Domestic violence is also known as domestic abuse, spousal abuse, child abuse or intimate partner violence. It can be broadly defined as a pattern of abusive behaviours by one or both partners in an intimate relationship such as marriage, dating, family, friends or cohabitation.
The commonest form of domestic violence seen in Bhutan is spousal abuse, particularly, violence against the wife by her husband. In the recent times we have been seeing an increasing number of such cases. Many women visit the forensic unit and the psychiatric OPD of JDW NR Hospital for various problems which include physical injuries and mental trauma.
The Royal Government of Bhutan has been doing a lot lately to elevate the status of women in the society and alleviate their sufferings. There are now a number of agencies taking care of the needs of the women. The National Commission for Women and Children, RENEW (Respect, Educate, Nurture and Empower Women), and the Child and Women protection unit of the Royal Bhutan Police are such organizations.
In absence of a scientific study, it becomes difficult to pinpoint one single cause for spousal abuse in Bhutan; however, it is not so difficult to guess some of the possible causes. Alcohol seems to be the most important cause followed closely by gambling. The other causes would be personality mismatch, jealousy, financial dependence of a woman on her husband, emotional factors, helpless situation etc.
Alcohol is not only the main culprit by itself, it is also an indirect cause for other mental illnesses leading to more abuse and violence. Most common form of mental disorder in alcoholics is morbid jealousy, also known as pathological jealousy or “Othello syndrome”. Persons suffering from this condition can have unshakable belief that their partners are unfaithful; it can be so severe that the sufferer may even kill the spouse for this.
Even though we have so many organizations to protect these victims of abuse and violence, why are not all coming out to seek help? Although it is appropriate to find the cause for domestic violence, it is also equally important to find out the reasons for their helplessness. What could be the reasons for them to be so secretive? Why do they prefer to hide and weep behind closed doors?
While I may be wrong, I feel these are some of the reasons for the silence behind the domestic violence:
1. Financial dependence:
Due to disparity in education in the past more males are employed in Bhutan than women, thus women are more dependent financially on their husbands. Financial dependency makes women vulnerable to feel obliged to their husbands. Men take advantage of this situation and victimize their wives to comply with their wishes, be it unreasonable and unjustified.
2. Social customs:
In some ethnicity, especially in a patriarchal society, the girls once married belong to the in-laws. They will have nothing to do with their own parents and siblings except for some emotional attachment. In Hindu society, for example, the daughter becomes the “property” of the in-laws. The girl will relinquish her “clan name” to adopt the one from her husband. Such customs can make the women highly susceptible for abuse and violence. Even when the relatives know that their daughter or sister is abused they hardly offer help to mitigate the problem. She is not even welcomed to her parental home when she is thrown out by her husband thus making her helpless and hopeless.
3. Emotional factors:
Women tend to be more emotionally attached to their children because of which they would not mind to continue the relationship for the sake of their children even though there is constant oppression from the husbands. Many women take the role of protector for their children from the abusive husbands, in the process suffering more and more.
In contrary to the general notion that Bhutanese women have equal status and rights as their male counterparts, they are more dependent on their husbands for almost everything. That is why most women suffer silently without even mentioning about the abuse and violence to anyone, not even to their treating doctor. Some women even go to the extent of concealing the real cause of their physical injuries with which they come for treatment. Even though they may be going through severe mental depression, they will rather complain about physical symptoms, such as aches and pains, chronic headaches and insomnia.
Unless we take care of the factors leading to the “silence” women will continue to suffer quietly within the four walls of their houses. They will continue to be the victims of violence and abuse. If we don’t protect our daughters, sisters and our women relatives from their abusive partners, we will never be able to empower them!