Aging Desi Gods
The other day a young mother of two, a five week old and six year old called in. Her problem was as common as any other woman who approaches DG yet was very unique. She confessed ten year and two kids into the marriage it was still shaky and challenging in every way emotionally, mentally, physically and financially yet she wasn’t calling in for herself. It is very common for a survivor looking for help to begin with, “I have a friend who is going through…” as if they are testing waters or are retaining power by externalization of their plight. Through her tears and sobbing she barely managed to say, ” I am too tired.” Yes, that is very natural when you have a five week old. “No, I am emotionally exhausted.” Yes, that is natural too as your hormones are still adjusting. She kept sobbing and DG kept asking her if she was safe and if she had any thoughts of hurting herself or anyone, the usual protocol. She kept insisting her problem was unique by now DG has seen a lot in this field of work nothing surprises her yet this work never ceases to astonish her.
After lots of crying she stuttered, “nothing changed it is still the same. They say people mallow with age but in this culture they just become obdurate. My father is selfish and self centered, he was always verbally abusive, demanding and snooty towards all of us especially my mother. No doubt he was a good provider but an attitude ridden with certain entitlement and anger lingered around him. No matter what is going on with us all attention had to be on him and his basic needs. We kids had to protect her from his tantrums then now with age he is just getting worse.. He has hypertension and other life style related health issues that he is responsible for yet thinks he is entitled to servitude by everyone especially my mother. She isn’t young anymore she too has age related issues and she is slowing down. But this man wants her to run around and attend to his needs. Get me water, where is my XYZ… why is this here, why did you say this or not say that instead; numerous basic things he is capable of doing he still wants her to do and nitpicks on her. If she misses anything he starts berating her and accusing her of neglect because he is retired, not earning anymore,” meri is ghar mein ab kyon chalegi, boodha aadmi bhoj hota hai (my word now has no value, an old person is a burden). Guess the age difference in desi marriages, older man married to a woman few years younger to him was designed to provide personal old age care to the man and his parents.
“Every time I speak to her she just talks about what he did now, how mean he was. I can’t help her other than listen to her venting but I am getting tired of this same story every time. I too need emotional support but I am so scared to ever tell her my marriage isn’t great either, I think she is aware. What do you do? How do you help a person in such a situation? They have been married forty two years it is only getting worse. I feel helpless and angry at the same time. I want to scream, I have left the home it is not my problem anymore. I have my own mess to take care of.”
Anytime there is a mention of domestic violence mind immediately conjures an image of a battered young woman with a kid or two in tow or just by herself. History of domestic violence is as old as patriarchy then how come the image of domestic violence survivor in our collective psyche hasn’t changed much. Haven’t those young battered women ever aged either with age the violence within the homes stopped or we have turned a blind eye to it.
DG has faced similar dilemma. She has yelled at her dad few time to back off and leave her mother alone. Mom is no longer a perky teenager who’ll get you a glass of water as soon as words roll out of your mouth or needs your instructions on how to entertain guests. She had suggested mother not to cook or do laundry for brother and father because what she can do they can do too, it is a learned behavior. To do laundry a person has to put soap in the slot, dirty clothes in the washer and hit the button, what part is rocket in this? Scrubbing collars and cuffs? Write the washing instructions and paste them on the wall. Efficient home making is ingrained in the identity formation of “desi women,” as much as the sense of entitlement is for “desi men;” any failure to serve or being served challenges their “self” concept.
When these women were young, to take a respite from this constant drudgery and nagging they often went to live with their parents (maykaa, peehar, nehar) for few weeks or months; desperation assuaged they returned; the cycle continued but the problem remained. Now that the kids of these post menopausal women have left homes and their parents are either dead or dependent on their sons who have their own families to attend to make these visits to natal homes not very regular and feasible. With age this avenue of respite is lost what else can these abused women do?
The other day a dear friend was sad he had tears in his eyes. He said, a young man took his mother to the USA with him to care for his infant child and left his old father behind because he can’t help around the house. He felt the son was selfish and shouldn’t have separated the aging parents as if all parents always had perfect spousal relationship(bollywood has raked moola on this one so many times). How sensitive? What does he know about that couple’s marriage?
Anytime the term “elder abuse” is uttered image of seniors abused by young people come to mind. We just forget seniors can be abused by aging partners too. Some women have waited all their lives to get out of this misery through their sons. Adult children of abusers do want to help their oppressed parent and the only way they see is to remove the victim from the abuser’s reach because kicking the abuser to the curb is not possible in this culture. Even a drunk, womanizer, indolent and abusive father is deified in this culture.
She recalls a sixty year old woman who could not take constant bullying, nagging and constant put downs she asked her husband to pack his bags and go live at “his home,” this was her home she for paid it with her sweat, blood and tears. He packed the bags and left for the village. Within a week neighbors started asking her when he was coming back. As if neighbors had some business that only he could take care of. She was afraid people will make indecent remarks about her because she wasn’t yet in the grave (she looked good for her age). Her son called from the USA she told him what happened, the son who always supported her turned against her. He was worried, “what will my in-laws say…,” ” my wife will use my parents’ conflict against me.” The poor woman had to let this man back in and now he was even more vicious as he knew there are no consequences for his bad behavior rather it will not just be tolerated but will be rewarded. She laughed about it and said, “pati kitna bhi bura ho ek nazar battu hota hai aurat kisi bhi umr ki ho use gair mardon ki buri nazar se bachaataa hai” (no matter how bad a husband is he is like an evil eye catcher, protects a woman of any age from evil designs of unrelated men).
It is hard for a young woman to seek divorce even if she is being abused it will definitely be a cake walk for a post menopausal woman who never worked outside the home and is now unemployable given the youth worshiping economy we always had. Even if an aging woman musters the courage to utter “D” word, her own kids who commiserate with her turn against her. All of a sudden everything becomes about them. Even the courts don’t take her seriously the court clerk just sits on her application if she went to file one without attorney or a family member.
A very small percentage of aging men are abused by their partners. Just like women these men endured abuse usually verbal and psychological through the length of their marital relationship. In a culture where men grow up with a sense of entitlement (read being God) this seems an anomaly. It is usually their failure to fit into the stereotype of ideal male, dominant provider who is always in control. Men who want to break the generational cycle of power and control in intimate relationships have an intention but lack skill. This will need a whole post and we need more studies to understand this phenomenon.
In the absence of efficient and sustainable support services how do we support aging victims of partner abuse? Few weeks ago DG helped a 69 year old survivor find resources but that is not a possibility in Des.
Can we really support an aging survivor of intimate partner abuse in the absence of detrimental consequences for the abuser and sustainable infrastructure?