Breez Mohan Hazarika
Associate Professor, Department of English, D.C. B. Girls’ College (Assam)
Domestic violence is one of the issues that have gained ground in the contemporary scenario. It is a violence perpetrated in the domestic relation by a male abuser against his female counterpart. It is prevalent in all societies whether developed or underdeveloped. Though its discussion is less in terms of other violence, yet, its occurrence is one of the highest in the world. Domestic violence is found in many forms – physical, verbal, emotional, sexual, economic, mental, spiritual etc. All these forms are adopted with an aim to terrorise the victims so that the controlling power rest with the abuser. The scourge of domestic violence has penetrated Indian homes and its effect is so devastating that the government had to bring a law to prevent it in 2005. Indian writers like Vijay Tendulkar has observed the ill effects of domestic violence and in most of his immortal plays the issue finds elaborate treatment. His keen eye has spotted its presence not only in married homes but also in relations where men and women cohabitate without marrying each other. In his play Sakharam Binder, Vijay Tendulkar shows the prevalence of different types of domestic violence penetrating into the shared households of cohabitating couples. Through Sakharam, the hero, Vijay Tendulkar shows how different forms of abuse are used against distressed women like Laxmi and Champa for furthering the vested interests of the abuser. By projecting domestic violence in its different avatars, the Marathi dramatist vouches for an awareness that would intervene in its prevention.
Keywords: Vijay Tendulkar, domestic violence, abuse, physical, verbal, spiritual, psychological
Domestic violence is a recurring term that has gained currency in modern day societies across the globe. It means abuse of position by the wielders of power to perpetrate violence against people living in the same domestic space. The Online Encyclopaedia Britannica (OEB) defines it as any abuse – including physical, emotional, sexual or financial – between partners, often living in the same household. The term is often used specifically to designate physical assaults upon women by their male counterparts (OEB). Based on international law such as UN Declaration on Violence against Women and a Moral Code, the Indian law “The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005” (PWDVA) defines domestic violence as any “act, omission or commission or conduct” that “harms or injures or endangers the health, safety, life, limb or well being, whether mental or physical, of the aggrieved person or tends to do so and includes causing physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal and emotional abuse and economic abuse” (PWDVA, 3). Domestic violence is a scar on the face of human civilisation. Whether it is a developed, developing or under-developed society, its occurrence is all pervasive and the effects are equally devastating. Even in most advanced democracies like the United States, the scourge of domestic violence has annually affected about two to four million women (OEB). It has also acquired an endemic form in India. As per the National Family Health Survey-4 (NFHS) for the year 2015-16, conducted by the International Institute for Population Sciences, it has been estimated that on an average about 33 percent of Indian women suffer from domestic violence of various forms (NHFS-4, 570).
Domestic violence is no longer an issue that finds adequate space only in governmental forums, in discourses on women empowerment, and in surveys and newspaper reports. Writers of various genres have been in the forefront in highlighting gender based violence in the domestic sphere. Vijay Tendulkar is one Indian playwright who has observed from close quarters the orgy of violence and crime perpetrated against women in the space under the domestic roof. His play, Sakharam Binder forms an ideal site for studying the types of domestic violence prevalent in Indian society. Most forms of domestic violence like physical, mental, verbal, sexual, economic, spiritual etc. are visible in the aforesaid play. The present paper will try to analyse these forms of abuse so as to show how Vijay Tendulakar has tried to highlight the issues of domestic violence and create mass awareness for proper intervention.
Vijay Tendulkar’s controversial play, Sakharam Binder, may also be considered as a case study in domestic violence, particularly, in live-in relationship. The protagonist of the play, Sakharam who is a book binder by profession has developed his own code of conduct for cohabiting with destitute women whom he brings to his house in the name of providing shelter. His relationship with these women is not based on mutual love but for the sake of convenience only. The women can stay at his place as long as they could satisfy his sexual appetite. The moment his hunger is satisfied he loses interest in them. He starts practising different forms of domestic violence to drive them away. Such is the nature of his violence that the women themselves volunteer to walk out of the live-in relation without any hope of reconciliation or receiving maintenance costs.
Domestic violence in its most common form lies in physical abuse that the oppressor resorts to against the weaker gender. According to the NFHS-4 survey about 27 percent of Indian women above the age group of 15 experience physical violence in their domestic spheres. Vijay Tendulkar has observed this disturbing trend taking firm roots in the homes of the middle classes of India. His probing and inquisitive eyes can see it moving beyond the confines of domestic homes where legally married couples live. Physical violence in its worst forms has also penetrated into the domain of live-in relationships where couples cohabit without formally entering into wedlock. Sakharam and Laxmi live under the same roof as an unmarried couple. Their relationship is not based on an outcome of romance or love. It is purely structured on the basis of necessity. Sakharam wants a woman to gratify his carnal desires and as a supporting hand to run his household. Laxmi, on the other hand, is a formerly married woman who has been thrown out by her husband for her failure to become a biological mother. She takes refuge in a shelter home from where Sakharam takes possession of her. Prospects of food and shelter compel her to walk into Sakharam’s life and accept the rules set by him for cohabiting in his house. Laxmi’s concern for food and shelter has been fulfilled by Sakharam. But the bargain is not worth it. She has to submit meekly to the physical violence of the binder even for matters which are trivial in nature. Sakharam’s physical abuse is “of such a nature as to cause bodily pain, harm, or danger to life, limb, or health or impair the health” of Laxmi and “includes assault, criminal intimidation and criminal force” (PWDV, 3). Kicks and blows from Sakharam have become a part of her life. Her body is used like a punching bag as if to remind her that his authoritative ways have to be followed in letter and spirit. His beatings have turned her body into a “big sore” (148). In Act I, Scene VI, when the aarti prayers are about to take place on the auspicious occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi, Laxmi forbids Dawood from singing the hymns. Her objection is that Dawood, a professed Muslim by religion, cannot participate in a Hindu ritual. This infuriates Sakharam to such an extent that he “flings the aarti things down” (144). Then Sakharam slaps her in the face with such force that she writhes in pain. His wrath increases with such violent intensity that he rains blow after blows on her fragile body. The assault on her intensifies even further with a leather belt replacing the fists. He lasher her with the belt, while her body twists and turns unable to bear the excruciating pain. If she manages to straighten her body and take an upright and quavering stance, more lashes follow in quick succession. The frenzy of Sakharam’s criminal behaviour continues even after Dawood leaves the house unable to bear it. Sakharam’s physical assault on Laxmi is again seen when she returns to his house after two months. He refuses to admit her as her place has already been taken by another woman, Champa. Laxmi clings to his feet and begs for permission to stay under his roof. But he is unrelenting in his stand. To drive her away, he rains blows on her with brutal ferocity. Had Champa not intervened, things may have turned worse. Sakharam’s brutality is in its extreme form at the end of the play. When Laxmi divulges Champa’s illegal affair with Dawood, Sakharam could hardly believe his ears. He thinks that Laxmi wants to drive a wedge between the two. So he pounces upon her like a ferocious tiger and beats her black and blue. Even though blows are raining upon her, she continues to narrate how Champa leaves the house every afternoon to spend time in the arms of her Muslim heartthrob, Dawood. Now, Sakharam is uncontrollable. He kicks and pushes Laxmi away with violent force and goes to the room where Champa was sleeping in an intoxicated state. He sets into action and strangulates Champa until her groans became muted.
Verbal and emotional abuse is another form of violence that women frequently encounter in a domestic relationship. It is a kind of controlling act used by the abuser to “insult, ridicule and humiliate” (PWDVA, 3) the abused so that the latter could submit and toe the lines of the former. Sakharam’s philosophy of life is unique. It is built on the hedonistic principle of pleasure. Sex is his primary passion while alcohol and drugs (marijuana) are the next preferences in his scheme of things. To fulfil his sexual desires he visits brothels. But as sleeping with whores is a costly and risky affair, he leaves this habit for good. He replaces it with a new and innovative scheme of cohabitating with women who were thrown out of their homes by their husbands. But the women are not given the status of a legal wife because he does not want them to settle with him permanently. He fantasises of having sex with new and new women in regular intervals. To ensure his game plan rolls into perfection, he starts abusing them verbally and emotionally from the very first day of induction in his home. When Laxmi is brought home from the dharamshala, he tells her in clear cut terms about the rules of cohabiting with him. She is informed that his writ will rule large in all matters and any deviation will result in her exit from the relationship. The model code of conduct she has to follow includes serving him as a wife and maintaining the house in proper order. She has to serve his morning meals sharp by seven o’clock, fetch water from a river located about a mile away from the house, and press his legs mandatorily at bedtime. She has to remain isolated from society and cannot meet neighbours or leave the house unless the work is of urgent nature. If some visitors call her she cannot look up and talk by maintaining eye contact. In case of strangers, she has to cover her head and reply as concisely as possible. Furthermore, she cannot admit anyone to the house in his absence. She is also asked to forfeit her right to question him in any matter. Even after following these rules, Laxmi is intimidated, threatened, harassed, cursed and tortured by Sakharam on a regular basis. She is not allowed to have proper sleep also. In Act I, Scene V, we notice him waking her up from sleep and made to enact the way she played and laughed with the big black ant during the daytime. When she resists, he threatens her to “twist” and “break” (140) her leg and threatens to throw her out of his home. Laxmi acquiesces to his verbal and emotional abuses as he is the only one whom she can call her own in this world. But after one year and twenty one days to be precise, both of them decide to part ways. Before she leaves his house, he gives her a stern warning that he will kill her if she dares to return and would not “mind going to the gallows for killing” (149) her. Sakharam tries to apply similar tactics with Champa too. The only difference is in the degree of intensity. What saves her from going Laxmi’s ways is her physical features to which Sakharam is “infatuated with” (157).
Sexual abuse is another form of domestic violence that Vijay Tendulkar highlights in the plot of Sakharam Binder. The PWDV Act of 2005 defines sexual abuse as “conduct of a sexual nature that abuses, humiliates, degrades or otherwise violates the dignity of woman” (3). It may occur in such forms like forcing and demanding sex, criticising the body of women, and withholding sex etc. The very purpose for which Sakharam cohabits with distressed women is itself a slur on the dignity of women. He betrays no embarrassment, shame or regret in openly stating that the bodies of women are sites for devouring and gratifying the biological “itch” (127) that men have for the flesh. Women abandoned by their husbands are the ones who easily get trapped in the net set by Sakharam. He exploits their helpless condition to fulfil his flesh’s desires. In fourteen years he devours seven women and none had the courage to say no to his libidinous desires. When he reaches the satiation level with a particular woman, he resorts to all sorts of domestic violence compelling the woman to leave him on her own volition. Laxmi is one glaring example of the use and throw tactics of Sakharam. After feasting upon her body for one whole year, Sakharam realises that she is growing old and losing in strength to fulfil his sexual fantasies and keep him interested. Laxmi is too spiritual and decent to fit into the indecent cravings of Sakharam, the self-professed womaniser. Her exit is inevitable and she is replaced by the voluptuous Champa.
The manner in which sexual abuses may take place in a domestic relationship is very well documented by Vijay Tendulkar in this play. Sakharam’s sexual exploits against Laxmi has not been graphically portrayed by the dramatist. However, his forceful and indecent adventures with Champa are fully dramatised. Champa’s curvaceous body with “Buttocks this size … Breasts so big… Each …” (165) have cast a spell on Sakharam. Every now and then his thoughts are fixed on her body. In Act II, Scene III, we encounter a restless Sakharam gazing on the body of Champa who is fast asleep. He wakes her up and demands an intercourse. She rejects his indecent proposal making Sakharam howl all sorts of invectives against her. Infuriated by the rejection, he takes out a bottle of alcohol and starts drinking even when it was the odd hours of the night. Champa, meanwhile, senses that things might blow out of proportions. She concedes to his demand on the condition that she may be allowed to drink the leftover in the bottle. She gulps the ale and submits, “…you can take me. Do what you like with me…” (169).The overnight thrill leaves him with a disturbing effect. He fails to concentrate in his work and leaves the press by afternoon. Reaching home, he finds her engaged in eating her meal. His hunger for her is such that he cannot wait for a few minutes and allow her to complete her lunch. He asks her to stop eating and instead have a session with him. Champa is taken aback by his unearthly and inconsiderate demand. She refuses to comply with it. His temper peaks and he threatens to throw her out for disobeying his dictates. Unable to bear his tantrums, she hurls her food plate away in a fit of rage. Then she gets up, takes the bottle of wine brought for her and starts drinking. After the drinks are over she allows him to feed on her body. With each passing day Champa’s body becomes a complete site for indulging in his “fun” (173). He loses interest in everything and hardly goes to his work place. While he is rejoicing in his sexual fantasies, Champa was reeling and having tormenting times. She agonisingly reveals, “Sakharam drives me crazy at night … in the morning … My head and body – just a bundle of pains and aches” (179). In another occasion, she tells Laxmi that “he really takes his money’s worth out of a woman” (184). Champa is so demeaned, frustrated and battered by his sexual abuses that she becomes completely detached from him emotionally and can hardly sleep with him without consuming liquor.
Vijay Tendulkar shows another facet of sexual abuse through the relationship between Champa and her former husband, Fauzdar Shinde. He is a policeman by profession and used to frequent her mother’s shop. After much persuasion, Champa’s mother allows him to marry her young daughter. At the time of her marriage, she has not even attained her puberty and hardly “[knew] what marriage meant” (169). But each night of her conjugal life turns out to be one of a hellish experience. Her tender body becomes the site for celebrating his wild sexual fantasies. She narrates to Sakharam how her impotent and alcohol addicted husband took bacchanal pleasure out of her body:
He’d torture me at night. He branded me, and stuck needles into me and made me do awful, filthy things. I ran away. He brought me back and stuffed chilly powder into that god-awful place, where it hurts most. That bloody pimp! What’s left of my heart now? He tore lumps out of it, he did. He drank my blood. (167)
He also abuses her by denying a married woman like her the right to have marital sex with him. Alcohol driven impotency stands as a serious impediment in depriving the bodily cravings of Champa’s married life. It may be mentioned here that Champa is not a woman of loose character as Laxmi would have liked to project her. Her afternoon flings with Dawood are borne out of necessity. Shinde is impotent and Sakharam is brutal in the bed. In Dawood she finds fulfilment of two vital hungers of the human body – love and sex.
Married women in traditional patriarchal societies depend largely on the generosity of their husbands for their economic security. If the couples are to part ways, the law steps in and permits alimony to the women for maintaining themselves and the children born out of such marriages. However, until the PWDV Act of 2005, Indian law seems to be silent on providing maintenance to women separated from a live-in relationship. Vijay Tenduklar seems to have noted this missing link in Indian laws. In Sakharam Binder, he takes the case of cohabitating women and highlights their plight and sense of economic insecurity. All the seven women prior to Champa’s arrival are all thrown out of their homes by their respective husbands. Lack of legal knowledge and unsupportive parents fail them in seeking maintenance from their former husbands. Clueless, they surrender themselves to predators like Sakharam. Here, we must remember that none of the women including Champa, have entered into his life out of their free will. Prospects of economic security drive them to accept the bizarre terms and conditions of cohabitating with him. Sakharam is fully aware of this aspect. He brings these distressed women and exploits them sexually in return for economic security. But when the appeal for a woman dries out, he constructs situations for calling exit from his life. But none of the women are found to receive maintenance costs after the separation. His responsibility towards them ends with giving them “a sari, a choli and fifty rupees. Plus a ticket to where she wants to go” (135). Laxmi bears nonchalantly all the abuses hurled at her. Even after leaving Sakharam, she decides to return to him and suffer in his inferno. The only concern left for her in life is to have some economic security for the rest of her life. For that she is ready to serve like a servant and accept every bit of Sakharam’s tortures. Champa too knows what economic security is all about for a woman after leaving her husband’s home. Even if she objects to the sexual rape of Sakharam, she has no other option but to submit to him. She tells Laxmi that if she leaves him, she has to become a prostitute for earning a living. By entering into that profession she has to serve more than ten men a day. She weighs the options and finds sleeping with Sakharam to be a better one than to bear the tortures of ten different men.
One more common tactics used by perpetrators of domestic is psychological abuse. According to the American organisation, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), psychological abuse “involves causing trauma to the victim caused by verbal abuse, acts, threat of acts, or coercive tactics”. It is used to “control, terrorise, and denigrate their victims. It frequently occurs prior to or concurrently with physical or sexual abuse” (NCADV). Sakharam uses this mind game to control women with telling effect. The psychological ploy starts from the very beginning when the woman sets her feet in Sakharam’s house. Both Laxmi and Champa are given a thorough orientation of the do’s and don’ts that govern the framework of the relationship with him. They are isolated from society as they cannot step out of the house without prior approval from him. The only place where their movement are not restricted is the river front from where they are supposed to fetch water for household purposes. Threats like killing them, twisting and breaking their limbs, smashing their teeth etc. come out of his mouth in regular intervals. The intimidating words are deliberately uttered by Sakharam to terrorise and drive fear in their hearts. He not only humiliates and demeans them in private but also in the presence of others. In Act I, Scene I, we see him demeaning Laxmi in the presence of Dawood, his friend. He tells him that if she does not behave properly in the house he is “quite capable of throwing it away in a garbage can” and would “hardly feel the losses” (130). In private she is constantly reminded that she should take care of her body and health so that she could maintain the “strength” to “serve” (134) his extraordinary “appetite” (135). She is warned not to be clumsy while doing her works and if she falters somehow, then, she is criticised as a “worthless” (141) woman. The psychological game played by him is enacted both before and after the physical violence on Laxmi. For instance, after she is beaten up for not allowing Dawood to participate in the aarti, she is made to laugh to her heart’s content. She is threatened to be thrown out of his home if she fails to carry out his order. However, he fails to enjoy the same measure of success against Champa. Her young and voluptuous body stands as a foil to his mind game.
Spiritual abuse is also another domestic violence that Tendulkar has dealt with in this play. According to NCADV, spiritual violence may occur when the abuser tries to insult the spiritual or religious beliefs of the abused and may restrain the person from practising them. Laxmi is a deeply devoted and religious minded woman. She keeps fasts twice a week and performs her morning and evening prayers regularly. Such is her devotion to God that she would turn and pray in that direction from where she hears the ringing of a temple bell. Even after she is discarded by her husband, her faith in God is unflinching and has not diminished an inch. She tells Champa that she could have committed suicide but she would not take such an extreme step due to her faith in the Supreme Being. She is humiliated, tortured and battered by Sakharam, but does not blame the Almighty for her present lot. But Sakharam is quite opposite to Laxmi. He does not have much faith in religion and God. He himself tells Laxmi that he is one person who does not have any fear for God. He disapproves Laxmi’s spiritual nature and warns her not to carry the fasts that she is so accustomed with. He warns her that in the process of pleasing God she should not lose her strength by fasting. His only concern is that she should preserve her energy so that she does not turn out to be a spoilsport in bed. His indifference to religion changes a bit after Laxmi arrives. He not only allows her to worship but he himself becomes a part of the morning prayers after his bath. However, the change is temporary and somewhat cosmetic in nature. When Laxmi forbids Dawood from singing the aarti hymns in honour of Lord Ganesha, Sakharam goes wild and returns to his irreverent self. He insists that his Muslim friend must be allowed to sing the hymns if he can participate in it. But she is adamant in her religious beliefs that a non-believer should not be allowed to participate in a religious ritual. Her stubbornness boils his temper. In a fit of rage, he “flings the aarti things down” (144) and slaps her on her face with brutal force. Then he takes a leather belt and rains lashes on her body for a considerable period of time.
Thus, Vijay Tendulkar’s play Sakharam Binder is a proper reflection of the various forms of domestic violence perpetuated against women in the domestic affairs of live-in relationships. The playwright successfully shows that domestic violence is not only restricted to married couples. It has entered other forms of relationship like cohabitation. Sexual predators like Sakharam adopt innovative methods like live-in relations to further their motives. They create codes suitable to their use and throw women away when they outlive their utility. These predators cleverly run their modus operandi and ensure that they are in control over women right from the word go. They resort to different forms of domestic violence like physical, verbal, emotional, economic, psychological and spiritual abuses. This violence keeps the abused in control of the abuser and allow him the space to dictate terms to his advantage. The abused in most cased are mostly tied down by their past experiences and so take a compromising stand to what is thrown to them by the abuser. Laxmi and Champa did try to break the shackles of domestic violence but they are helpless. They neither possess legal knowledge nor parental support to fight against domestic violence. Security of food and shelter is their basic need and to have them, they are ready to silently admit violence to their mind and body. They would have certainly fought for their rights had the law and society been on their sides. But in the absence of proper intervention in the form of law and awareness, Laxmis and Champas of our society would have to bear all forms of domestic violence perpetuated by Sakharams.
L. Nolen, Jeannetete. Ed. “Domestic Violence”, Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2019. https://www.britannica.com/topic/domestic-violence. Accessed on 24 Sept. 2019
“National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4).” International Institute for Population Studies, Mumbai, pp 1-637, 2017. https://dhsprogram.com/pubs/pdf/FR339/FR339.pdf. Accessed 24 Sept. 2019
Tendulkar, Vijay. Five Plays of Vijay Tendulkar. Trans. Priya Adarkar. Oxford University Press, 2014
“The Nation’s Leading Grassroots Voice on Domestic Violence.” National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. https://www.ncadv.org/. Accessed 24 Sept. 2019
“The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.” The Gazette of India. Ministry of Law and Justice, 13 Sept. 2005, https://wcd.nic.in/sites/default/files/wdvact.pdf. Accessed on 24 Sept. 2019.