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Dear Controlling Parents, What Gives You A Right To Control, Manipulate, Gaslight Daughters?

So, we stay where we are and continue the fight. We continue speaking up. In small and big doses. In articles like these. In family conversations. Over the dinner table and in big gatherings.

So, we stay where we are and continue the fight. We continue speaking up. In small and big doses. In articles like these. In family conversations. Over the dinner table and in big gatherings.

Trigger Warning: This deals with suicide and parental abuse, and may be triggering for survivors.

‘What the hell is your problem? Why can’t you just shut up and do as you’re told.’

My father’s dark eyes flashed. His brows furrowed together. Confused, I looked back at him. I had just suggested that he need not use the same soiled tea cup again, and that it would be better to get it washed. What was it that I said wrong? What was it that was disrespectful?

I opened my mouth to speak. To defend. To explain. To understand. But no words came out. The waterworks did, instead. Slow, unwilling. As if they’d been woken up after a long hiatus. The 35+ year old me disappeared. Instead, a seventeen-something stood in my place.

‘Randi.’

‘Your father is dead.’

‘You’re dead to me.’

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The dialogues from over a couple of decades ago rose from the hidden and forgotten depths of my memory. The taste of Harpic rose up in my mouth.

‘Why don’t you go and die?’

Well, I had tried. Unfortunately, like everything else in my life at that time, I had failed. They had pumped the Harpic out. They couldn’t pump the ‘disobedience’ out, though.

‘Loud-mouth.’

‘Argumentative and disrespectful.’

‘Ungrateful!’

These were more recent.

Now, standing at the kitchen sink, I looked at him again, and said, ‘Stop shouting. What are you getting so angry about?’ I took a breath to keep calm. I couldn’t afford to get angry. Angry women were too emotional. I knew I couldn’t let it get out of hand this time – like every time. ‘It isn’t as if I’ve said anything that objectionable.’ I tried reasoning with him. But never mind, the fact that I had spoken up was enough for me to be called names. We were in the middle of a full-blown fight.

I refused to take it any longer and charged to my room. I was done with trying to fight this alone, without support, and with the constant allegation that I was equally to blame, or as my father saw it the only one to blame. That I was just as egotistical. That I needed to learn how to be tactful. That I wasn’t handling the situation correctly. That I didn’t know when to shut up and be diplomatic. I had begun to already see how all this was untrue, and another way of silencing me. It was more violence against me. Violence that I wasn’t willing to accept anymore.

I posted on social media that I needed to meet someone for coffee – any one would do. That was the first time I admitted to myself that all wasn’t right in this carefully constructed image of a happy, cheerful, single child pampered silly by her doting parents. I still wasn’t willing to admit to others, though. You don’t wash your dirty linen in public. Good girls don’t badmouth their parents. Good girls are grateful, obedient, only seen not heard.

It was that incident over a tea cup that made me realize I needed therapy. Not because I needed him to change but because I needed to change.

‘What did he ask for, and what did you do instead?’ Asked my therapist.

I should have been obedient and not answered back was the ‘realization’ I had after that session. ‘Write down five incidents from your life that you were happy about,’ was my homework that week. Thankfully, I did not continue with this therapist for long.

I see the questions you want to ask. What causes the fight? Why does he react that way? Am I really the aggressive angry one?

Well, to answer your questions, the reasons for flare ups are many. Bad daughter. Too feminist. Too opinionated. Speaks too much. Too loudly. Constantly fighting. Disrespectful. It’s an entire buffet, take your pick.

He is a good dad. She is a good mom. Don’t get them wrong. They’ve stood with me through really tough times. They believed me when I said, ‘I wasn’t involved in the ragging. I’ve been falsely implicated.’

They’ve been providing for me – a full grown woman with no husband and no job and no income – without any grudges. They’ve been a wonderful support emotionally, financially, otherwise. I should be grateful, right?

But I didn’t ask to be born or to be brought up with the choices they made for me. What should I be grateful about?

Parents give birth because they want to. They bring up, spend on her, educate or not educate their daughters based on what they decide is right for them. What, then, gives them, or any parent the right to control – abuse, manipulate, gaslight, their daughter? Does the fact that they provide for her financially make them believe they own her? Does the fact that they gave birth to her, give them ownership over her for life?

They can do as they please, say what they want, dictate her behaviour, marry her to whoever they approve of, with no consideration of the agency over her life and choices that is her basic right; and the girl can’t even express her own opinion on it?

That’s not just the story of a few underprivileged girls, but of many urban women too, even married ones, in certain cases. Being a girl comes with its own set of rules and regulations. A list of Do’s and Dont’s that could be more than the distance from here to Pluto. Landing on Pluto may still be a distant possibility, but making parents understand they don’t have ownership over someone just because they gave birth seems to be something that we won’t achieve in a trillion years.

After all they are parents, and parents can never be at fault, right? At least, that’s what I’ve been told. And most of us too, I’m sure. The repercussions of this toxic controlling behaviour – gaslighting, oppression, silent violence, that we are subjected to are manifold. Not just in terms of poor self-worth but also the invisible trauma we go through, and then carry as mental and physical ailments for years together.

It’s an everyday battle – navigating these big and small aggressions, sometimes losing miserably, sometimes ending in a draw, and rarely, if ever, winning it. Something as minor as asking a question that may well be perfectly logical but is labelled ‘disrespectful’ and ‘argumentative’. Simply for daring to speak up. After all, women should be seen not heard, right?

Women who dare to speak are ‘aggressive’ and ‘too angry’. And angry women are unreasonable, unpleasant, ungrateful.

Tsk…tsk, why so angry? Smile a little. Darling, calm down. Be positive, dear. C’mon, look at the bright side. Be grateful you have even this much.

That’s what it has come down to.

Women, an entire gender, is supposed to be grateful for being ‘allowed’ to work, dance, sing, paint, live, breathe.

The constant erasure of our beings is evident. And the inner fight to not let that happen is just as strong.

How then do we survive? Or do we succumb to this and become mere shadows of our own selves? Let go of our need to be more than mere ‘pretty, little things’ and resign ourselves to living a life of obscurity, sans any aspirations, ambitions, achievements?

What do we do to maintain our identity, our peace, our sanity? How then do we hold on to ourselves, our ideals, our definition of existence?

Do we rebel and disown our families?

Do I?

It’s not a simple question that I ask. Neither do I ask it lightly. It’s not something I can do as easily as I can ask it. I am attached to my parents. I cannot rebel against them. Neither can most other girls, especially those who are forcibly married off against their wishes.

The answer I give myself is a harsh one. Stay where you are, just as you are. The battle is hard, it was never meant to be easy. Yes, it’s exhausting, and yes, it gets to you, to me, to us.

But there is no other way. Because if there was the battle would have been won by now. So, we stay where we are and continue the fight. We continue speaking up. In small and big doses. In articles like these. In family conversations. Over the dinner table and in big gatherings. We tell our parents ‘You don’t get to decide that.’ when they tell us to keep our feminism outside the house and in the public domain only. We tell everyone we meet, ‘Yes, we are angry, and they better learn to either deal with it and take it in their stride, or do better by us.’ We tell our relatives that, ‘Gifts accepted from the bride’s family are dowry, no matter what name they choose to give it.’ We speak up, when we can, where we can, how we can.

And so we equip our arsenal. We empower ourselves first. We learn to read the signs – the toxicity, the gaslighting, the emotional abuse. And, we learn to push back. Hard.

Say something as simple as, ‘I do not agree.’ Or even, ‘You are wrong.’

If Savitribai Phule kept walking despite the mudslinging, we can take her lead and keep speaking despite the mudslinging. So that somewhere, with the constant repeating of those words to self and to others, the wheels will begin to turn.

And so, I will speak up. I will be assertive. I will hold on to my ideals. Even when I am questioned whether my ideals and my feminism is more important to me than my relationship with my father.

I will not be disrespected. I will not be silenced. Not anymore. Not anymore.

Change begins at home. It begins with us. It begins with me.

‘I will not be bullied or gaslighted.’

‘I will wear what I want to.’

‘I will go out.’

‘I will speak up.’

In traditional Indian society, women are often only “allowed” to study or work outside of home. Their freedom is “given” to them by someone else – a parent, a husband, a brother, a son – usually the men of the home. Even outside the domestic arena, women are “given” freedom to do certain things in society, they are “permitted” to be out in public only under certain conditions. At the workplace, women are expected to “behave”, “look”, and conduct themselves in ways that are not demanded of their male counterparts.

For Independence Day 2021, we’re publishing your personal stories in which you have “taken” your freedom from under such restrictions, without waiting for anyone to “allow” them. Stories of standing up to oppression, whether in the home, or outside it. #MyFreedomMyWay

Image source: a still from the film Listen Amaya!

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