Powerful, successful women are victims too
From Domestic Goddess to a victim of Domestic Abuse - it’s taken a Nigella Lawson to bring this horribly uncomfortable issue from outside bedrooms and into the public arena. While UK debates whether Nigella should go back to Charles Saatchi, whether a mere ‘caution’ is enough punishment for him or even whether the choking - as shown in the pictures - was actually a ‘playful tiff’, we in India need to introspect as well.
If UK reports a domestic abuse rate of 25 per cent, in India, it is much higher - as many as two-thirds of all married women experience domestic violence. Charles Saatchi says he was ‘playfully’ choking his wife to stress a point, but in India, a young woman was stabbed literally within an inch of her life on the Yamuna Expressway by her husband and an accomplice so that he could be rid of her and to make way for his affair with his tenant to continue.
Nigella Lawson, whose immensely successful television cooking shows and cooking books have seen her rise to cult status, is believed to be feeling forced to react in the present situation because of the matter becoming public. People close to her say that she would not have moved out of her home if the pictures had not been published; that she still loves Charles Saatchi.
Her situation is something so many women in India will identify with. Here too, public image and bedroom behaviour are so different. The suave, charming husband who turns into an intimate terrorist once the bedroom door is closed creates a situation where so many women put up with abuse for fear of upsetting the façade of a happy marriage. The man who suddenly turns abusive is for all purposes caring, nurturing and after the episode of violence or abuse, extremely contrite, apologetic and of course, making that impossible to disbelieve promise of never repeating the abuse.
After Nigella’s photos were published, domestic abuse helplines in UK were flooded with calls from women in similar situations who had earlier been too scared to come out in the open. Whether Nigella likes it or not, whether she wants the crown or not, but she is now the face of domestic abuse. And the world is watching to see her next step. How she handles the situation will show the way to so many other women.
It is easy for people on the periphery to advocate a harsh stance and say she should never go back to Saatchi. But an outsider can never truly understand the dynamics of a man-woman relationship. While there are no two ways about abuse - it is unacceptable, period; whether it is the end of the relationship is something only the people in it can decide. As Nigella is contemplating - counseling may be the solution. After all, Charles Saatchi may not be the problem, his temper is. If the intention is to save the relationship, the first step has to be to acknowledge that a problem exists and the next should be to address it. Do not hide abuse behind the bedroom door, address it head-on.
Soni Sangwan has reported on Delhi-warts and all- for several years. She is now a Journalist-in-Retirement, dividing her time between watching her two-year-old daughter grow and seeing the city she loves evolve