7 am. I was woken up by a loud thud. What is it this time ? My neighbours have been screaming at each other since they started living together, 30 years ago. One of the greatest perks of arranged marriage, I guess. Not only do you give dowry to your husband but you get the additional perks of being beaten up by him. Only in India!
I got up from my bed and walked towards the window. The screaming grew louder. Apparently the morning tea was not ‘hot’ enough AND it had less sugar. The audacity! I can hear plates crashing and high pitched screams. This is the daily drama.
The husband is a respected politician. Wife is a homemaker. They have three kids. Two boys who left home to study in far away universities and a teenage girl. I heard the husband beating up the teenage girl last week. The poor thing was just protecting her mother from being beaten up. I have met the girl a couple of times. She’s pretty sweet.
7:30 am. Things cool down a bit. I can’t hear screams anymore. I walked out of the bedroom feeling bad for that poor woman. I should’ve really done something about it. But I did not know what. He is a respected politician and I am a nobody. I went to work and completely forgot about the incident.
I came back home pretty late after work. My neighbours were fighting again. This time, it was about some dirty laundry. The wife was crying our loudly and I could hear the daughter trying to protect her mother. I couldn’t help but go over. I went over next door and rang the door bell. The shouting ceased.
The man opened the door and asked me what I wanted. I asked him if I could borrow some milk. He went in to get some. I walked away. I did not stop. I did not want milk. I just wanted him to stop. I just wanted him to know that I could hear them fight. I might have stopped this fight or distracted him from beating her up, for now. I do not know if I can, the next time. I couldn’t help but remember my childhood as I was walking away.
I grew up in a good family. My mom is the sweetest, funniest and the most caring person I know. She was a single mom. That is a bit weird in a remote town in India. Single moms were not looked upon with a lot of respect. She and my drunk dad got divorced when I was two. I’ve never seen the man in my life. She moved back in with my grandparents and found a job. Since then she has lived with them. She took care of me and my brother, sent us to the best school in town and I never had to ask her for anything. Sounds perfect, huh ?
But what good is a story without a villain? Can you think of Sherlock without Moriarty or Harry without Voldemort? In my case it was my grandfather.
He was an extremely generous man. We had people standing in line in front of our house to get some money or food. He gave plenty of money to charity, fed plenty of poor people and paid for the education of many. He bought me clothes, food, books, you name it! How can such a man be a villain you ask? Wait for it.
There was only one tiny problem. He physically and mentally abused my mother and my grandmother, almost every day. I got a fair share too, until I was 16 or 17. I would go to school crying everyday, not because I did not want to go to school, but there would be a fight every morning.
All fights would be for some extremely irrelevant topic, usually food. Sometimes the tea was not hot enough, sometimes the fish didn’t have enough salt, most of the times it would be because my grandmother wouldn’t bring him water within 30 seconds after he asked for it. I have never seen him cook or do any sort of chores. I have seen him beating my grandmother and twisting her arm because someone read the newspaper and did not fold it back ‘correctly’.
The man thew a plate of fish on the wall because ‘it the carrots were not diced into perfect squares’. All fights would start with verbal abuse and end in physical abuse. He would abuse my grandmothers family, call her dad fancy names and end up abusing my grandmother for having a single daughter. Oh! The shame that has fallen upon our family because my mother did not stay with a drunk abusive jobless husband! It was never ending insanity.
Imagine growing up hearing your loved ones being abused every single day and not being able to do anything. As we grew older, me and my brother started fighting back. When I say fighting back, I mean, stopping my grandfather from beating up my mother. Well, that just made him be more violent towards my grandmother when we weren’t around. Not the result we were expecting.
What was fascinating in this whole scenario was how everyone treated this issue. Nobody thought it was a problem worth addressing. I am sure that every single person living in our neighbourhood heard the fights and our screams. Never did someone come to stop him. Never did any of our relatives or our family members stop him. They tried to talk to him, but in vain. Moreover, I became a rebel for trying to stop him. Because, these things are normal in families, they said. Fathers and husbands often use their hands to keep their wives and kids in line.
I particularly remember one incident. It was around 10 at night. My grandfather wanted my mom to close the front gate. She was already in bed as she was really sick. She was puking all day and could barely get out of bed. I volunteered to close the gate as I do it everyday.
My grandfather wouldn’t have it. He shouted to my mom to come downstairs. He keep shouting her name like a lunatic.
My poor mother walked down shivering. She could barely walk. But he kept pressing the doorbell until she walked down and closed the gate. It made me furious. I have never been this angry in my whole life.
I asked him to stop ringing the bell and told him I would close the gate. Mom is really sick and she should rest, I said. But the old devil would not stop. He became furious. How could a 16 year old girl talk back to him. How dare I ?
How dare I, indeed. He came towards me with his arms in the air. I ran towards the dining table. I did not want to be beaten upon. He ran after me. I told him to stop. He did not. I told him repeatedly that he was being mean towards my mother. Maybe he would calm down and understand what I was trying to say. Not only did he not understand, he was furious now.
He cornered me and grabbed me by the neck. My mother came to my rescue, crying. But he was stronger than the both of us. He took the glass vase on the table. I had just filled it with pretty pellets the day before. I saw the pellets scattering on the floor. He hit me on the face with the vase. I was bleeding from my mouth. By this time my brother had come to my rescue and pushed him away.
I ran into my room and locked myself in. I have to leave this place, I thought. I really have to leave. My mom knocked on my door and told me not to worry. These things happen, she said. She has been through worse.
He had beaten her with belts and garden hose. I remember coming back home from school one evening when I was 11 to find my mom crying because he had beaten her with a hose. There were red marks all over her back. That was worse than what he did to me.
The next morning I left home thinking that I would never go back. I walked five kilometers, thinking what to do. I sat down on a bench in a bus stop and thought of a plan to escape. They would find me wherever I went. This is India we are talking about. Chances were, I would have ended up in a brothel or been sold to someone or get raped.
I had no money. I had 200 rupees which is around 2.40 euros. I would have had a couple more if I sold the gold chain I was wearing. So, I decided to suck it and stayed at home for a year more. I could get an admission in some university far away. If I left that day, I would’ve gotten raped in some street corner. It seemed like the right and the mature thing to do. So, I went to school and then back to my home.
I know you might be wondering why I never called the police. I almost did, a couple of times. But I knew nothing is going to change. It is considered normal in my place to beat your wife. My state, Kerala, banned serving alcohol in bars because drunk men would crawl back to their houses, beat up their wives and take the money that the poor women earned that day to buy more alcohol. I should’ve called the police. So, don’t be me.
I told this story to my Indian friend who visited me a couple of months ago and he told me that ‘it was extra normal’. Apparently, his uncle would come back drunk at night, take the knife and threaten to kill his brother or his wife. My friend thought it was funny and that it sounded like a soap opera. He thought it was ‘not a big deal’.
There lies the real reason why domestic violence is still a prominent issue in many countries. Nobody wants to get involved or do anything about it. It’s a family issue. Not something you want to get involved in.
I am not a victim, nor do I want to be. I just do not want to stay silent for the rest of my life. I ended up going to a University miles away from home. I moved away when I was 17 and I just go home for holidays these days.
Turns out education, having a job and living alone gives you a power that I never knew I had. I know now that I have the ability to do anything now. 15 year old me did not know that. Things are better now. Nobody has had the courage to touch me or my mother.
45% of women in India undergo some kind of domestic violence. Bell bajao is an anti domestic violence campaign in India. It means, ring the bell. The campaign urges men and women to ring the doorbell if you hear any kind of domestic violence in a household and ask a simple question like – if they could borrow some water or make a phone call. The diversion caused by an outsider might result in ended the violence that was going to take place and will inform the abuser that someone can hear him. Below is an advertisement for Bell Bajao.
This has helped maybe a hundreds of people across the nation. But it has not put an end to it. If you are someone who is going through any form of domestic violence, just remember that you can contact the authorities or walk away. 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men worldwide has undergone some kind of physical or mental violence. Raise your voice against it. Let’s make a stand against all forms of domestic violence.
P.s : This was a really hard article to write. I almost deleted it when my friend read it out to me. If someone out there finds it helpful or wants to talk, you can always leave a comment and I will try my best to get back to you.