On my evil quest through the news, like the selective Bering Sea trawlers that throw millions of pounds of unwanted dead fish back into the ocean every year, I found two articles last week that eerily confirmed an aspect of domestic violence reporting that we’d written about last month.
“Scolded for too much WhatsApp [by her husband], woman hangs herself”. That’s the headline of a report about a woman who killed herself in Coimbatore.
“Kalyan woman jumps off eighth floor after argument with husband”. This headline is a little more respectful, but is followed immediately by “The police suspect that an argument with her husband over domestic chores may have led to her taking such a drastic step.”
Donna Fernandes, director of Vimochana, a Bangalore-based organisation working for women’s and children’s rights, spoke to us last month about the trivialisation of domestic violence in the news.
About domestic abuse related suicide, she had said: “No one hangs themselves for one isolated incident, whereas the media reports it like that. The media report tidbits without making an enquiry, implying that women don’t have tolerance or patience and that they are easily agitated. The media should take a little trouble. They can’t just report that the husband suspected the fidelity of his wife in a domestic violence case, because then that’s what remains with the readers. There needs to be a shift in the way men think about domestic violence.”
This shift in the way we think about domestic violence has a lot more leeway than we think. What if we considered domestic violence as not just a social/criminal problem, but a public health issue? The people who are closest to domestic violence needn’t just be neighbours, as Payal Gwalani writes in the Times of India: doctors and hospitals see women patients with injuries of dubious origin. The article says:
“Domestic violence against women must be considered as more of a public health concern than a social concern only as it directly affects several health parameters of the victim,” said Dr Prakash Deo, former state coordinator for United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Madhya Pradesh.
We aren’t just talking physical health here, however. Long-standing verbal and emotional abuse is often the reason for a woman’s suicide, says Fernandes. But instead the last straw – the trigger – is reported as being the cause of suicide. No one needs to read Hamlet’s soliloquy in order to know, intuitively, that life must be unbearable indeed for one to kill oneself – whether it’s a planned or unplanned suicide.
For those of you who don’t care about Shakespeare (that’s fine) and still want to report women’s domestic abuse related suicides like the above Exhibit A and B (not fine), can you put yourselves in the women’s shoes? Would you really kill yourself solely over either of these arguments that the above-mentioned women had with their husbands, if you weren’t already experiencing excruciating emotional pain? Would you want your death reported like that? Why should these two women in Coimbatore and Kalyan be any different from you? Suicide deserves to be reported with the utmost respect. Because that’s all we have left to give people whom we, as a society, have failed. So if you can’t investigate a suicide in-depth, we suggest you go back to journalism class and attend Obituaries 101.