Learnings and Experiences from the Field: Researching Domestic Violence in Goa
By: Pranali Gaonkar and Lalan Karapurkar; with inputs from Kedar Mirchandani, Shubhangi Kashyap, and Devika Gupta
At Sangath, we are conducting a study on Domestic Violence, whose purpose is to help women by improving the health of those who face domestic violence in Goa. As a part of this study, we were the researchers who spoke with many women in various communities in Goa.
When we conducted Qualitative Interviews, we found that Domestic Violence cases are common in Goa, not only in the villages but also in the towns. We came to know that domestic violence exists in many forms including physical violence, using abusive words or language, insulting partners, sexual assault, emotional violence, and forcing the wife to give money for alcohol by working or borrowing money from her parents, and so on. Anyone can experience or perpetrate domestic violence.
WHO states that till 2020, 1 out of 3 women faced domestic violence and out of every 10 domestic violence cases, just 1 survivor (usually, a woman) reported the case to the nearest police station or with any other organisations that help women.
When we spoke with one of the survivors in the community, we came to know that she has taken help from another survivor to go to the police station and file a complaint. Seeking help from another survivor itself can be one of the helpful options that can save many lives.
Impact of domestic violence
Domestic violence can have a major impact on the survivor and their close family members. The most common symptoms found among the survivors are headache, body pain, stress, feeling scared, future worries, rumination, etc. Due to all these symptoms, thoughts of suicide are common. Their mental health gets affected in various ways. They go to the doctor due to injuries caused because of violence but they lie about the source. Other things that are affected are the financial status of the survivor.
Close family members and neighbours might not experience violence directly but it has an impact on them. The children who are witnessing violence in the family might not be able to perform well in school. Children have described instances of bullying where other kids in school tease the child saying that their father is an alcoholic and abuses the mother. Neighbours tend to call the police
if they hear violence in their surroundings, so it is disturbing for everyone.
Social norms around domestic violence
A common belief among the community members is that once you are married, you need to be with the person forever. Most of them believed that if they share their experience of violence with anyone, then there will be an increase in the violence that they are going through or their family's reputation will be affected. It is seen as a private matter between husband and wife. It might affect their children too. So, suffering in silence becomes the most helpful way in which women can prevent the violent situation from worsening and avoid stigma.
As researchers, we felt that domestic violence is a very sensitive topic to discuss with anyone in society, whether the person is directly or indirectly affected by the violence. Social stigma is always highlighted throughout the discussion with everyone we met, whether it is the survivor of the violence, the stakeholder, social worker, Anganwadi worker, etc.
Experiences from the field
The social workers and community workers whom we contacted to help us identify survivors of domestic violence had many questions for us. The most common questions were, how did we come to know about the survivor? What will we do with this information? Overall, we found that participants were willing to talk about their financial issues or financial abuse, emotional abuse, and physical abuse. Though they reported sexual abuse, they were less willing to discuss the same.
While conducting interviews, we also found that participants found it difficult to explain the different types of violence they know or have experienced. So, illustration cards were used to get more detail on this topic and it was found to be helpful. These cards had photos of different ways in which women can seek help, such as self-help groups, temples, and talking to friends. These prompted the survivors to tell us the different ways in which they can seek help, and this was very helpful when interviewing survivors who were tense.
In general, it was seen across all the interviews that the women were reluctant to share their experience of violence with anyone outside their homes. It was also seen that they preferred interviews to be conducted outside their home like workplaces, Anganwadi, temples, and gardens to maintain confidentiality.
Alcohol and domestic violence
Drinking alcohol (by the abuser) and domestic violence were common and women affected could easily recognize the link between their partner’s alcohol use and abusive behaviour. This was very well understood and acknowledged by the women we met. Some women appeared to be more focused on seeking help for their husband’s drinking rather than on their own experience of violence. They were also concerned about how to resolve their financial matters more rather than seeking emotional support.
As an interviewer, we found that working on gathering information about survivor’s experiences of violence was immensely challenging. Gatekeepers whom we contacted for the study to get information on the participants sometimes never contacted us and when we visited them for follow-up; they did not want to be involved. They also felt that by sharing details of survivors, they would break their trust and if the survivor’s husband comes to know, he would be verbally abusive. A few gatekeepers were keen to ask us how we can support the survivor financially.
Some participants felt nothing would change. Stigma remains strong in all cases. As researchers, we feel that all the survivors need support from all of us right from their immediate family members to the society members. Women learn to keep quiet and often decide not to fight back due to many cultural beliefs.
Through our experiences, we understood that domestic violence is a huge problem in Goa, and for many reasons, it is difficult to help women who are facing it. Even through all of this, we saw that many helpful people and organisations are supporting these women. We are also trying to contribute in our small way by providing mental health counselling to these women, and improving their skills with techniques like problem-solving and assertive communication, as we believe women’s safety is a very important issue.
If you or anyone you know is interested in joining a counselling program for women in Goa, please call Lalan Karapurkar (7887366251) or Lalan Madkaikar (8459611124).