Skip to content

Do #Women Complain Loudly Only to Cling to Destructive #Marriages?

January 29, 2014

sunanda and Shashi tharoorby Rita Banerji

The events that led up to Sunanda Pushkar’s death had India agog.  Twenty-four hours after this successful, wealthy businesswoman went hysterical on social media, accusing a Pakistani journalist of having an affair with her high profile politician husband, and gave a spate of interviews to newspapers and television channels on the same, she was found dead in a hotel room.

The post-mortem report said her death was “sudden and unnatural.” But what really happened to Sunanda Pushkar in her hotel room on the night of January 17? Did she commit suicide? Was she murdered? Or did she accidentally overdose on her medication? There are reports of people hearing angry arguments she had with her husband, that may have turned physical just before her death. What explains the bruising on her arms, wrist and neck? Pushkar’s 21-year-old son, from a previous marriage in which she was widowed,  insists that his mother was too strong woman to commit suicide, even as he absolves his step-father of any wrong doing.

For all the questions and inconsistencies that surround this case, the fact is we probably will never know what really happened. It will be just another mystery buried in Delhi’s dirty corridors of power where glamour, politics, business and media make for sordid bedfellows.

But the question to which we know the answer, and this is the question to focus on, is – Was Sunanda’s death needless? Could it have been avoided?  And the answer is – Yes, and Yes.

From all accounts, Sunanda’s identity and existence did not hinge on the powerful politician she had married.  She was strong and ambitious, and a successful business woman in her own rights. She had lived her life on her own terms.  And yet, she did not understand the need to pack her bags, and quickly walk away from a relationship that she obviously did not trust any more.  She did not recognize the need to quickly exit a marriage that from her own accounts was taking a massive toll on her mental and her physical health.

Instead, she did what so many women in India do! They desperately try to hold on to the man by making a loud noise publicly.   And the reason I mention India is, because living in the west I’ve never seen women there do this.

This is a curiously Indian phenomenon! In western countries, many women who work with domestic violence are survivors who have got out from violent relationships.  And they realize how important it is to speak out about it as they campaign against violence on women.  But women in India almost never complain of abuse or battery when they are in destructive marriages.  Most women won’t talk even when they get out of these marriages.  I find that women who work with violence on women, often are middle-class, educated, maybe even professional women who have experienced violence at home directly or indirectly, but never got out of their marriages.  Perhaps over the years they learnt to live with it or it abated. But their working with these organizations seems to be a form of dealing with it through denial, where they point at villages and slums, and repeatedly harp on “education” and “empowerment” almost like they are trying to shift the focus away from themselves!  What I have also found repeatedly, is that the only time, when women begin to complain loudly, speak out and call attention to their situation is when they are trying desperately to cling on to the marriage, however destructive it may be to them.

In slums, women come out onto the streets and make a loud noise, and beat their chest and point a finger at the “witch” or “slut” they say is trying to cast a spell on their husband! Even if the husband is a womanizer, an alcoholic, a wife-batterer, who will eventually will pick up with some other woman and leave his wife and children behind.  And more often than not, the husband also does not give his earnings to the house.  He spends it on himself – cigarettes, liquor, and visits to the brothel.  It is the wife who works as a domestic help or sells vegetables and runs the household, and raises the children with her income.

sunanda twitter fightEven in middle and upper-class homes Indian women, who are professional or otherwise, economically self-sufficient, but are getting beaten, and violated in various ways, for dowry or otherwise, or simply suffocating to death, will almost always stay silent.  And when these women speak out, it often is only when they feel they will get thrown out of their husband’s house or divorced.  Then they are angry, hysterical, and complain about what’s happening to them.  The only reason these women speak out, and go ‘public,’ is not because they want to get out of their marriages, but because they want to hold on to their marriages.  They desperately want to hold on to the marriage that has destroyed them, their self-esteem, their health, and even might take their lives! It’s totally baffling!

Sunanda Pushkar did the same by having a very public mental break-down, where she used twitter to invite millions of people to ‘intervene’ in her marriage so she could ‘hold’ on to it.  Even when by her own admission, it was breaking her down, destroying her sanity and her health.  Even then she refused to see that it was the marriage and the man in it that was the problem, and not the ‘other woman’ that she wanted to point her finger at.  It’s almost like Indian women view their husbands like precious ornaments that they possess that some other woman from outside will sneak in, steal and run away with.  It’s not like, he is a person, who makes his choices to which he should be held personally accountable!

Why is it that thousands of Indian women like Sunanda Pushkar, who are educated, intelligent, socially savvy, professional, and successful, don’t understand that a marriage that destroys you, is not worth it?  What is it that keeps them from collecting their sanity, self-esteem, and talents, and walking out and then speaking out to encourage other women to leave their destructive marriages as well?  What is it that keeps them from realizing what they are truly worth?

© The 50 Million Missing Campaign. All Rights Reserved. To cite, please see ourcopyright guidelines.


Rita Banerji is an author and gender activist, and the founder ofThe 50 Million Missing Campaign to end India’s female genocide.  Her book ‘Sex and Power: Defining History Shaping Societies, is a historical and social look at how the relationship between gender and power in India has led to the ongoing female gendercide.  Her website is . She blogs at Revolutions in my Space and tweets at @Rita_Banerji

12 Comments leave one →
  1. January 30, 2014 10:44 am

    Reblogged this on REVOLUTIONS IN MY SPACE: A BLOG BY RITA BANERJI and commented:

    Something we don’t talk about in India, and we must.

  2. Samir Chatterjee permalink
    January 30, 2014 9:01 pm

    The key to your question lies in economic power which most Indian women do not possess. Cultural conditioning can explain only partly your question but the real answer lies in economic power. Having said that I have witnessed very attractive upper-middle class Indian women divorcing their husbands and marrying other eligible men but not many. Generally divorces in India are not so frequent as in the West. Married Indians explain that by a spirit of mutual toleration in which cultural conditioning plays a part inevitably.

    • February 7, 2014 11:49 am

      Samir — Most women of the middle and upper classes who get killed for dowry are often professional and earning. Even among the poor women, in slums, the men are often jobless. It is the women who work as domestic help and feed the family. So the reason women often stay in violent or dangerous marriages is not economics. But marriages can be abusive and dangerous without getting physical too. I can bet you that while Sunanda was desperately calling and talking to the media and everyone (it seems this has been going on for some time) no one advised her not to destroy herself over this. Like many Indian women she didn’t even think of securing her son’s future. He’s only 21, and his father is also dead, and she has massive wealth but made no will! Finally your point about adjustment — I’ve said, if a man likes pizza, and she likes Indian food, they can compromise and adjust. But abuse — physical, emotional or otherwise is not something anyone should adjust to in any way, ever. It is absurd. It’s inhuman.

  3. January 30, 2014 11:34 pm

    I think the main problem with Indian women is that they are always told that their existence is incomplete without a relationship or a family.A good woman is always supposed to make her marriage work.Most of the Indian women cannot just think of a life without a man or a family.They fail to experience the joy of living an individualistic life style.

  4. jobin permalink
    January 31, 2014 11:09 am

    Mrs Rita,what if sunanda would have been the aggresser and shashi taroor would have been silently suffering even physical abuse from her….Many people have seen sunanda pushkar engage in physical fights with shashi taroor,that too openly…..Domestic violence against men by women are not a rarest of rare case in india….Recently in kerala a woman beat her husband to death…..I think in shashi taroor’s case he was the one who had done the mistake by not breaking free from a physically and emotionaly abusing marriage…..He was a well respected personality across the globe and and a sure winning candidate for congress in trivandrum..Now threre is doubt about him being the candidate in trivandrum once again…I think men also should show some courage to break free from mentally and physically abusing marriages before it ruins their lifes…..

  5. January 31, 2014 4:50 pm

    Not just Indian women… Women married to all powerful men cling to their men, despite their truant ways…Clementine put up with philandering ways of Winston Churchill…JFK, before his sad killing had rollicking affairs with Monroes of the world, while wife Jacquiline looked away. In the 90s Hilary Clinton never left Bill’s side ..More recently, World bank chief Strauss Kahn’s wife pledged her support despite him being charged for rape and also being found guilty and left off only after a 1 million dollar bail
    Latest, French President Holande’s mate (not wife) for 17 years, and mother of 3 children together with him, is okay if husband loafs with a model..
    The golfer & footballer wives probably are different. Politician wives cling all around the world ..

    • February 3, 2014 10:22 am

      This is not about women staying on with filandering husbands. This is about women who have the means, but continue to stay on in dangerous marriages and get killed. There are thousands of women in India who get killed in marriages for dowry, for giving birth to girls, being forced into abortions and they dont’ get out even when they have the financial option to.

  6. February 5, 2014 4:42 pm

    You have a very valid point on women dying in marriages, for dowry, forced abortion..But Sunanda Pushkar is definitely not the same case. Also, the rich & powerful section should have more courage to move out. But, they cling more.. Possibly because a minister’s wife has more lose by a social standing.

  7. February 8, 2014 6:49 pm

    Majority of Indian women are ‘persons with no clear purpose in life’.
    Marriage and its sustenance, then becomes their only occupation.
    Every creature strives for safety & comfort – but none more so than Indian females who’ve been brought up on the BS that their Prince Charming will have all the answers for their happiness.
    I’ve observed and found most Indian women to be very delusional, perhaps immature, and most definitely control freaks … with very few exceptions.

    They simply do not respect themselves enough … and i don’t quite understand why ?
    And the ones who do … well, they have the balls to stand up and be counted, without a man for a prop.
    But no surprise then, that most men give such women a wide berth … b’cos hey, there are plenty doormats out there, so why mess with a tough gal ?

    So … you have very few strong, purposeful women … and even fewer strong men who can collaborate with such women … hardly enough to start a trend, if you will.

    And thus, in the rest of the society … misogyny rules.

    • February 13, 2014 11:18 am

      Kamal — you are right in that there are very few women’s and men’s voices. But all big injustices start changing with a few small voices. I feel very tired on certain days with the denial that there is in Indian society, but then I think, I still have to, because even if it doesn’t change with the few of us tomorrow, our voices are still needed to build the momentum that one day will change! So we must keep at it — please!

  8. sahitha permalink
    March 15, 2014 2:07 pm

    @ Kamal, Well said! Most Indian women have no clear purpose in their lives except to bag a husband and then have kids. Perhaps, then buy plenty of jewellery, a big house and bank balance to show off. It is almost a race between these women to show off their prized possessions, their husbands, their kids and their jewellery and houses. Men of course like this too because it serves them better to have a woman who has low self-worth and is subservient. Otherwise, they have to “man-up” properly and take responsibility for household work, kids and in general have to develop ethics.

    I think part of the problem is that many people do not have strong values and ethics. I think if they had them, they wouldn’t accept second-class treatment from others and wouldn’t dish out such treatment to others either. People are too lazy to invest time and effort into building a strong character which values and treats everyone with respect and love. How often do you find people behaving brashly even for simple things when a calm answer was all that was needed. They feel they can treat anyone in whatever way they like when they perceive some offense to their ego. I have had personal experience with many such people who wouldn’t give a second thought to other peoples’ feelings and are quite happy to bulldoze through. The worst part is they expect to be bulldozed through by others and this cycle is perpetrated by everyone.

    Most Indian women somehow have this idea that if they bag the right (rich/well-earning) guy, then they can have all the nice stuff they want. This kind of thinking irritates me so much I cannot even begin to write. Shame on you for being such parasites! What self-respecting woman would think such thoughts? It’s a different thing for a husband to buy his wife presents but it’s an entirely different thing to expect luxuries from the guy when you don’t work for it. I have a cousin like that who thinks all she has to do is find the right guy and she can rest on her lazy arse all her life. The list of her desires is endless with nice clothes, fine jewellery, foreign travel etc. If I were a man, i would stay away from her because I have such strong values about work ethics, equality, integrity, self-respect etc. I wouldn’t entertain a lazy sloth!

    How many men can actually take this stand? I doubt very many.

  9. sahitha permalink
    March 15, 2014 2:11 pm

    i think the point I was trying to make was that no matter how much wealth, education, success a woman has, unless she also has a very strong sense of self, she cannot leave a marriage or relationship that isn’t good for her. Those are all external factors but real strength and true personal power comes from having integrity and values. The same is true for men!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: