‘Darlings’ and lessons for abused women

The Hindi film, directed by Jasmeet K Reen, focuses on several layers of domestic violence and urges women to gather the courage to walk out, writes Brinda Adige
Last Updated 13 August 2022, 03:16 IST

I am sure we have all heard these phrases and dialogues that spurred us to criticise the man: “I am so sorry, I hit you so hard, is it still paining”; “if you leave the house today, don’t ever think of coming back”; I hit you because you keep finding an excuse to talk to that man; I know that you have a soft corner for him”; “I beat you because I love you”...

The film ‘Darlings’, which dropped on Netflix last week, has put the focus on several layers of domestic violence. It depicts the complex relationship between two people supposedly in love with each other. You see the manifestation of the wife’s unconditional love for her husband, even while he emotionally and physically abuses her.

Conventionally, the notions and ideologies of a ‘good woman’ automatically translate to a demur, well-mannered, submissive, docile, adoring wife, daughter-in-law. The idea of a ‘good woman’ oscillates between being an apsara and a Devi. Many women have internalised volatile, toxic relationships. They believe in being in an abusive marriage is more respectable than being in none.

The film’s female protagonist, essayed by Alia Bhatt, portrays a classic case of the ‘battered woman syndrome”; beginning with ‘denial’, she refuses to accept that she is being abused and justifies it to her mother, as being “just that once.” This proceeds to ‘guilt’, believing that, she may be the cause of the abuse.

After a point, with some help from her mother, there seems to be an ‘enlightenment’, where she realises that she does not deserve the abuse. She recognises that her husband has an abusive personality. She acknowledges that the ‘responsibility’ for the abuse is only with the abuser and this pushes her to explore options to nullify the abuse.

The film shows the police in a very sensitive light and that’s more of a fantasy. While the law, ‘Protection of Women from Domestic Violence’, recognises domestic violence as an act that is no longer a private affair and a complaint can be made to the state mechanisms; the Act is remedial and not a criminal one.

The law bases itself on the premise of “saving and protecting families.” Technically, police do not have an immediate role to address complaints under this law. In the film, the police talk about registering the case under 498A, which is correct, as the complaint falls under the purview of ‘cruelty in marriage’.

Yet, almost all police deter the woman from registering cases under this section. Often, police indulge in ‘counselling’ the couple (read advise the woman), to change her behaviour/adjust in the abusive relationship, for the sake of family prestige, her own dignity in society, and even for her own moral safety and always for the sake of the children.

And then, in the film (as in most actual cases too), the victim backs out after making the complaint, as soon as her husband cajoles her with a baby, which is her utmost desire; she reflects on how there is a need to uphold the conjugal tie, which she assumes will set everything right. Women often become the ultimate upholders of patriarchal norms and relinquish the space to make difficult decision.

I am sure, the film ‘Darlings’ will find many women identifying themselves with the female protagonist and yet a greater number of the victims will never resort to giving a taste of the husband’s medicines to him, with or without assistance. Women in the 21st century still live with many of the retrograde, regressive portrayals of living up to the ideals of being that ‘good woman’ whose sacrifice, love, tolerance, and adulation would at some point transform the abuser-perpetrator. Sadly, this is not true.

Victims can become survivors of domestic violence only when they courageously realise they are victims. They must make the choice to break the silence, and the cycle of violence, and remember that the abuser is committing crimes against them that is emotional, psychological, sexual, physical, or economic.

Domestic violence cannot and must not be condoned or validated at any cost. When we say we love each other, it certainly means we respect each other-this is a healthy relationship, allowing no space for any form of violence at any point in time. Trust and communication automatically translate to emotional honesty, physical and sexual safety. In such relationships, there is a freedom to make choices and decisions, especially to say a ‘no’. As a society, we need to speak and promote, the language of respect, and dignity for the personhood of women, trans-persons, and men.

(The author is a women’s rights activist who is also involved in rescuing victims of domestic and gender-based violence.)

(Published 12 August 2022, 18:19 IST)

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