We can all advocate for change in the world, but when trouble hits close to home, are we ready to speak up?
He was my favourite mama. Growing up in the 90s when vacations meant visiting grand parents and spending time with family, Chintu mama was the highlight of our vacation. He would take me on long rides, treat me to ice creams, and give me access to his Walkman. He was the coolest ever!
With an age difference of 10 years, my mother treated him almost like a son. He too was the ideal son and brother and as the 90s moved to the 2000s, we were looking forward to Chintu mama’s wedding and welcoming Sonia mami.
My life also trudged along and I followed the expected path that every Indian girl is expected to follow. Excel in education, pick up a job, get married, get pregnant, quit your job and make sure to remain happy in each of the phases. That’s right, this has been my story too. Here is your quintessential good girl who knew when staying silent was essential.
It was sometime in 2010. Grown up and married now, I was visiting Chintu mama after a gap of almost 10 years. I could see he had changed a lot and looked more aggressive than what I remembered him as. Ordering around Sonia mami, terrifying my cousins Kabir and Kanisha…something as simple as spilling dal on the tablemat would elicit a dramatic response from him. He banged the table, slapped my cousin Kanisha and stormed out of the dining room, completely oblivious to our presence at the table.
Sonia mami, embarrassed but probably used to his behaviour by now, carried on chatting with us, but I was shaken! Mindful of my position as the guest, I could not even probe Sonia mami and my cousins. The night ended with the sound of heated arguments from the other room. We were bunking in with my cousins who appeared completely unaffected and slept soundly. The only one who could not sleep that night was I, and probably Sonia mami.
As a mature woman now, I had my views and beliefs about how the answer to domestic violence is definitely not silence.
When I returned home and spoke to my mother about it, she was reluctant to get involved, saying, “They will manage their family”, “Sonia Mami has not said anything to us, this must be a one off incident” and so on. Life moved on, although my beliefs about feminism grew stronger with it.
It was 2016, and this time we were at a family wedding. There was an atmosphere of happiness until Chintu mama started yelling at Sonia mami in public! Apparently drunk, he started talking of how she had ruined his life, how he wanted to marry someone else but was forced into this marriage. She did not react this time and chose to be silent. Matters came to a head when in the morning we woke up to the news that he had wet the bed since he was too drunk to walk and poor Sonia mami was cleaning up the mess.
I was burning with rage! How could she take so much? Why weren’t my mother or my grandparents doing anything about it? Who was there for Sonia mami? We had to speak up.
Eventually, my speaking up resulted in the matter reaching the local police station, whose officers came home to give him a warning. Now supported by my cousins, mami narrated the incidents to the police officer and got their support too.
It is now 2020 – Chintu Mama has been in and out of rehabilitation. Sonia mami is living separately with her children. The family is finally being supportive of Sonia mami’s decision and is trying to help her as much as they can by pitching in to look after the children. Sonia Mami has also become an active member of an online group called Opined. This forum is a place where ordinary men and women can discuss their life situation, feelings, opinions and views, without the fear of being judged. I think the presence of such forums today has brought about enormous confidence in her. She felt the comfort of being understood and being a part of a community. Psychological studies reveal that people feel many of their concerns are addressed – simply when they feel they are being heard. And this is true!
Taking her lead, I also explored the platform. What I personally found liberating was here I can take as well as offer advice, thereby opening the doors of meaningful conversation. I found many threads of interest here like breaking taboos around menstruation, talking about women’s rights or taking a stand against dowry. The trending threads also keep you updated about what is happening around the world and ways in which you can stay aware and make a difference.
After all, speaking up is the first step to addressing what we feel is wrong around us!
In partnership with Opined. You can download their android app at https://bit.ly/OpinedAppWW and start participating too!
Image is a still from the TV show Mere Dad Ki Dulhan with actor Shweta Tiwari who spoke up against domestic violence and chose to step out of her marriage with Raja Chowdhury.
Disclaimer : Some parts of the story and names have been changed to protect the identities of the individuals.
Ruchi Verma Rajan is a woman on a mission of self-discovery.
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