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Every third woman in India is victim of domestic abuse, but so many of the domestic abuse survivors, even among, educated women, suffer in silence.
My first introduction to a domestic violence victim was through a house-help at my parents’ place. Her alcoholic husband ensured that ‘she knew her place’ by beating her up almost every night. No amount of cajoling could convince her to file a complaint against him because she had grown up with the notion of a man proving his masculinity by hitting his wife.
Though she quit quite soon, her scars bothered me for a very long time. I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about the reason for her plight.
Trigger warning: graphic descriptions of domestic abuse
Until a certain period, it was my ignorance which led me to believe that such form of abuse existed only in those strata of the society where finance and lack of education were the major reasons for struggle.
The bubble burst within a short span of time as I realized how domestic violence had always been a sad truth hidden across generations of women. The female gender had learned to keep their pain and fear hidden within their hearts and behind their smiles.
As I started interviewing 6 survivors of domestic abuse, it was heart-breaking to listen to their ordeals. Yet when I finished speaking to them, I knew that these were women whose stories need to be told to the world for they are role models in breaking societal stereotypes and standing against violence amidst all odds.
Sr. Manager with an MR firm
Location – Mumbai/Kolkata
An alumnus of Presidency University Kolkata, London School of Economics and the Oklahoma State University in the USA, Kasturi had a high flying corporate career when her wedding was arranged to a man with similar academic brilliance.
Very soon, she realized that her husband wanted to take control of her life in every aspect. Her marital family expected her to earn while also attending to the daily household chores. Her husband was such a miser that he maintained an excel sheet of every rupee spent.
She was still trying to cope up with this suffocating phase of life when he got physically violent for the first time. “I had some urgent office work to finish. He kept nagging me for immediate payment of his parking ticket. I was trying to convince him to wait for a while when he hit me first, smashed my office laptop next, threw both my phones from the third-floor balcony and literally dragged me out of the house. My in-laws, instead of stopping him continued abusing me verbally,” she shares.
Kasturi started exploring opportunities outside Kolkata and moved out to Mumbai once she landed a job. It was here that she discovered about her pregnancy. Though the baby was conceived out of marital rape, she decided to keep it since she was capable of taking care of it single-handedly.
Her husband, working onsite in London at that time insisted on her joining him there, and she decided to give their marriage another chance. Soon, her decision to shift to London turned out to be a nightmare, and she had to get the UK social service team involved and call the police for being subjected to abuse.
Things took an ugly turn once the baby was born. He refused to spend any money on the infant’s formula milk and diapers or even on her breast pump. It was her friends and cousin sister who came to her rescue. Realizing that nothing would ever change, she moved out to her cousin sisters’ house with her infant daughter and eventually returned to Mumbai.
Over the next few months, her husband agreed for a mutual divorce with a no alimony clause from her end. He had no interest in the baby who was more of a liability and meant extra expenditure for him.
Today, life has given her a second chance at happiness after she married a man who respects her for the choices she makes. Before ending the conversation, she mentions it loud and clear, “I would urge every parent to spend money on their daughter’s education instead of saving it up for their wedding. Because only education and financial independence can help women combat any circumstance in life.”
Motivational Writer/ Media Professional
Location – Mumbai
Inderjit had an arranged marriage immediately after graduation.
The abuse began on the night of the wedding itself when she was taunted for being too slow in carrying out a few instructions by her husband. Very soon, she realized that she was akin to a slave certified in the thread of marriage.
Before he started hitting her, he was rude and refused to take a no for an answer. Then the violence started with breaking glasses, TV remotes and finally smashing her skull against the wall. In her 22 years of staying married, she had eventually become one of those things violently thrown around the house.
Shares Inderjit, “He would hit me with a hockey stick and punch me behind the neck as I carried on living with bruised eyes and wounds all over my body. Yet I kept trying to save my marriage for the sake of my parents. The shame and stigma associated with a divorced daughter prevented me from taking any action against my tormentor.
When I started having thoughts of giving up life, I reached out to a few close friends and family members. Unfortunately, all they had to offer were suggestions about being patient or not provoking him. They made it sound like it was my fault.”
Her husband grew so violent that he didn’t even spare their sons. He threw hot coffee on her teenage son and punched him on his back. Strangely, every bout of abusive behavior was followed by apologies, tears, and promises of him turning over a new leaf.
Inderjit recalled that night of horror, “He had pinned me to the floor and beaten me up so badly that I felt like I was going to die out of strangulation. Somehow, I managed to escape his clutches and locked myself in the bathroom. My teenager had come back from his tuitions and my husband was nowhere in sight. So I came out and went to make food for the boy. As I entered the kitchen, the monster jumped on me and started hitting me again. He was trying to put my head on the lit gas stove. My son intervened in an attempt to save me; he was punched so bad that he fell unconscious on the floor. Realizing the impending danger, my husband fled.”
Inderjit and her five years old son managed to carry her teenage son to the bed to give him first aid. Her husband returned next night only to start beating her black and blue again.
“It was at that moment that I knew that I had to walk out of this abusive marriage. Once he left, I dropped my 5-year-old at a neighbor’s house after briefly explaining the reason for my battered state. I took my ailing son in an auto to the police station to file a complaint. Ever since that night, I have never looked back,” she says.
It was her valour and determination that helped her fight an ugly legal battle before winning it and getting her freedom back. Today her elder son runs a consultancy firm while her younger one is in the ninth grade. Along with writing motivational books and blogs, she is also collectively working on issues related to mental health and human rights.
Location – Kolkata
Anita got married against her parents’ wishes. They were opposed to the idea of her choosing a man with very little educational qualifications and no fixed income.
Soon, she realized that her husband was an extremely insecure man who was jealous of his beautiful wife loved by his friends and family alike. He tried imposing restrictions on her movements outside the house. He kept abusing her emotionally driving her towards suicidal thoughts. It was during this phase that she embraced motherhood but her frail state of mind barely let her enjoy this new stage.
The situation became worse with every passing day and she sank into the dark world of depression. When Anita was battling the worst phase of her life, her husband had an extramarital affair with one of their close relatives. Despite knowing it all, she couldn’t afford to leave him because of her financial dependence on him.
“It was by God’s grace that my parents eventually accepted my marriage and my mother turned out to be my biggest source of strength in a phase where I started having multiple panic attacks,” she says.
Unfortunately, she lost her mother very soon yet her emotional wreckage meant nothing to her husband. After suffering in silence for more than a decade, she decided to take charge of her life for her the sake of her late mother. She joined meditation classes and then took up teaching. As her emotional well-being and financial independence improved, her father supported her in getting a divorce without any alimony. Now she lives alone and has found happiness in her family and her job as a teacher.
Her parting words speak volumes about the tough woman that she has turned out to be today, “No one can help us except for ourselves.”
Location – Guwahati
Pushpanjalee Das Dutta shares the story of her mother’s abusive marriage with her father, which affected her and her brother as well, growing up.
Puspanjalee grew up in a household where verbal and physical abuse had become a daily affair. But her young mother displayed the courage to walk out of this suffocating marriage to get a higher education before starting to work.
Her father had already turned out to be the irresponsible kind who went missing at stretches and barely catered to any of their needs. But that didn’t stop him from turning up unannounced and bringing chaos to their lives. Shares Pushpanjalee, “He would abuse my mother verbally and try to poison our minds against her. He left no stone unturned in trying to embarrass her in front of our relatives or neighbors by calling her names or spreading rumors about her character. And then he would just disappear for days together. We lived in the constant fear of his sudden reappearance.”
During every visit, he would try to get Puspanjalee and her brother to believe that someday their mother would abandon them because she never cared about them. The innocent kids were scared about the impending doom. “We were gullible and could be harassed by anyone at any point in time. It was then that I took solace in reading books. Stories gave me an alternate world to escape the harsh realities I was subjected to and they gave me the courage to overcome obstacles,” she says.
Though young, Pushpanjalee found the strength to fight back. With time, she realized that it had always been her soft-spoken mother who worked 15-16 hours every day to fulfill their dreams. She had tolerated their tantrums, taken care of them, and had always been available for them. In his next visit, when her father turned violent against her mother and started speaking dirty about her sources of income, Puspanjalee stood like a rock sheltering her mother from his verbal abuse. She had mustered the courage to talk about his misdeeds and how he had damaged their innocent souls by trying to sow evil thoughts related to their mother.
She recollected, “It wasn’t easy but I knew that someday we had to take a stand against his continued torture. I shared my story with my close circle of friends. I had kept it hidden till then for the fear of being judged. But I am so grateful for the kind of support that I received from them to help me sail through that situation.”
If there’s one piece of advice that she has for every woman today, it is the need for them to realize the importance of their economic independence.
Location – Bengal/Bangalore
Mamon fell in love with one of her batch mates. Her husband’s family never supported this relationship even till the day of their marriage.
The groom’s family intentionally arrived late so that the auspicious time of the wedding would be over and they could call the marriage off. But Mamon and her chosen one fought against all odds to be together. Little did she know that this was just the beginning of a long term traumatic life!
“Once we boarded the bus to take me to my in-laws’ place located in a remote corner of Bengal, I was denied food the whole day on the pretext of some ritual. On arriving, they made me stay alone in a dark room without food and electricity. The next morning, my mother-in-law made her intentions clear. They had wanted a ‘homely and fair bride’ from a rich family and I had failed in all three parameters,” she says.
Her in-laws made her fast again for the second consecutive day before marrying her off with a tree. That was to change her caste from a non-Brahmin to that of a Brahmin. For the whole of the next month, she had to separately cook food in earthenware over an earthen stove and eat alone. She held on to the relationship waiting for the day of return to Bangalore, “I had hoped that things would become better once we resumed our working life in Bangalore. But my mother-in-law and sister-in-law became frequent visitors.”
They started torturing her for money, for doing basic household chores, while also working in a senior profile. “I was living a dual life. In my house, I was treated like a maid while in my office, I was leading a team,” she shares.
Her husband kept assuring her of moving out of the country for an onsite project. But the project kept getting postponed and the verbal and physical abuse started becoming unbearable. A few months later, her husband finally got his VISA for moving onsite and together they visited her in-laws to bid adieu.
Mamon says, “Strangely, they were polite this time. I realized the reason when I found my hands and legs tied with a rope in another room the next morning. My mother-in-law told me how useless I was to them now after they had utilized all my savings. They were getting my husband married to a wealthy girl of their choice before he left the country. And my husband, the man who I had trusted the most, was sending out emails to my friends and family stating that I was committing suicide and no one should be held responsible for my death.”
She was stripped naked by her sister-in-law’s husband, touched inappropriately, before they threw kerosene on her and set her on fire.
Her screams and the commotion had fortunately made one of her husband’s cousin brothers living next door curious about the happenings. It was he who turned up at the right moment, saved her life by wrapping her in a blanket before rushing her to a hospital in Kolkata.
This was just the beginning of the trial that she and her family were subjected to for the next couple of years as she fought for her original certificates, her freedom, and financial independence.
Even after the divorce, the social stigma attached to a divorcee kept affecting her state of mind. It was during this period that she found her inner peace through ‘The Art of Living foundation’. With time, she reignited the strength within and settled for a marriage to an academically brilliant man who also had his heart and values in place. Today she is back in the corporate race for good and has regained her family had friends.
For reasons related to legal proceedings, Mamon wasn’t in a position to share her name and pictures but before ending the conversation she spoke in a voice of steel, “Today, I can take on the world without an inch of fear in me.”
Business Analyst with an IT firm
Location – Bangalore/Delhi
Snigdha, a shy and obedient girl, was married at the age of 22 to a man who turned out to be obsessed with perfection in every little thing. Very soon, the absent-minded Snigdha was verbally abused and punished in ways beyond her comprehension.
He was such a control freak that not only did he keep a track of her finances but also knew all her passwords.
He would torture her by force feeding her to keep up with his unhealthy eating habits. Eventually, he pushed her to start working at a call center for a meager salary of 7000 INR per month. “He barely gave me 2000 rupees for my expenses. But once I started working, my confidence grew and I started questioning his dominance. He started suspecting me of having an extramarital affair and installed recording software on my phone to monitor my calls. If I ever spoke about how stifled I felt, he would threaten me of dire consequences,” she says.
For four years, she endured this trauma with thoughts of self-harm clouding her rational thinking many a time.
In the last year of their marriage, his emotionally abusive nature became a horror for her. He refused to let her sleep the whole night if any of her activities deviated from his instructions. She was drained of energy in trying to balance her job and surviving continued sleepless nights. During one such night, he asked her to leave the house for some silly reasons when she returned from work at 3 am.
Snigdha shares, “He refused to let me pack or stay till the morning. My parents had to plead with him not to throw me out. Next morning, after he left for his office, I dialed my aunt’s friend living in the same city and told her about my suffering. She immediately sent a car to fetch me home. After resetting my passwords and taking out my jewelry from the locker, I went to her house.”
Her husband located her soon and tried emotionally blackmailing her. But she knew that this was the best chance she had at escaping this abusive marriage.
The divorce proceedings were traumatic and took eight months to complete. Her family and friends helped her heal and she moved on to do her post graduation. It was there that she met a man who gave her space and respected her opinions. Today they have a daughter to complete the family portrait. Before ending the conversation, she mentions, “I have come out of it stronger and I know that I can face any kind of hardship today.”
As per a 2018 article by News18, every third woman in India suffers from domestic violence. However, the reporting percentage for such abuse is just 29 percent in rural India while for urban India, it is at 23 percent. This acts as evidence of the fact that a lot of women are still suffering in silence.
Some of the major reasons for this behaviour include fear of a judgmental society, lack of support from family and financial dependence on the spouse.
Yet these six firebrand women chose to defy all odds, put an end to their suffering, and lead a life free from toxic masculinity. Neither was it an easy decision to take, nor was the path towards their freedom smooth. But, they rose from the ashes like a phoenix, with their friends, family or colleagues acting as their support system. Holding on to their instinct of survival, educational qualifications, and financial independence, they marched on with the belief that they deserved better in life.
Image source: a still from the movie Provoked
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