“It does not cross their mind that a woman who is being beaten is intimidated into feeling, believing, knowing that to ask for help from others will only put her at greater risk. In their questions and their responses I come to know that even those of them who have mastered the theory have not lived through the experience: they lack the insight that a woman being abused can mostly trust only one person for help. Herself.”
When I Hit You by Meena Kandasamy tells the story of a young woman being abused by the husband and her attempt to escape from the marriage. Set in Mangalore, India, the narrator is a writer who is married to a university lecturer, Marxist and a former revolutionary. The book gives us the appalling events occurred in her strained relationship with the intransigent husband. Far from her family and friends, it’s hard to find people who would understand her, especially in such a systematically bias society.
Kandasamy gives us the patterns of an abusive partner and how he dehumanised his wife in any possible ways he could—coercive violence, emotional and verbal abuse, marital rape, gaslighting, extreme controlling and manipulative behaviours, etc. The story also depicts how the people in the community expect a wife to behave even in an abusive marriage. The unbelievable things parents asked the abused daughter to endure so that their reputation won’t get murky, the atrocious questions from fellow female and friends some extreme feminists, the hideous acts of police and attorney in the patriarchal society.
Kandasamy points out various issues on domestic violence and what could be regarded as red flags. She writes unapologetically but never diminishes on the abused victims. Not many have found a way out of such abusive marriage or relationship. She showcases different reasons behind each silly question some clueless (and privileged) people would ask, such as why she didn’t fight back or seek for help, why she stays in the marriage, and why she didn’t report her husband, etc.
It’s not an easy read and I believe it wouldn’t be easy for her to write a powerful book like this, too. Detailing on the horrifying events of domestic abuse—both physical and mental—in a marriage, the writing is very graphic that I had to put down at some points and took small breaks. Some narrations are quite repetitive but I think she chose to write in such way because it is necessary to portray the grotesqueness of domestic violence and to evoke the atrocities occurring in the society. Her protagonist is unnamed which allows the readers to get into her shoes to feel where it pinches and understand its pain. This is such an important book that many people should read. Another powerful read in my 2020 Asian literature.