TW: Murder, Mentions of Violence
In another horrifying but unsurprising sequence of events, a man recently killed his wife in broad daylight at a public street in Delhi. Pictures and videos of the murder are being circulated like hot cakes for everyone’s consumption. There are plenty of questions that arise here.
Firstly, the reason shared in various reports for this man’s attack on his wife is her refusal to quit her job and thus ‘disobeying his instructions’. It feels surreal that, in this day and age, a woman can lose her life for merely choosing her career above her husband’s wishes. Where is this entitlement coming from? Add to that the fact that his rage has been highlighted in many places as the driving force behind him killing his wife. Why is the media and societal narrative around his anger so important? No matter how angry the person was, it is quite abhorrent to use that as a reason to justify the crime committed.
Secondly, the way this gruesome case has been sensationalised by the media begs more questions to be asked. Apart from repeatedly emphasising on the man’s “anger”, another reason for the attack as stated in the media, is that the man blamed the woman for apparent infidelity. This is how violence against women literally and figuratively becomes a spectacle for people to consume. Rather than being covered as an issue of public health and safety, it becomes a moment cast large in our living rooms and newspapers and TV screens: “Woman stabbed 26 times by jealous husband”. Our newspapers and media carries wording like blinded by rage when talking about the man’s assault. Language like this makes excuses for the perpetrator by subtly justifying his actions and implicitly shaming the victim; after all, she ‘made’ him angry .
Outside of the wording, almost every report carries the video of the stabbing, as well the bloodied image of the woman lying dead. At Breakthrough, we have spoken extensively about how sharing images of victims/survivors in cases of violence against women does not add anything to discourse but instead violates their agency and is often done to sensationalise their pain.
Language like this makes excuses for the perpetrator by subtly justifying his actions and implicitly shaming the victim; after all, she ‘made’ him angry .
Thirdly, let’s look at the incident itself. A man stabs his wife with such impunity in a public place, safe in the knowledge nobody was going to really stop him. Some reports mentioned that a few people did try to stop him but were afraid since he was brandishing a weapon and could have hurt them. At the same time, in the video that is being shared, we also see people passing by and not intervening. This raises more questions around the idea of what a bystander intervening in this case could have looked like. Why such apathy? Is it because people felt it was some kind of a private matter and hence not their business? He was armed and could not be handled alone? Could he be stopped if people got together and collectively intervened? What is this urgent need to video record everything? While the recording helped in his arrest, it did not deter him from committing the crime. As a society, we see dealing with violence against women as something after the fact – punishment, jail etc – but not in a preventive way.
Bystander intervention needs to be understood in a more nuanced way. We need to interrogate what intervention means. Consider this incident: We know that some people tried to intervene but backed off when the man turned out to be armed. And that’s where the intervention ended. Nobody else tried to join them, the bystanders didn’t band together or give it a second try. What could have happened if, for example, the bystanders focused on not only recording the incident but actively and collectively stepping forward to stop the man?
A lot of the narrative we are seeing is shaming people for bystander apathy, and while a part of it is true, we also have to have a more enabling narrative for a bystander and push for better tonality when we talk about it. As noted above, in circumstances where perpetrators are often armed and bystanders don’t know how to collectivise, intervention becomes difficult and complicated. We need to have a system which supports and teaches people how to be good bystanders.
What could have happened if, for example, the bystanders focused on not only recording the incident but actively and collectively stepping forward to stop the man?
This is somewhere we feel that the government can have a role to play. We have a petition, asking the Delhi government to extend their Farishte Dilli Ke scheme (currently meant for bystanders who help accident, burn and acid attack survivors) to cover bystanders to intervene in violence against women as well. Read about our petition and sign it here.
Stopping violence against women is our collective responsibility. The change starts with us.