By Kamal Dhillon
The horrors I wrote about in Black and Blue Sari took place when I was just eighteen, after my “grand wedding”. It was an occasion for which people from around the world flew to Vancouver. Reflecting on those years of brutality, I realize that if I hadn’t broken the silence of this family’s secret, it would have robbed my children and me of the chance for any kind of normalcy.
Married at the age of 18, I describe the twelve years of marriage on any given day as slaps and punches swung across my face leaving me with finger imprints, a broken nose, and a jaw fractured which will require many ongoing surgeries.
My home had become the most dangerous place to be. Abuse does not abate – it happened yesterday, it is happening right now, and it will happen again tomorrow.
I felt compelled to share my story in order to tear down the walls of secrecy and shame that perpetuates abuse. Due to deeply-entrenched cultural taboos domestic violence is rarely described. And unfairly, often it is the victim who is blamed for the situation. With this book I hope to increase general awareness about the social problem of domestic abuse. With increased sensitivity to the problem I hope instead of asking the victim, “Why did you do?,” people will begin to ask the abuser, “Why did you hurt her?” and hold him accountable for his actions.
The abuse I weathered was in the name of family honor. But this so-called honor came at a huge cost to me – a cost that I would be paying for the rest of my life.
A home should be a sanctuary, a safe place and a relationship should not be marked with hate and violence but that was not so in my case.
I don’t know how and I don’t remember when, but I began to adapt to the instability of my new environment. In the midst of this horribly twisted existence I developed a few coping strategies. I would hide a sweater behind the garbage can so I would be prepared when my husband pushed me out the door at night. I would even leave a baby blanket hanging on the clothesline. My only fear was being caught doing that.
I’ve heard people say that emotional abuse is worse than physical abuse – maybe. I can’t tell you which abuse was worse. I suffered both simultaneously and they were equally painful and debilitating. The terrible reality was that I bore every kind of abuse in secret and in silence. Anything could “flick his switch” on. As the violence increased in intensity and became more twisted, it caused more destruction than the previous bout. It left me with nightmares, fear, anxiety, distrust, and PTSD to name some of the repercussions.
Society tells women to submit to their husbands, yet, neglects to teach men how to treat their wives with love and respect. If all society wanted from a woman was a daughter-in-law to create “a happy husband” through cooking, cleaning, laundry, and sex then they are wrong in believing that we are being made into good homemakers. When you are forced into doing something against your will, rebellion sets in. One of the greatest predictor of the violence towards women has been the environment that supported male control over women.
Time and again marital success is predicated on female submission; it is the basis on which women are judged. I want to give victims the courage to speak out and stop the cycle of domestic abuse.
At first, I desperately wanted to make my marriage work. Even though I had opportunities to leave I didn’t and later I couldn’t leave. I was fully aware that I still had a long and difficult journey ahead. Years of manipulation and abuse had formed an invisible fence around my life. I had lost sight of the future – if there was ever going to be a future for me. After many years of being chained by fear and enslaved by Raj’s cruelty, I knew if I gave in my world would crash. My children needed a better home and a better life than this one.
I chose to leave. I no longer cared for the useless labels that the community would attach to me. They were not the ones suffering. They were not the ones whose life was in danger. For me it was leave or die and I chose to leave while still alive.
You may ask, “Why did you stay for so long?” The reasons are many. The fear of social stigma – “What will people say?” Or was it my own deep-rooted and twisted cultural upbringing? I was brought up in a culture where domestic violence is rooted in patriarchy; where, women are regarded as inferior to men, and where the abuse of women is widely condoned and beatings often justified.
It hurts when people ask the question, “Why didn’t you just leave if it was that bad?“. It’s the most difficult and insensitive question you can ask. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a world where it’s as simple as “just leave.” None of us enjoy being abused. Most of us would leave our abusers as fast as we could in exchange for our freedom and safety, if it was that easy. There are way too many factors to consider before leaving – the children who still loved their father (even though they feared him), and not having my own money. I had no support either from my family or the social services. And then, there was the fear of the unknown. Where will we go? How long will people accommodate us? How long before we become a burden to them? What if Raj finds us?
Another reason victims keep their abuse a secret is because they have been brainwashed by their abusers. The objective of the abusers is to destroy the existing identity of the victims and replace it with a new one – one that matches their perverted beliefs, values, and thoughts. When their only objective is to keep you bound to them, abusers will go to great lengths to achieve it.
A safe place does not tolerate abuse. It empowers and helps victims to get the help needed instead of throwing scriptures at them and blaming them for not being good enough, as was the case in my situation. Any place that justifies abuse instead of stopping it, is not a safe place, whether it be a home or a place of worship. Any organization that devalues women is not a safe place. Any religious organization that silences the oppressed instead of protecting them, is not a safe place.
My hope is that you will draw strength from my story of survival and that you will seek help, sooner rather than later. I share my story not to bring tears to your eyes, but to tell you that you need to be strong and have courage to say, “No”, and to get out of the darkness of guilt and shame by shining a light on it.Shame can only survive in darkness and silence. Start talking about it, don’t keep it a secret. Tell someone. Have a plan of escape. You deserve to be free.I don’t let what happened define me – it drives me.
Kamal Dhillon is an author, an inspirational speaker and a domestic violence counselo