When I Hit You by Meena Kandasamy – or how to escape from domestic violence?

Book cover of When I Hit You by Meena Kandasamy and Quote:Sometimes the shame is not the beatings, not the rape. The shaming is in being asked to stand to judgment.

Interested in books about domestic violence? Shortlisted for the 2018 Women’s Prize for Fiction, When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife is a traumatic story of domestic violence in modern India.

Our narrator falls in love with a smart and funny college professor and agrees to marry him but married life turns out to be something out of a nightmare when she realizes that for him a wife is the equivalent of a modern slave. His modern views of politics are a complete opposite of his archaic view of marriage. Simply put, his wife is his property.

She is a modern and educated woman. She is a writer, and a feminist so she finds her situation unacceptable and she fights back.

“I am the woman who is willing to display her scars and put them within exhibition frames. I am the madwoman of moon days. I am the breast-beating woman who howls. I am the woman who wills the skies to weep in my place.”

Here is another quote that stood out to me.

“I learn to criticize myself. […] I concede that my feminism, with its obsession about sexuality, is a middle-class project that forgets the lived realities of millions of working-class women. In the same breath I also say that I continue to think that working-class women also have sexual desires and need equal rights, and that they need feminism too.”

When I Hit You is a brutal story, not for the fainthearted, in which abuse, rape, and violence, both physical and mental, become normal for our narrator.

The worst about this is that the narrator starts out being in love with her dazzling professor. Coming to terms with this other horrid man he turns into takes time. Where does the love go? Is this even love?

Husband Does the Unthinkable

The strategies the husband employs to enforce absolute subordination are extreme. He even harms himself when he sees that his words and other type of abuse do not yield the expected result. She is completely isolated from the outside world by:

  • Taking away her telephone
  • Making her delete her Facebook account
  • Giving the husband her email password
  • The emails written to friends are singed by both husband and wife
  • Restricting her internet access to 3 hours per week

Everything sounds absolutely insane! It’s like she descends into madness at times and no wonder. How is one supposed to survive this kind of treatment?

Who can she turn to? In India what others (family, friends and society at large) think is important and private matters are kept private. In order to escape she has to defy the unwritten rules of society, among which , the main rule being, a woman should stay quiet and not complain.

She is concerned about what her parents will say and unfortunately they tell her to endure. Can she leave her husband and go home to her parents if that will bring them shame in the eyes of the world? Can she live with the shame of what happened to her?

“My written body opens up only to the extent I decide to demarcate. It does not require the permission of my parents, it does not require the approval of society. My words might reveal a generous cleavage, a breaking waist, but they do not let anyone put their hands on me. Wrapping my body into words, I proof it against the prying eye, against inspection. I have sheathed it against the hands of others. My woman’s body, when it is written down, is rape resistant.”

Kandasamy writes beautifully, her prose is direct, unforgiving and unflinching. It is a book everyone should read.

For more books about domestic violence check out this Goodreads list.

For other books about women’s role in Indian society check out Manju Kapur’s novels Difficult Daughters and The Immigrant.

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