Do #Women Complain Loudly Only to Cling to Destructive #Marriages?
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.
Even 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?
ABOUT THE WRITER
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 www.ritabanerji.com . She blogs at Revolutions in my Space and tweets at @Rita_Banerji