Speculation is rife over why Pratyusha Banerjee, who played the lead in the television hit-series Balika Vadhu, hanged herself from the ceiling fan of her Mumbai home on April 1. Her family alleges her abusive and violent boyfriend drove her too it, but police are not ruling out depression and financial troubles as possible causes. The reason for the suicide could be one or all of the above.
Worldwide, one person commits suicide every 4 seconds, leading to 850,000 self-inflicted deaths each year. This puts suicide or self-harm among the top 10 causes of deaths across the world and the seventh most common cause of deaths in India, reported The Global Burden of Diseases Study, 2013.
More than 130,000 people in India took their own lives in 2014, shows data from the National Crime Records Bureau, with relationship issues –marital strife, domestic violence, love affairs, extra-marital affairs, divorce etc – being the biggest cause, accounting for more than a third of self-inflicted deaths. The second biggest trigger is illness, including mental illness, chronic illnesses and disabilities.
Why victims are not weak
In Banerjee’s case, what people are asking is why the 25-year-old, with all the trappings of success including fame, money and a supportive family, chose to end her life instead of walking away from a relationship her friends and family claim was violent and abusive? Many -- like actress Hema Malini, who tweeted, ‘One must learn to overcome all odds & emerge successful, not succumb under pressure & give up easily. The world admires a fighter not a loser’ – are convinced, and wrongly so, that staying back in an abusive relationship is a sign of weakness and neediness.
Abusive relationships are complex and abusers often control and manipulate victims interspersing physical violence and emotional abuse with affection, apology and teary promises to turn over a new leaf. For many, seeking help is accepting an inability to cope. Battered women are often ashamed about their helplessness and withdraw from family and friends, which isolates them when they need help most. Denial becomes a coping mechanism for some to cover up for the shame of being violated, while others feel too depressed and emotionally drained to think through a plan to leave and rebuild their lives.
What the law says
Women who want to get out of controlling relationships can take recourse to several legal provisions. Section 498-A in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) defines domestic violence as cruelty by a husband or his family towards a married woman. It includes behaviour that may drive her to suicide; conduct that causes grave injury; demands to force her or her family to give up property; or harassment if she or her family cannot meet demands for money or property. It can lead up to three years of imprisonment and a fine. Anyone can make the complaint on behalf of the woman being harassed.
Even the word “cruelty” is defined as physical violence, denying food, perverse sexual behaviour, denying access to children, taunting and putting someone down, locking a woman out or confining her at home, denying the paternity of children or abusing them with the intention of hurting the mother, or threatening divorce unless dowry is given. Section 498-A of the IPC covers dowry-related harassment and 304B deals with dowry deaths, including death from “unnatural causes” within seven years of marriage following harassment for dowry. India does not have a law on marital rape, but “excessive and unreasonable” demands for sex, including for unnatural sex, are considered grounds for divorce.
Women, both married and single, in abusive relationships can also get an injunction or a court order directing a person to “keep the peace” or not to do something, including battering, abusing, stalking, or even emailing, texting or calling them.
Why you need to start again
All relationships have their high and lows, but if your relationship is affecting your self-worth and making you feel guilty and socially excluded, you need to consider where you see it headed. And if you have thoughts, however fleeting, of taking your life, call a friend. It may seem like the end of the world, but things always get better.
Distracting yourself with work and friends works for a while, but if the feeling of worthlessness and inadequacy remain for more than two weeks, seek help to end the relationship. If needed, counselling and prescriptions medicines can help you snap out of the depression that often accompanies such emotionally-charged decisions.