The Belly’s Word: Domestic Violence in a Bengali Clinic


Unspeakability is a dominant analytic lens in scholarship on gendered violence in India, but women can and do speak out. This article examines how Bengali women complain about domestic violence through peter katha, the belly’s word. The capacious pet (belly) is the seat of tension, where abuse dwells in the body. At a clinic in Kolkata, India, women describe sensations of abdominal pain, pressure, and hunger to convey patterns and temporalities of violence. Yet complaints of belly pain go unacknowledged by local clinicians. Hygiene discourses frame poor women’s bodies, not structural violence, as the problem. Peter katha is more than an idiom of distress: it is a genre of embodied complaint that illuminates violence as the accrual of harm and, in its dynamic and layered quality, moves beyond a binary of disclosure or concealment. Anthropologists may use peter katha to extend the conceptual vocabulary of gender and silence. [domestic violence, kinship, complaint, hygiene, belly, India]