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Psychology of Relationship and Culture and Narratives of Violence

Indian Christian Women’s Movement, Pune unit organized a day’s conference on 25th August 2017 with the theme “Psychology of Relationship and Culture and Narratives of Violence” at Nav Sadhana, the Pastoral center of Pune Diocese. There were 54 participants consisting of religious sisters, lay women and men. Some of the women participants were victims of domestic violence and are in the process of obtaining justice. The resource person for the day was Dr. Edison SDB.

The purpose of the conference was to shed light on domestic violence and the various forms of abuse that women face in their everyday life, be it in the family, work place or society in general. It also intended to bring women from various walks of life together and create a platform where they can address these issues freely and confidently.

At 9.30 am Ms. Raynah Braganza, lead the group in prayer by invoking God’s blessings through a hymn. Ms. Nirmala Bhakre, the coordinator for Pune, introduced the theme of the day. Julie George SSpS briefed the group about the Indian Christian Women’s Movement (ICWM), its origin, vision and objective. She stressed the need for women from different Christian denominations coming together to strengthen the movement.

Dr. Edison began his sessions by pointing out that from earliest childhood it is through narratives that we understand and order the world around us. As psychologist Jerome Bruner explains, children begin using narratives at three and four years old to organize their experiences: “They are not able to bring theories that organize things in terms of cause and effect and relationships, so they turn things into stories, and when they try to make sense of their life they use the storied version of their experience as the basis for further reflection.”

Even after adults have developed more complex forms of reasoning and ordering, they continue to rely on narratives to understand their lives. Bruner notes, “Our capacity to render experience in terms of narrative is not just child’s play, but an instrument for making meaning that dominates much of life in culture.”

Battered women construct their own narratives and these can help or damage them. The inability to tell their stories could hamper justice. He then showed a photograph depicting a woman being apparently beaten up. He then asked the participants to narrate a story based on the clip after which he put the participants in a group of four to five members and asked them to discuss the same. Thereafter few of the participants were asked to share their stories.

According to him everyone is basically a story teller and the stories give us the opportunity to define ourselves. Self definition can be particularly important for marginalized groups, whose identities have been constructed by the dominant culture as a means of silencing and oppressing them. They internalize the image that society thrusts up on them. Clergy/Lawyers/Social workers/Relatives have tremendous power in shaping the stories of battered women. We can misuse that power in a number of ways by silencing their voices, by editing and presenting their stories in ways acceptable to the legal system, Church and society.

Often women are not able to tell their stories freely. The stories are edited and re-edited. We tend to give different meanings to stories that are painful and agonizing in order to cope with the suffering ones goes through. If a battered woman is denied her ability to tell her story, her self can never be realized. Very often it is found that an abused or battered woman doesn’t leave her husband and his household due to different reasons such as society, financial situation, the children, stereotypical explanations etc. Thus she tends to remain silent and this very silence promotes more abuse.

In the afternoon session Fr Edison focused on the various forms of domestic violence. Psychological violence that involves maternal alienation, threats, intimidation, and mind games etc. Other abuses fall under the categories of sexual, social, legal and spiritual. His presentation highlighted how we assume physical violence is the only violence women face and how we unconsciously seek physical signs of the abuse; diminishing the experience of women when there is no external sign. This also is the reason why the other forms of violence though equally damaging to a women’s identity, dignity, and personhood are not really given due importance.

He spoke about the causes of domestic violence such as adjustment disorder, partner relational problems, dysthymic disorder, major depression disorder etc. He talked about the symptoms of above mentioned disorders and how it affects the relationship. The entire day’s session was very interactive where most of the participants expressed their views and opinions and shared their own personal experiences and sought clarifications.

The conference was concluded with a short prayer led by Ms. Raynah Braganza. She expressed her words of gratitude to Dr. Edison SDB for his availability and willingness to share his expertise with the gathering. She also thanked the organizers and all those who were part of the conference including the participants for making it a meaningful and successful one. The day came to end with the tea break at 4.30pm.

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