Portrait of a Woman

Surviving Violence: A study from Tamil Nadu

@swarraj’s tweet lead me to this report


 Source: Swarna Rajagopalan with ACR Sudaroli, Sandhya Srinivasan and Anu Aroon, Stuck in a Circle: Surviving Domestic Violence and Everyday Resilience in Tamil Nadu, Queen Mary University of London, 2023 [PDF Link]

This is my summary and some takeaways

Technical Details: This is a multi-method study which collected primary data from survivors of domestic violence and other key stakeholders,  centering the experience of victim-survivors. It was conducted in 3 districts in Tamil Nadu; Ariyalur, Chennai and Vellore. The sampling method was Snowballing. 60 woman and 1 transman survivors were interviewed. Besides them, witnesses, members of the society and family were interviewed, as well as 62 support-providers like lawyers, medical workers,  NGOs, and the Police.

There are seven sections in the report.


The report opens with background information about the state of Tamil Nadu from key studies based on  NFHS, SDG, Census etc. highlighting the data on women’s health and experience of violence, and goes on to describe the questions in the interviews and the responses and then describes the methodology in detail.


It then goes on to describe attitudes and beliefs of the interviewees about gender violence, laws about it, what constitutes it, and stances on punishment and resolution etc.  are elicited.

The interviews were done with great sensitivity and did not shy away from asking very uncomfortable questions. There were both structured as well as non-structured bits in each interview. Some of the questions were

  • Why do you think women experience Domestic Violence?
  • If a friend or family member told you they were experiencing domestic violence, what advice would you give them?
  • Is there ever a situation/circumstance when a woman should stay in an abusive/violent relationship? If so, why?

Some of the findings from attitudes towards violence are

  • Survivors understood that beyond physical violence, sexual, emotional, verbal and economic abuse constituted domestic violence.
  • They agreed that women who experience violence should seek help.
  • Community members agreed with these views, and  that domestic violence is committed because of cultural factors, interpersonal misunderstandings and alcohol abuse.
  • Community members also believed that women should and would put up with the violence up to a certain threshold of cruelty or affecting children, before leaving.
  • Support service providers largely agreed with an inclusive definition of domestic violence, but were less sure about whether it was a criminal office and the perpetrator should be punished

Summarized in the report as:

While society’s understanding of domestic violence has broadened, the a significant percentage believe that it is to be expected in relationships and are ambivalent about how best to respond. A survivor therefore steps out of an abusive situation into a support ecosystem that may or may not validate her experience.

Section 3 THE EXPERIENCE OF VIOLENCE  looks into the details of the experience of violence (who, how, what etc.), why survivors think they are subjected to violence, ways of coping, seeking help etc. The community is also asked the same questions but keeping the experience of the survivor as the center.

Section 4  looks into the support  available to survivors. This includes friends, family, the police, NGOs, lawyers etc. and their experiences in dealing with domestic violence and their understanding of the experience of it, the causes of it and the ways to solve it.

Section 5  looks into how well the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 is implemented  (I didn’t read this too closely)

Section 6 asks what patriarchy looks like, with stories from survivors and witnesses and others. eg

Section 7 deals with the people’s views on developing resilience and what it means. This section spoke to me deeply.

This project arose out of a broader quest to understand resilience in both intellectual and practical terms. Where do humans find their resilience? What are the external supports and impediments for it? How does any society (or state) build the resilience of its people in the face of adversity? We took this question to a section of people vulnerable because of their gender in a patriarchal society and because of their everyday experience of violence in the very contexts that are meant to keep us safe—intimate relationships, family and home

The report ends with suggestions to what both the civil society organizations and the government apparatus could do to improve things, informed by study.

Each of these suggestions is a gem and carefully argued. Everyone should read the report [PDF Link].

Studies  from other  states in India and other policy briefs can be found in the resources section of the project’s website


  1. At a cultural level, the understanding of domestic violence has changed a lot, and while everyone seems to agree that it is a bad thing and ought to stop, the solutions are not all that clear or trustworthy (to the society).
  2.  We need to  support survivors of domestic violence in the communities we are part of. The support can be in many ways, but it should probably begin with speaking up  about this in our families and providing support to family members who are survivors. I think this is key. We need to be clear and loud as individuals about what our stance is in the family-social units we are part of.
  3. Individuals should attempt to provide structural support in some forms more widely.
  4. Is there a model of heterosexual marriage that is not based on privileging the male and asking for submission from the female? Without widespread demonstration of the alternate model, for the family unit and the greater culture that we are part of, there really is no alternative that can be adopted.
  5. Women who leave abusive spouses and/or seek help and  justice need to be celebrated.
  6. There is really no benefit to women “adjusting”. Adjusting is based towards benefits the norms that created this problem. I recognizing that that is the only recourse available in many situations at present.
  7. Corruption masquerades as pragmatism.

I could view this problem as legacy code issues. While the number of bugs in the system make you want to burn it all down or lose hope, most of what we have came via iterative development. I mean the methods, techniques, heuristics, design-patterns and more that make up culture. that is reductive, i agree but useful to me.

The report makes me grateful to the feminists who have fought to get the laws and legal structures in place to deal with this issues.

It makes me hopeful to read the vast majority of the interviewees want education, financial stability, and social support and see these as being part of the cure.

This is reinforces my  belief that individual financial empowerment is severely understated and underutilized as a source for reducing harms in the nation at large.

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