Dr. Suseela Mathew on her book Breaking the Barriers, which throws lights on the hidden world of domestic violence through real-life stories of eight women
There is nothing new about domestic violence. Breaking the Barriers, a book by psychotherapist Suseela Mathew, throws light on various aspects of domestic violence through experiences of eight women who were subjected to the trauma. The eight real-life stories in the book and simple, straightforward analyses of their situations attempt to promote self-awareness and stop domestic violence against women. The book also has laws related to domestic violence and how one can become ‘empowered'– a word that is repeated with a rare calm and intensity by Dr. Suseela.
Dr. Suseela says that statistics from around the world prove that about 50 per cent of women have experienced domestic violence in one form or the other at some point in their life.
“Why did they not seek help earlier? It's a question that arises in me after meeting women who undergo such pain and loneliness,” says Dr. Suseela, who has a doctorate from the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS), Bangalore. She has also received training from Mennnonite University, United States, and a degree in communication and conflict management from The Royal Tropical Institute, Amsterdam. A consultant and trainer for adolescent counselling, marriage and family counselling and so on, she is at present a faculty member in the Department of Psychiatry, at the Medical College.
“For several years I have been documenting the life stories of women who were victimised. Even now domestic violence is seen as a private family matter. Most married women do not have many choices in life. This forces them to be silent. Unhealthy interference from in-laws can be the root cause of such marital violence,” says Dr. Suseela. “The victims do feel damaged but my sympathies are for the abuser too. He is a troubled man who needs help, because what kind of a man would hit a woman?” she adds. Ashamed, terrified that any resistance might provoke greater violence, isolated from her friends and family, and often without any means of support save for the man she married, many a battered woman sinks into despairing submission and wait for the abuse to end naturally, says Dr. Suseela.
“Society sometimes labels battered women as psychotic, prescribes tranquilisers and tells them ‘a good woman can change the husband.' It is society that puts women in a lot of impossible situations and there is no easy or ready solution. I generally try to make the woman capable enough to solve her problems as most of the time the woman is not aware of the depth of her own problems. After giving her an empathetic listening, I reconfirm with her and then brief her about the problem in order to convey that I have understood the problem,” says the author.
Dr. Suseela's stoic views and assessments are also pragmatic. She strongly feels that unlike any other conflict, in cases of domestic conflict, the family is the venue and so she takes utmost care not to give readymade suggestions or solutions.
“Seeing herself as a victim can make a woman blind to her capabilities and accomplishments because she never receives any acknowledgement or recognition in life. The same woman who had been managing the family for long amidst difficulties strangely feels powerless when faced with domestic violence. I generally let myself be with her to help her help herself,” explains Dr. Suseela. Experience-based insights, she says, re-affirms the need for women to be empowered and combat domestic violence as a human rights issue.
“What a woman facing domestic violence often needs is information and positive support, which helps her retrieve her dignity and confidence. The book is a preliminary step towards achieving such a goal because, a victim today is a survivor tomorrow and a care-giver the next day,” smiles Dr. Suseela, confidently.