The Domestic Violence Act in India has been amended in 2005 to include an expanded definition. Here is what it says:
Definition of domestic violence-For the purposes of this Act, any act, omission or commission or conduct of the respondent shall constitute domestic violence in case it –
(a) harms or injures or endangers the health, safety, life, limb or well-being, whether mental or physical, of the aggrieved person or tends to do so and includes causing physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal and emotional abuse and economic abuse; or
(b) harasses, harms, injures or endangers the aggrieved person with a view to coerce her or any other person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any dowry or other property or valuable security; or
(c) has the effect of threatening the aggrieved person or any person related to her by any conduct mentioned in clause (a) or clause (b); or
(d) otherwise injures or causes harm, whether physical or mental, to the aggrieved person.
Explanation I.-For the purposes of this section-
- “physical abuse” means any act or conduct which is of such a nature as to cause bodily pain, harm, or danger to life, limb, or health or impair the health or development of the aggrieved person and includes assault, criminal intimidation and criminal force;
- “sexual abuse” includes any conduct of a sexual nature that abuses, humiliates, degrades or otherwise violates the dignity of woman;
- “verbal and emotional abuse” includes- (a) insults, ridicule, humiliation, name calling and insults or ridicule specially with regard to not having a child or a male child; and (b) repeated threats to cause physical pain to any person in whom the aggrieved person is interested.
- “economic abuse” includes- (a) deprivation of all or any economic or financial resources to which the aggrieved person is entitled under any law or custom whether payable under an order of a court or otherwise or which the aggrieved person requires out of necessity including, but not limited to, household necessities for the aggrieved person and her children, if any, stridhan, property, jointly or separately owned by the aggrieved person, payment of rental related to the shared household and maintenance; (b) disposal of household effects, any alienation of assets whether movable or immovable, valuables, shares, securities, bonds and the like or other property in which the aggrieved person has an interest or is entitled to use by virtue of the domestic relationship or which may be reasonably required by the aggrieved person or her children or her stridhan or any other property jointly or separately held by the aggrieved person; and (c) prohibition or restriction to continued access to resources or facilities which the aggrieved person is entitled to use or enjoy by virtue of the domestic relationship including access to the shared household.
Explanation II.-For the purpose of determining whether any act, omission, commission or conduct of the respondent constitutes “domestic violence” under this section, the overall facts and circumstances of the case shall be taken into consideration.
You might wonder-but how can I be really really sure that I have been abused ?
Physical violence may be somewhat ‘easier’ to prove with photographs and maybe some medical records. Sexual and emotional abuse may be more difficult so document every incident. Keep a journal and record the date, time, location, description of the incident, circumstances leading up to it and names of any witnesses present. Send an email to yourself of the incident so it also keeps a date stamp. Make recordings of abusive phone calls. Save any voicemails, emails, memos, notes or other physical documentation of abusive behavior. Speak to someone about the verbal and emotional abuse so that they can be aware as well as confirm that you did talk about what had happened.
When my lawyer was discussing the potential for using this provision to file a police complaint and ask for a restraining order against my spouse, he wanted to know if I had friends who would come as witness to court. Given that my friends had never lived in our home and had never been direct witness as such, except for hearing about the incidents from me, I was not sure how useful their testimony would have been because he would be able to put up a similar number of friends who would claim the opposite.
However, apart from the legal validity of the proof and conversations and whether you can use it or prove it in court, it is still crucial that you should know for yourself if you just had a bad relationship or a rough patch or there was emotional abuse.
This is important because unless you diagnose it you cannot manage it and you cannot heal.
Here are some signs that you might have noticed or remember:
- You avoid doing certain things that make your partner angry—like posting on social media or hanging out with your friends and family or shopping for things for yourself.
- You have to check in often with your partner and let them know where you are and who you are with. Or your partner deliberately goes out and refuses to tell you where they are going and who they are with and then gaslight you into thinking you are the one being overly controlling.
- Your partner blocks your conversation when you are trying to hold them accountable for something they have done and then make the drama all about how you were actually wrong or they may even change the topic completely.
- They crack jokes that are hurtful to you while complaining that you are too sensitive.
- They make you feel as though your feelings are wrong or they don’t matter.
- They put words in your mouth and speak for you without your consent or undermine you in public conversations.
- They deny things said or actions that took place, thus creating doubt in you. When done often enough, you also start believing that you are an unreliable witness to your own life. They invalidate you and your emotions, perceptions, experiences and opinions. This is gaslighting.
- They never acknowledge your accomplishments or offer any generous praise. They take pleasure in small cruelties that belittle you instead.
- You no longer feel like being intimate and having sex with them because you do not feel safe or you get anxious.
- They have unrealistic expectations from you of caretaking or prioritizing them and their needs and criticize you when you don’t or can’t.
How does this make you feel?
- You feel shame.
- You have low self esteem
- You feel unworthy and never good enough
- You struggle to express your own needs and desires and often choose to suppress them to keep the peace.
- You are isolated because you do not want them to hang out with your friends and you don’t want to hang out with theirs.
- You start believing that no one else wants to have anything to do with you and you should be grateful they put up with you.
- You feel angry and frustrated with yourself because you know you should be standing up for yourself but you are unable to figure out how.
- You feel so confused about what is true and you believe all the demeaning and belittling things they say about you and you hate yourself.
What can you do about it?
- Take care of your physical health by eating right, getting rest and regular exercise.
- Acknowledge that you have been suffering emotional abuse.
- Avoid slipping into victim mode (Why me? Why me??!)
- Accept that they may never change their behaviour and the only way to really escape the abuse is to leave them.
- Stop blaming yourself. Once you understand the ways in which you enabled them, because you believed them, loved them, trusted them, wanted the relationship to work, you will recognize the choice points you can make in the future to do this differently. You will have better boundaries, check for red flags, understand your own needs and desires and learn to speak up, step away from toxic people and love yourself.
- Look for support from NGOs that have telephone helplines, blogs, social media sites where you can read more, find people in similar situations and learn from them about recovering and moving forward.
- Don’t engage with the abuser and don’t tell them that you know they are abusing you. This could make things far worse for you.
- Make plans to leave safely as soon as you can. If children are involved connect with a professionally trained team that can help.
- Please contact a counsellor or a mental health professional for help if you feel anxious and angry and sad in ways that are overwhelming to cope with on your own.
- Share your experience or your plans only with someone you trust fully.
- Do not stay in the abusive situation for fear of what people will say. Your safety and your life is far more valuable than the opinion of your aunt or the neighbour.
“Not everyone will understand your journey. That’s okay. You’re here to live your life, not to make everyone understand.” Banksy