In July of 2018 a 29-year-old woman, a mother of a four-year-old met a brutal end as a victim of domestic violence.
Prabjyot Kaur (name changed) belonged to the minority Sikh community of Jammu and Kashmir, and came from a socio economically humble household. Her father worked as a shabad singer in the local gurudwara (he is currently unemployed) and her mother is a home maker. Prabjyot was the oldest among the four siblings.
As per her parent’s accounts, the girl was being abused since the initial days of her marriage. On the fateful day, Prabjyot’s father got a call from her father-in-law vaguely informing them of her death, alleging suicide. As per the post mortem report, her body had multiple bruises, fractured bones, and a punctured kidney, though the family couldn’t confirm it, the doctors declared that she was four months pregnant at the time of her death. The most gruesome detail though is that a ‘silai’ (a turban needle) was used to puncture her face from side to side. From then on, her family’s struggle started to fight for justice for their daughter.
Violence in a domestic setting is a fairly common occurrence in our society as a result of its normalisation through culture. It stems from the idea of a male patriarch being the decision maker, a skewed understanding of the notions of honour, the onus of maintaining which, heavily lies on the woman, and the idea of continuing the lineage of the clan through the eldest living male member of the household. Women on the other hand, due to their role as nurturers are associated with the domestic sphere and perceived to be the weaker sex, catering to their partner’s need and forwarding the bloodline as dutiful and honourable wives with no regard for the self. Since their formative years, individuals are socialised with this understanding of gender in the name of tradition, thus forming the premise of domestic violence. In its essence, this kind of violence constitutes any behaviour that looks to gain power or control over another in a domestic setting. Physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal-emotional abuse, threats or blame, any kind of intimidation, economic depravation these are all facets of domestic violence.
As per Prabjyot’s parents, she was constantly harassed by her in-laws, however she confided in her parents much later the trouble into her married life, since our culture emphasises victim shaming, teaching survivors to silently suffer in such scenarios for the sake of upholding the family’s honour. There were frequent demands made by her in-laws for material assets, despite knowing fully well that her family wasn’t affluent, in addition to mental and emotional trauma, classist remarks, everyday harassment, excessive physical labour, and verbal abuse among other things. Her visits to her maternal home were forever rushed, as dictated by her husband, and when she came to know of his extramarital affair, the abuse only got worse
I stress here on her identity as a member of the Sikh community; they’ve coexisted harmoniously with others in the valley. The religion itself is based on the premise of nonviolence and it was only much later that the Sikhs became a martial race, propagating the use of arms, strictly for self-defence and upholding righteousness. In the realm of gender, Sikhism was one of the first major world religions to propagate (preach and practise) that women are equal to men. The role of a woman as a progenitor was viewed by our gurus as a source of great strength, she being the one through whom races flourished, not someone weak or condemnable. As per Sikhism, the dignity of a woman is the same as that of a man, the biological difference between the two makes them unique and incomparable.
Over time our religion has acquired attributes that go against its core principles. It is not that incidents of domestic violence are unheard of, as mentioned earlier, they’re normalised to the extent that most people may not even identify them as instances of abuse. Wife battering, verbal abuse, etc, have often become common place, escalating to cases of murder such as Prabjyot’s. Allegedly such was the confidence of her husband backed by his socio-economic clout that he outrightly claimed that he murdered her and challenged her family to avenge her death.
The case evidence was tampered with. Her killing was staged as suicide, a failed attempt but an attempt nonetheless, and yet her parents are running from pillar to post fighting a battle that they can literally, no longer afford.
Prabjyot’s parents claim that they were offered to trade justice for their daughter for a few lakhs in an informal settlement. With no source of income in the household, luckily for them, their landlords, a Muslim family, have been compassionate and supportive in their time of need, providing them shelter indefinitely despite months of unpaid rent.
In the month of July, it will be Prabjyot’s first death anniversary, and her family still has no closure. While the law will take its course, an increase in incidents of domestic violence and related deaths is a sign failure of the larger social group in fulfilling the social contract that includes protecting and upholding the right of every individual to life and to live with dignity. In such a scenario there is a need for deterrence measures, such as; – Calling out and reporting incidents of violence and harassment – Reaching out to survivors and families of the victims – Rigorous offense deterrence (a legal measure)- through monitoring and consistent consequences elicited from the judicial system – A clear consequence for noncompliance (by not taking the offense seriously) needs to be laid down not just by the legal and judicial system but by all other organisations and individuals working for this cause. Each and every violation by an offender needs to be met with a prompt consequence. The swift imposition of sanctions is one of the greatest deterrence measures. Most importantly we must include constructive conversations relating to gender in the mainstream – all members of the household need to take responsibility to talk about these issues and educate one another about the same instead of brushing them under the carpet.
Like any other set of parents, Prabjyot’s parents wanted the best for her, instead they lost their daughter to violence and are stuck in a legal rut with no resources to support the demands of a corrupt system. They’ve tried getting in touch with officials and organisations, but their pleas have often fallen on deaf ears. However so resilient is the human spirit that irrespective of all adversity, they still hope for justice in time.
(The author is a postgraduate in
criminology from Tata institute of
Social Sciences Mumbai.)