The Silence and Acquiescence. It’s Impossible to Understand!
I read with interest at first and then increasingly with horror, the story of Ariel Leve in a recent interview she gave to Jon Ronson in The Guardian.
Growing up in a penthouse on New York’s Upper East Side, the daughter of a celebrated poet mother and a diplomat father, Ariel seemed to have it all. But reality was starkly different. The mother abused her daughter physically and emotionally, the father left, and Ariel had to deal with “the emotional turmoil of being subjected to the constant needs of a narcissistic parent.” In words that are eerily reminiscent of Samaira’s experiences of her mother in my second book, It’s Not About You, Ariel says that she was subjected to ‘gaslighting’ – “To manipulate someone by psychological means into questioning their own sanity.” Ariel, like Samaira, is the daughter of a mother who is a central part of fashionable society of a major city, part of a community where superficial socialisation is regarded as more important than holding people accountable for their abuse, where hypocrisy causes a collective disregarding of the misdeeds of the ‘inner circle.’
A psychiatrist once told Ariel, “Children exposed to trauma become hyper-vigilant as adults, always scanning for danger.” Samaira, too, is always fearful for her children, always fearing the world around her. Meanwhile, Ariel’s mother mocks and derides her daughter to the interviewer, brazenly playing the victim rather than the abuser.
The pattern, almost similar though it was, would not have been horrific by itself, for I have personally seen and heard far too many stories of abusive mothers to be surprised by one more society lady who had skeletons in her cupboard. Shockingly, however, I read soon afterwards an article in The Quint by Ravina Raj Kohli, where she writes about Sheena’s murder and her mother, Indrani Mukerjea’s role in it. There is no extent to which a self-centred woman can go when even her daughter comes in the way of the role the mother has cast for herself in society and the world. Just as in the real life Indrani-Sheena relationship, my protagonist Aranya in Daughter By Court Order, faces Kamini, a mother who will stop at nothing to destroy her daughter. And what is the daughter’s fault in both cases? That she didn’t fit into the self-image that the glamorous mother has set for herself in society and with her circle of acquaintances.
I asked myself a simple question: Why don’t people speak out against such abuse? Why is the acquiescence and the approval by silence so often the cause for abuse to spiral deeper out of control?
Perhaps Ravina has the answer in her article. She says, talking about how to get away with abuse by using unquestioning ‘friends’ in high society:
“When the media starts to annoy me, I must get the people I had over dinner so many times, to start calling them names. I must discredit every journalist. I must get influential people to abuse them and accuse them of judging poor little me wrongly. I must get people to use fancy terms like ‘trial by media’. I must ensure outspoken fearless people receive gentle reminders that they should shut up. And I must remember to reward my loyal friends who have kept a dignified silence all through. When they pull their heads out of the ground, they will know they have been referred to as a certain species of bird that doesn’t fly. But that’s okay. They are all rich and famous people too, so they are allowed to act superior to those who make noise in vain.”
It is time this stopped. It is time that people did not ignore the reality of abuse around them. It is time that people were held accountable by society for what they do, for otherwise society itself is a collaborator and co-conspirator in the abuse.