this, did it mean you have to prove that the violence was in self defense?
4. I agree marriage should NOT be our goal in life. If and when you come across the right person, and wish to spend your life with them, marriage is an OPTION, not the reason you live for.
I have already written a post on how girls in India are raised to get married...they are expected to have no other goal!

Indian Home Maker said...

@Amrutha Absolutely.

@jottingsnmusings Yes, all my maids have been economically independent, socially and emotionally very weak.
ABOUT THE LAST POST : I feel your assessment comes the closest to what might have been happening. And I hope so. So there is hope that they will be fine.

Indian Home Maker said...

@Priyanka I also think country liquor should be banned and massive anti alcoholism drive should be undertaken. Nobody even talks about these problems- one is liquor and another is domestic violence. Both have serious long term consequences. crime under the influence of alcohol, more crime from children of such families, crime to buy more alcohol, crime of selling votes for alcohol...and yet nobody takes it seriously.

@lankr1ta said...

You know, IHM, one thing that the women did seem to point out was how finances empowered a woman. How being financially independent is so crucuial. Why don't we emphasisize it enough when talking of empowering women?

Sudipta Chatterjee said...

Very very interesting post. And I think you made your Maid-1 think about a lot.

Don't you think the contemporary environment is also responsible for this a lot? A daughter sees her mother, her neighbors being beat up by their husbands... and she accepts it as the norm. We don't.

Monika said...

I agree with u domestic violence is not accepted whatever circumstances... but at that strata females tend to think having a husband is the most imp thing how he is secondary... i once had a long discussion with my maid on her husband beating her up and all, I think I will do a post on that soon

Mama - Mia said...

well! its just NOT OK... domestic violence...

yet it happens! even in a more educated strata. only difference is they tend be apologetic after the beating session. so wife thinks, oh, ihe does love me so otherwise.

but no self respecting woman should think its anywhere close to acceptable to beat or be beaten.

sadly the society is still pretty much skewed and its difficult to break the shackles...

someday everyone will KNOW its not ok to be a victim!

GREAT post IHM! :)



How do we know said...

This is a lovely post. Thanks for this.

Monika said...

I am writing the post that i mentioned in the comment above... I am linking ur post to mine... hope thats fine :)

shail said...

Yes it is always abuser versus victim.
And you are from a different planet and I so wish more Earthlings took cues from where you come from! :-)
As for domestic violence, I have no two thoughts about it. I condemn it. There is NO occasion at all when it is acceptable or justified. ABSOLUTELY NOT. Women are not drums that men can beat upon after taking a few drinks or for whatever other reason. And if it is women beating men, I condemn that too, vociferously. If it happens to me, that will be the last day of my marriage. Period. Doesn't matter if I have no place to go, but it will never be back to the place where I am not respected. Emotional reaction?? Well maybe. But that's the way I am.
We don't even use violence to correct criminals in our society but sadly some think it is alright in homes!!