Taming the silent killer

Published: Jul 15, 2019, 07:02 IST | Dalreen Ramos |

With the launch of a book that outlines a personal although fictional account of emotional abuse, we get experts to share advice on identifying and overcoming it

Representational Image
Representational Image

The best way to keep a prisoner from escaping is to make sure he never knows he's in prison." Quoting Fyodor Dostoevsky, writer Shivranjana Rathore stitches together a lifetime of emotional abuse in her book Hineni.

The title, which literally translates to 'here I am' in Hebrew, is the story of Zee, a girl born to emotionally unavailable and abusive parents. But the 28-year-old Rathore chronicles this in what she calls an "inside-outside format." Essentially, Zee's choices are represented by Sombre and Levity — both are alter egos of each other. While the former represents succumbing to such abuse, the latter is inclined to maintaining a breezy approach.

Anubhab Sarkar
Anubhab Sarkar

The writer, who moved from Mumbai to Goa in 2017 after quitting her full-time job as a credit analyst, plays on prose and verse to tell a story, that although is fiction, is also deeply personal. Having grown up witnessing instances of borderline abuse or emotional blackmail in the lives of friends as well as her own, the origins of Hineni go back to 2013. Rathore began working on an independent research project on caste and body politics among sexual minorities in West Rajasthan. "That study brought home some radical ideas for me as a researcher as well as an awakening of sorts as a writer," she says, adding that the final leg of conceptualisation began in 2016 and this year, she self-published Hineni, launching it in Mumbai last week.

It's still abuse

Rathore has researched emotional abuse since 2013. And the most powerful section of the book lies at the end — the author's remarks. Here, she draws similarities to a prisoner's mindset, analysing Viktor Frankl's theory. One such example is highlighted in Zee's experience of depersonalisation i.e. the belief that she is nothing without her abuser. What was largely missing from popular discourse, Rathore feels, is the overall denial of such abuse with the family among other things. "I hope we can move away from the habit to label — the binary labels of victim and/or survivor. While I understand where these labels come from and see their use as well, to my mind, however, the pressure to use a label to define one's trauma from abuse, can push victims of abuse further into denial because the labels seem scary or even too alien. That is because we almost always assume that these things happen somewhere far away from us," she says.

Rahat Sanghvi
Rahat Sanghvi

These labels also got the writer thinking about hierarchies. She explains this with a series of questions while hoping that the focus is drawn to the resilience of the human spirit. "A survivor was also a victim at one point. Does that make the survivor better than a victim? If the survivor was always that, then does that again make a survivor-type personality better than a victim? In this case, who is a victim and who is a survivor? Do we need to carry a badge of honour for being
a survivor?"

Where the law stands

Anubhab Sarkar, partner and co-founder of Triumvir Law, says that although mental health awareness is gaining importance with the current generation, there hardly exists any codified legislation dealing with emotional abuse. "However, there exists a statute dealing with the protection of women in relation to domestic violence, namely, The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, (DVA), 2005, which elucidates verbal and emotional abuse. Apart from this, even the Indian Penal Code, 1860 includes emotional abuse to be a form of cruelty. The courts are broadening the ambit of this term by passing positive judgments in different jurisdictions," he asserts. But with regards to the DVA, it is mandatory for a domestic relationship to be established — one between the parties, who are or have resided in a shared household, and are related by blood, marriage, or through a relationship in the nature of marriage, adoption or are family members living together as a joint family. Live-in relationships are also included within its scope.

Shivranjana Rathore. Pic/Shadab Khan
Shivranjana Rathore. Pic/Shadab Khan

Sarkar advises that people maintain a detailed account of what has transpired with the abuser — especially when evidence can be hard to gather. "Moreover, a person suffering from emotional distress or mental agony [like in Rathore's case] can always make a tortious claim seeking damages for the trauma so caused. There have been some instances in court wherein the abuse is so apparent that the instances or factual scenario in itself are enough to prove the existence of such emotional abuse. However, the victim should try to document some proof in relation to the matter at hand via text message, e-mail, picture and/or witness in order to prove the situation beyond a reasonable doubt," he shares.

Finding closure

Everyone deals with abuse differently. So, closure is a tricky territory. It's even more difficult when it's family-related. In such cases, Rathore advocates using the term "breaking away" instead of calling out since it humanises both parties. City-based clinical psychologist Rahat Sanghvi echoes a similar sentiment when she specifies love and trust as the basis of emotional abuse. "If you didn't love someone, you would just break away from them. And to do that, it's important you talk to someone you trust or seek professional help," she says.

The first step, Sanghvi explains, is self-admission. And writing Hineni, for Rathore, has certainly been challenging but also liberating. "I often look back on these past couple of years and wonder in [slight] awe how I could write it all but then I realise that my aim has been to write something that leaves people with hope."

Shivranjana Rathore. Pic/Shadab Khan

How to identify emotional abuse

*Emotional abuse isn't a one-time instance but a pattern. It can be identified when someone constantly needs to control your behaviour and emotional expression, is dismissive of your feelings and accomplishments, is threatening to harm you or themselves, and if you fear your safety at the moment or in the future.

*Verbal abuse is a part of emotional abuse since it invokes emotions. The abuser will often blame you for their emotions, call you selfish if you don't meet their standards or give you the silent treatment.

Inputs by Rahat Sanghvi

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