The Leftover Pizza

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Archive for the tag “abuse”

Heartbreak, abuse and suicide

So I have been following/covering this case of a young Bollywood actress with a not-so-promising career, Jiah Khan, who committed pizzaheadersuicide, after what has now been widely reported as ‘heartbreak’ over her relationship with actor Aditya Pancholi’s son Suraj Pancholi. Strangely, the opinions I hear on this case are so divided that it seems like Moses and the Israelites could walk through the gap.

Everyone agrees, Jiah was young, beautiful and she shouldn’t have chosen to end her life so. That part is easy. But the sea parted after Suraj Pancholi was arrested for abetment. Suddenly, even the most vehement of feminists were heard saying how can you blame him for what she did? I partly agree with the theory that suicide is your personal choice, but there are sometimes circumstances of abuse where the victim is driven to suicide. Suicide is all about the feeling of having no options and has little to do with weakness or foolishness. The alleged suicide letter, if taken into account as the original sequence of how things had gone down, does support the talk of abuse. But that is still for the courts to decide, all I wish is to debunk some random theories spouted by misogynists and feminists about why Suraj can’t be responsible, all of this, of course, is on the basis of the recovered suicide note being true and on other commonsense things.

Argument No. 1 : Suraj Pancholi is young, only 21, how could Jiah expect him to marry her?

Umm, that still doesn’t take away the responsibility of having a healthy relationship away from Suraj does it? And I don’t think our society is as forgiving of an 18 year old girl who made the ‘mistake’ of dating some guy. We expect her to take full responsibility of her choices, so why not ask the guy to shoulder those too, irrespective of his age. The most irrational arguments I have heard when I said this – well its not like he raped her, she agreed to it too and the best I’ve heard yet, well you women are born with it (vagina and uterus) so you have to deal with it.

Argument No. 2 : Why didn’t she walk away?

She had it all, beauty, what seem to be like somewhat concerned family. Why didn’t she just walk away, if she had started to know that Suraj was a loser? People who say that have clearly never been in an abusive atmosphere before. Yes, the abused can walk away, but it is not always easy. There is what is called a cycle of abuse in every abusive relationship. The first time the abuse happens is mostly when the victim has slowly shed all inhibitions and trusted the abuser totally. It shocks the victim, logic kicks in and they try to distance themselves. When the abuser realises that he/she may lose control over the victim, they return with more promises of change, of special love, all honey suckle and dew. The reconciliation is followed by a honeymoon period until the abuse happens again. It being human nature, the first few times, we tend to forgive, because we are so in love and all of us have at some point or the other given in to irrational rage of some kind (not physical always). Now say when it first happens, the victim confides in friend A who offers support and advice to immediately move out. But victim is still in love so when abuser returns, victims takes them back and feels ashamed at judging abuser and speaking ill about them to A. It happens again, now victim might be too ashamed to confide in A, could maybe go to B, or say even if A is the only person the victim has, it will be only so many times before A throws hands up in air in disgust at the victim’s inability to just walk away. So what happens? Victim gets isolated. The only source of validation remaining is the abuser, who is the most unreliable source and also the source of the misery in the first place. Left with no one, where does the victim go?

I also feel that it is a classist argument to say that unlike common housewives, Jiah had access to better services and finances. That is totally discounting the impact abuse has on self esteem and the person’s belief in a better, safer tomorrow. That doesn’t come from money or resources, you generally get it from the people around you and when you have atleast one primary relationship other than the abusive one that is fairly unconditional.

Argument No. 3 : Jiah’s mother was divorced, that childhood trauma made Jiah unstable

Yes, parents’ divorce does affect children, no doubt about that. What I objected to were the not-so-subtle jibes at the way Rabiya Khan, Jiah’s mother, must have brought her up, for her to be so weak. Whoa! Why doesn’t anyone question the atmosphere that Suraj grew up in? Suraj’s father, Aditya, has been known to get into brawls frequently, he has had multiple very public affairs all throughout his marriage and has publicly beaten up some of the women he was allegedly going out with. When questioned about his alleged public affair and fallout with Kangna Ranaut by Telegraph, Pancholi’s wife, Zarina Wahab is quoted as saying if you marry a younger man who is good looking also, then you have to be prepared for such things happening. One can excuse this even, saying that maybe they had an open marriage. But as far as my understanding goes, in the Indian context, an open marriage, is generally open only for the man. But of course, no one asks whether Zarina Wahab taught her son by staying that abuse is ok and the woman just puts up with it when you do it. No one questions what values of stability did this teach Suraj, but I forget, the over arching argument in this case is that the marriage is still intact, unlike Rabiya’s. Our society’s emphasis on marital status over its quality is amazing.

Argument No. 4 : Dying over heartbreak is irrational, breaking up is not abetment

Agreed. Wholeheartedly. But let the investigation and the courts prove that this was just heartbreak and that the alleged suicide note and its contents were false and had no bearing on Jiah’s suicide. Till then, let us not say categorically that it was mere heartbreak and not abuse. But what about an innocent man’s life, you may ask? Well, our society is very forgiving of men anyways, I am sure, Suraj, if innocent, will come out stronger, do some great Bollywood movies (which he may end up doing even if he is not innocent) and get married and live happily ever after some day. After all, jaan hai toh jahaan hai.

Shall write some other day about suicide, the various emotions and circumstances behind it and responsibility for it. This post is only about how abuse could lead to hopelessness which could translate into suicidal tendencies.

P. S. Male rights activists, I eagerly await your comments about how I am just a bitter ole feminist who is rather lonely too ūüėõ


Are you capable of helping an abuse victim?

IHM’s last post on victim blaming¬†had a lot of people talking about their views on what victims should and shouldn’t do (note the use of should and not can or cannot). There were people who were accused of sympathising and thereby enabling the victims, there were those who claimed to be angry at how weak some people are and why they couldn’t just get out and there were a few who chose to be objective empathisers. There seemed to be some people who seemed to feel that they had burnt their fingers by helping an ‘ungrateful’ abuse victim who disappointed them by going back to the abuser. Now this is where I want to elaborate about how, when and whether you can help an abused. There are certain things one must keep in mind before going on there brandishing the sword of goodness ūüôā

1. Why do you want to do it?

You might say what kind of a question is that, of course I want to help the abused. But while our conscious mind gives us this reasoning, what is important is to know what is going on within us. Some of us have a Mother Teresa syndrome. We think that God put us on earth to sort other people’s lives. But what differentiates us mere mortals from a Mother Teresa is that all the help gives us some sort of a high. It makes us feel important and we do it more to be perceived as a good human being rather than to help the other person. In this case, we could become over zealous in ‘helping’ the other person, only to realise that there were many dynamics that we missed out on. We may even blow out of proportion certain instances as abuse. So determine what is in it for you. If there is nothing and you find that you care about this person and that’s why want to help, please go ahead.

2. Are you over the abuse you faced?

Some of us feel strongly about abuse because we have gone through it. But if we still carry the wounds of the abuse, we may not be able to objectively assess the situation of the person we are trying to help. Also if we are not over the abuse yet, seeing something similar happen to someone else could trigger some leftover depression and helplessness within us. Please remember you can only help someone else when you are sound enough. Also never help someone at the cost of your own peace of mind, that is counter productive and reeks of codependence. Self preservation is not selfishness.

3. What is your level of patience?

Helping a victim requires a lot of patience, because you are dealing with someone whose self esteem and basic concept of life has been twisted around by the abuse. It may so happen that they may not get what you are trying to tell them. It may so happen that in their confusion they may lash out at you. It may so happen that they take ages and ages to realise the truth of their situation. Are you ready to stand by their side, seemingly helpless or unproductive and lending only an ear to them? Will you be able to not take it personally if things don’t go well? If so, go ahead and help them.

4. Will you be able to handle failure and uncalled for blaming?

Though you may have the best of intentions, sometimes you will not be able to extricate the person from the abuser. For reasons best known to the victim, the victim might decide to go back to the abuser and nothing you say might help. Infact, the victim might resent you for pointing out the obvious problems. The abuser might gang up with other family members and blame you for being a ‘bad influence’. Is your self esteem good enough to handle this objectively and also to know that this is not your fault and that it is problem of the abuser and those who enable him? The victim herself might blame you for ruining her family unit, will you be able to handle this uncalled for criticism and know that you did your best? Or else things could go horribly wrong while you are trying to help the victim. Often abuse escalates when the victim tries to leave. At such times it is important for you to know that the victim was not harmed because you tried to help, the abuser would have harmed the victim anyway. Often abusers also end up maligning those who help the victim and they could start a smear campaign against you. At this point too you have a choice, whether you want to stick to helping the victim or preserve your reputation and there is no harm in bailing out.

5. Are you ready to lose the friendship of the victim?

Helping an abused is tricky. Some research says that it takes about 7 attempts for a victim to leave and everytime the victim returns, things start once again from the honeymoon phase. During this phase the abuser might convince the victim that they will be treated better and that they don’t need people like you. The victim also might feel embarrased about facing someone to whom they have badmouthed the abuser. In all such cases, the victim will now avoid you and may even cut all ties with you. Even if the victim does leave the abuser, you might end up as a reminder of those bad days for them. Sometimes victims try to move on by cutting contact with everyone connected to that period of their life. So either ways there is a chance that the victim might not want to be in touch with you, will you be ok with that? This is a possibility you need to consider before jumping into the fray.

6. The victim may not act grateful

After getting out, the victim may not act as grateful as you think they should be. The victim might acknowledge your contribution in helping them get out of the relationship, but they may not act ‘indebted’ to you. They may even rationalise that in the end it was they who got out (which is true in a way). Do not expect the victim to act like Nirupa Roy in a 70’s movie blessing someone who got her a piece of roti. Infact, treat it more like Neki kar kuve mein daal. Don’t expect the victim to help when you get into something similar either, like I said above, for the sake of not reliving those days, the victim might not be very empathetic towards other victims. Also though the victim is better off, they have not settled in the new life yet, so when they hit a roadblock there, they might end up blaming you for making their life difficult. Don’t take this personally.

7. The victim might get more praise for getting out than you might get for helping them out

Ok, have to admit, this one is inspired by Emma and the various screen adaptations of the novel. Sometimes people around you might applaud the courage of the victim and not talk about your helping the victim at all. They might do this for their own reasons or it might be that they believe everything boils down to the individual. Also victims who get out might find a new strength in themselves that makes others respect them a lot. There might also be people who give them more benefit of doubt because of sympathy. Will you be ok with being a stage hand when the victim is enjoying the spotlight? This again boils down to whether you helped the victim for the sake of helping or to feel nice about being a do-gooder.

The most important thing to remember while helping is to be objective. Also help is about the victim and not about you. And there is no standard type of victim. There might be some who appreciate your help and there might be others who dont. Just because someone rejected your help, doesn’t mean they are weak or bad, neither does it mean that every other victim will reject your offer, the reverse also holds true. Every person is different, so its best to take these things as they come. The best way to help is by spreading awareness in whatever way you can, that in itself might create a subconscious impact on victims. And last but not the least, do not judge anyone else’s life by your perceptions. What holds true for you, will never be true for others.

Confusing empathy and victim profiling

A significant confusion in the minds of most abuse victims arises when a once beloved person, who was so attentive and loving, turns on them. This is generally the first step in the escalation of abuse which could take any dangerous turn later on. The shift confuses the hell out of an abused and everytime he/she thinks of breaking free, the memories of these ‘good’ times come to haunt them and they think that the abuse is just a temporary phase and the abuser will treat them better if only they did what the abuser wanted.

The initial show of empathy is what is known as victim profiling. Abusers need to hook the victim and for that they need to know the victim’s weaknesses very well. Just to give you an example, say you meet the abuser in a party, he (I use the male gender just for convenience, there are female abusers too) will probably be the first person to notice that you are uncomfortable there. Normally you would feel grateful that there is someone to chat with you at a party where you dont know too many people. So the talking begins. The abuser might be very charming, trying to draw you out. Mind you, he might even have the reputation of being someone who is very chivalrous towards women. So you think wow what a gentleman.

After the party, the abuser will be the first person to add you on to facebook or any other social networking site along with some ‘cute’ or witty message. You are flattered despite the niggling doubt that what makes him so friendly to you (yes, yes, every victim sees the red flags and dismisses it). This will be followed by days of being all pally with you, being there for you, helping you out when you are in a sticky situation, giving you ‘surprise’ visits and all of this will happen pretty fast. They would want to speak to you everyday, they would use words like you are valuable to them etc etc. During all this time the abuser is actually noting down little points in his head so that he can push your buttons effectively when the abuse starts. This is also a smokescreen so that when you question the abuse, you can be reminded of how good they have been to you. There are also these little nuggets they let you in on their life, some lost love, parental oppression and the like. In most cases, only those issues which they know the victim is also going through are let out. This is the phase where they railroad you into trusting your emotions in their care. Big mistake but one that many of us make.

Most victims are empaths or codependents who have been brought up with the idea of self sacrifice. So these acts of extreme chivalry actually look natural to them. They feel they have found a kindred soul. And this is exactly what the abuser wants them to think. But once the abuser knows that the victim has started trusting them, the game begins. It takes the victim forever to then differentiate what is the truth and what is just an act. This just escalates the abuse and makes the victim feel trapped.

The only remedy to this is to approach dating a little conservatively. Yes, love at first sight might exist, but its always better to trust someone after they have consistently proven themselves to be trustworthy. One or two acts of being ‘helpful’ in the beginning are no indication. The real test of abusers generally is when the first instance of disagreement comes forth, if they can view it as just a disagreement and not make it a relationship make/break deal, there might be hope. But if the person shows severe mood swings and a sense of being the only person right in the relationship, run with all your might.

The dichotomy of the ‘liberal’ Indian parent

Just read this piece on parents of daughters and their attitude towards marriage by IHM. Triggered a lot of things I have concluded about Indian family system till now. Will be talking more from a girl’s perspective only because I am a girl, but I do know a fair number of guys also face similar attitudes with respect to their work or other life decisions.

A ‘liberal’ Indian family is mostly a dichotomy (exceptions might be there, but they are rare). Post feminism, educating one’s daughters has also become part of a status symbol. For many first generation feminist ideology inspired mothers, the drive to see the daughter as a very successful career woman is higher and while this is a good thing, the problem is the increased expectations from the child. The girl not just has to be a good girl (read sanskari, agyakari etc etc) but she has to excel in studies. To justify the fact that she is a worthy enough human being she has to try twice as hard as the boy next door or the mamaji’s son to be the absolute best student. The messages she receives right from childhood are that when it comes to career and education she is as good as any boy. The girl generally grows up in a bubble of equality.

But just after she becomes an adolescent the bubble suddenly starts going pop. Suddenly there are restrictions about what she should do. She could study yes, but not that particular course, its manly you know. When she questions the equality, she is told that well she was always brought up to be an equal, but there are some things that haven’t changed in the outside world and so this is for her safety.

Then she grows up, sometimes rebelling and going on to do the job or course that her parents thought would make it tough for her to get a husband later on, stuff that renders her less ‘homely’. Now she has more competition to handle, that from the ones who didn’t rebel and lived on to marry someone and have happy marriages. God forbid she is having problems at her work, she would be told you were the one who chose it (this I believe happens even to boys who choose a career that their parents didn’t like). What parents fail to understand is that the child made a mistake and is not asking you to clean up his/her act, all they are saying is to have the confidence that they have the unconditional love of their parents in whatever they do. Of course, conservative parents (read control freaks) would say that what the hell are you talking, we are parents, we don’t want the child suffering later and that is why we are asking him/her to stay put or do whatever we deem is right because of course, we know better. Lets get one thing clear the parents are not wondering if the child might not be able to handle it, they are more concerned that they might not be able to handle the so-called societal glare. It is about being called as ‘failed parents’ because the child is not a super star.

Also all ‘liberal’ thoughts vanish when it comes to marriage. If she has had a love marriage then she has to bear the consequences. If she married someone of their choice, then she has to ‘adjust’ and many times she is told how ‘education’ has turned her head or has made her expect too much. Even when it comes to the job, it is not easy if she says that she made a mistake and wants to quit and figure things out for a while. The whole discussion in both the cases is about how they have grinned and borne everything that life threw at them and so the daughter should also.

The biggest fear Indian parents seem to have about their children is about them ‘failing’ to live up to some social expectation. It doesn’t really matter if the child is happy there, but the ‘appearance’ of happiness or success is what is important. Log kya kahenge rules everyone’s lives. It is also the tragedy of the abused that they become as insensitive as they accuse the abusers to be, by asking others who are being abused to just grin and bear it. This is praised in our popular culture as resilience. We¬† look for that one fairy tale where the ‘patient’ victim finally managed to change the abuser and we pay no heed to the actual reality of the abuse. We infact encourage the victim to live in denial because we ourselves want to live in denial, its the only thing that keeps the status quo intact and after all if the victim goes through the same shit and remains there, it will be easier for us to justify why we remained there. It will be easier to say the world is unfair and ‘accept’ it and live isn’t it?

Recognising abuse

In her wonderful article on abusive interactions, Susan J Elliot, who runs the wonderful site Getting Past Your Past describes the deviousness of the interactions in this paragraph :

It makes as much sense as saying, “How can I care about someone who wears yellow on Tuesdays? I’m sorry but I can’t.”

But those are the messages and the CRAZINESSof the messages that we receive. I’m sorry oh-unworthy-one, but it’s your fault I act like a complete and utter crazy person. It’s not me, it was that wearing-yellow-on-Tuesday thing you do…I mean who can live with that? If you just straightened up and wore the appropriate colors, I would not be such an insane person.

And we buy it. We run around and eradicate all the yellow from our lives. And next Tuesday we wear pink but that’s wrong too and then black and purple and blue and orange and they’re all wrong too and then the day comes when the abuser says, “You’re so stupid you don’t even wear yellow on Tuesdays.” WHAT? Wait, I thought yellow on Tuesdays was bad. It’s not? Oh let me run right out and get some yellow. There must be something wrong with my hearing or something wrong with my head. So you put the yellow back. And of course it’s “I TOLD YOU that yellow on Tuesdays is NEVER appropriate!!! You just do this to make me miserable!!!”

And so it goes….

The funny part is in most cases the victim doesn’t recognise this pattern and stays in the abusive relationship or work partnership for years. Sometimes he/she never realises and dies believing this is how life is supposed to be and he/she is fed crappy concepts like luck to keep the victim from realising.

One of the hallmarks in any abusive pattern is that the abuser creates a fear in the mind of the victim and plays into the low self esteem or ignorance of the victim. Most abusers go for a secrecy pact. The common one in abusive families is the stricture ‘Don’t wash dirty linen in public.’ Over a period of time the victim starts believing the abuser’s tall claims and starts doubting himself/herself. This usually happens after the victim has done all he/she can to convince the abuser that they are good human beings. At this point, two things could happen. The victim could either realise that he/she has done all so it is the fault of the abuser and get out or the worst case scenario where the victim stays and gets into a self harm pattern that could culminate into suicide. The lesser evil is of course where the victim just stays on as a mere shadow, a puppet in the hands of the abuser.

So how does one recognise abuse? If the victim is true to oneself, they can always recognise that something doesn’t seem right, this is more of an instinct, but caught in the cycle of abuse, most victims ignore this and try harder to please the abuser. So the first thing is to listen to your intuition, there is a reason it is telling you something.

Once you start listening to your intuition, observe how the abuser behaves in front of and with others. Most abusers will present themselves as ‘goody, goody’ boys and girls and will be admired, even loved by others. It is only when they are alone with you that you see them behaving badly, either verbally or physically. This huge neon sign is missed by many victims, because to them the very reason that the abuser behaves better with others is because everyone else is alright and the victim is wrong. Yes, yes, low self esteem does that to you. But the victim needs to know that emotionally healthy people are the same with everyone, they are not two faced. Some abusers genuinely believe they are doing this for your own good.

Once the victim realises this, the next step is to leave. Many victims stay on because the familiar abuse looks safer than the unfamiliar, out of comfort zone feeling of fending for oneself alone. Victims do look for some sort of validation from outside parties to confirm what they know about the abuser is true. This may or may not come from those around them as everyone is relating to the abuser to further their own ends or fuel their own dysfunction. That should not discourage the victim. Yes, easier said than done. But once the decision to leave has been made, the victim has to be extra cautious because this is when the abuser might try his/her hardest to trap the victim and further erode their self esteem or he/she could become more violent. A good strategy would be to behave as usual and then quietly slip away when the abuser is not paying attention. Once you are gone, the abuser might still try to get back, with pleas and cries of how you are so important, never ever make the mistake of returning because all this is just an act to get you back. So once you leave, never look back.

How do I know all this? Well had years of practice listening to circular No yellow on Tuesday kind of stuff and still have the ocassional twinge about wearing yellow. Have got out but still on the way to a new destination.

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