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Shraddha Walkar murder: Why it’s not easy for abused women to end a toxic relationship

The answer lies within a system that considers ‘adjustment’ and ‘compromise’ as womanly virtues with men having all the prerogatives to be otherwise

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Shraddha Walkar and Aftab Poonawalla

By Romita Datta: A viral picture of Shraddha Walkar with bruises on the face and swollen eyes, ostensibly suffered in her abusive relationship with live-in partner and her alleged murderer Aaftab Poonawala, continues to cause shock and horror and raises questions about the extent of abuses she was subjected to. In the picture, Shraddha’s eyes look sad while the lips, with a cut mark, appear to be attempting to break into a smile. How long had she been suffering silently at the hands of her tormentor and coping with a toxic relationship?

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Shraddha had left her home, parents and social milieu for Aaftab, relocating to a new city. She did not heed her parents’ or friends’ advice. When her live-in relationship turned abusive, she chose to bottle up rather than seek help. The stakes were perhaps too high, as one of these abusive episodes ended in her hospitalisation. And if she had ever gathered courage to confront Aaftab, her resolve would have melted away in front of his cajoling/ intimidation.

Shraddha’s friends claim she feared her life would be snuffed out anytime. It was a late premonition. Data released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in November 2021 says that of the 81,000 women/ girls killed in 2020, about 58 per cent (47,000) died at the hands of an intimate partner or a family member—a woman or girl killed every 11 minutes in their home.

Shraddha was educated and financially independent. The question is why young accomplished women like her have to put up with abusive partners. The answer lies within a system that considers ‘adjustment’ and ‘compromise’ as womanly virtues with men having all the prerogatives to be otherwise. Shraddha had even more reason to endure the relationship because having forsaken her family, she had nowhere to go, no one to turn to.

The attitude of forbearance is strong among many abused women, who end up being victims of it in the end. Mahuya Ghosh, a Kolkata-based psychologist who counsels many women enduring abuse at the hands of their partners, says: “We offer counsel but ultimately it depends on the woman as to how she wants to deal with the situation. In a patriarchal society, it is ingrained in women to think from a man’s point of view. No matter how much we try, abused women tend to be held back by conventional beliefs and stereotyped ideas.”

The other reason why a woman silently suffers is the fear of victim-shaming, which is all too common in our society conditioned to judge things from a man’s perspective. A woman as a victim of male abuse—physical or mental—becomes an easy prey for societal dissection. Society suddenly feels responsible to talk about her, pass judgements, sensationalise her story and keep the gossip mill grinding. And in case the woman in question happens to be young, carefree, opinionated or non-conformist, society tends to immediately take an unkindly stand. Her plight is declared a fallout of her decision to go against societal traditions and customs. “We talk of society having progressed and women becoming liberated. We link empowerment to growing instances of women seeking divorce. But deep down, cases like that of Shraddha Walkar show where things actually stand,” says Ghosh.

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Another major reason why abused women dither to open up is that help is uncertain, inaccessible or unreliable. There’s also serious lack of awareness as to where to seek help. So, women continue living in an abusive relationship in the absence of institutionalised support systems. A woman wronged in her private space by people close to her risks becoming an object of pity in public eye should she decide to spill the beans. In rural India and also in fairly large pockets of semi-urban areas, parents want their daughters to ‘adjust’ rather than go through the stigma of leaving their abusive spouse or seeking divorce.

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In order to encourage women to break free from their toxic relationships, the need is awareness and an environment for healthy conversation. An ecosystem that is ready to open up, empathise and embrace the troubled souls without being critical.

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