BY APARNA BHATTACHARYYA AND MADHU DESHMUKH*
To my beloved community, We have seen your power – the power to make a change, the power to work towards a community that is equal, just and peaceful; the power to support the voices of those who are otherwise unheard. That’s you -We have seen you do this and do it well!. You can support a survivor by just letting them know they are not alone and you are with them through their journey and fight for justice and safety.
As Neha Rastogi’s story became viral, We can say We feel proud for your concern & support. You have added your voice to hers, shared your own stories of strength and started the difficult conversation round domestic violence with your family, friends, neighbors and community.
On the other hand, We also see some of you who are blaming Neha – for waiting too long and not leaving sooner, for being ‘educated and empowered’ and yet staying with her violent husband.. We have seen some of you say in your social media posts, ‘maybe she deserved it!’
Dear community, where were you when you heard her husband talking down to her? Or – Where are you when you hear other survivors’ husband abusing his wife? Do you just stand by and listen as he calls her names and talks down to her in public? Do you remind her that she is powerful and intelligent, and when she is ready you would walk that journey with her? No one ‘deserves’ to be in the situation that Neha was in.
Dear community, it is far too easy to judge and blame survivors like Neha, when you have not walked in her shoes. Have we really made an effort to understand the situation that Neha was in? What drove her to make the choices and decisions she did? Making a decision to leave an abusive relationship is more complicated than it seems. There are many factors such as immigration status, the ability to work, family pressure, and social stigma that survivors have to weigh when they decide to leave. Regardless of the factors, we must recognize that living with violence takes strength and power. A survivor is more likely to be killed when they are leaving and yet we always focus on why she does not leave.
Dear community, it is important we take a look at the messages we send to the young girls and women in our lives. How many times have we made an effort to understand how the choices we make are governed by the messages we hear as children?. What message does it send when we tell girls how they need to act and and look in order to get a good husband? Then once they are married, we tell women it is their duty to be patient and deal with the abuse for the good of the family. What messages do we share with our young boys when we say not to cry and that showing their feelings is weak. We teach them that being a man equals being aggressive and powerful. How many times do we justify the boys ill-treating girls, or men abusing their wife in public, by saying – ‘men will be men and “boys will be boys’. What will our sons and daughters grow up hearing and believing?
Dear community, how many of you have stopped talking to the divorced wife and her children in your own community? Do you continue to invite her and her children to the parties? What messages do we give to our daughters and sons by stigmatizing and judging the women who are divorced or separated? And do we have the same attitude to the men who are divorced?
Dear community, have you thought about how we continue to indirectly support and perpetuate situations of abuse and violence in our own culture and homes? Who do we blame then? Definitely not Neha and other survivors ! Here is a crazy idea, why not blame the abusers ? And what role do we play in perpetuating the silence, not talking about it and acting as if it does not happen? We implore each of you to reflect on what we do on a daily basis to send messages that violence is okay. We perpetuate violence in our homes by not talking about it and perpetuate the culture of blame, stigma, shame and disgrace if a woman leaves her marriage?
Let’s come together and redesign our conversations; let’s harness our power of being the responsible community that wants to create a better world for ourselves, for our daughters and sons – a world free of abuse and violence, a world that is equal and just.
The time to speak up is now! The time to support is now! The time to start conversations is now!
With love and hope.
* Aparna Bhattacharyya is the Executive Director, Raksha, Inc and Madhu Deshmukh is a Raksha Board Member.
Contact your local domestic violence organization to get involved and make a difference. If you are in Georgia, contact Raksha at www.raksha.org or call (404) 876-0670.