Many of us view with suspicion, essential information about abuse and control that can save lives.
Basic information about recognising abuse [Recognizing Emotional Abuse], how it begins, the absolute non-negotiables, the need for support systems (etc) are treated as modern or western ideas.
Patterns in abuse – like isolating a victim, demeaning them, violence, threats, keeping a victim in dependence, controlling their personal choices, not valuing their happiness, being disrespectful to them – are treated as ‘adjustment problem’ 😦
Sharing an email. Do you think information about healthy relationships and how to recognise abuse could have helped the email writer in some way?
I have been reading your blog for quite some time now and have drawn courage and inspiration from many posts.
I would like to share my story with you with a hope that you and your readers will be able to provide a general guidance.
I come from an upper middle class family. There was constant reminders from family and friends that there is no male child or varis and that there is no need to invest in educating girls but to save money for marriage. None of this deterred my parents and they raised us well, without compromising in any form. My dad strongly believed that girls should be independent and for such girls marriage-alliances will not be an issue. Love marriage was discussed several times at home and my parents always said that who we choose to marry is entirely our decision and they will respect our choice. I still remember their words, “If you choose to marry a rickshaw fellow, we will still support your decision out of love for you but it is up to you decide if you will be happy with him for the rest of your life”.
I lost my mom when I was 18, and since then lived/studied in hostels. I finished my graduation and soon moved to Australia for further studies. Life was very tough in a foreign country without family and friends. It was then that my (future) husband came into my life at a time when I was lonely and lost. He stood by me in difficult times and with him I began to feel secure and stronger. We were very much in love and my dad didn’t oppose my decision. My husband and I come from two different parts of India, he is a North Indian and I am from South. Our language, culture and many things were very different, but at the time these things hardly mattered. Soon he talked to his parents about marrying a South Indian. I didn’t hear the actual conversation but I thought his parents would be happy with his son’s decision. (They are both well-educated post graduates). My MIL came to visit us after a month. We seemed to get along well and I had a feeling she liked me. The alliance was agreed by making a ‘roka’ ceremony and she went back to India for wedding preparations.
I believed all was well and happy that I would be marrying the love of my life with blessings from both the families. Contrary to my thoughts, my uncle called me one day pleading with me to forget about love and marry someone in our community. I soon sensed something was wrong and upon insistence he told me that my in-laws had some connections with the Police and they sent some policemen to my house to arrest my dad and whoever else was at home. [IHM: Warning Sign 1] Luckily, my dad wasn’t home but unfortunately my uncle was and they arrested him without giving out any details and jailed him overnight threatening that he will be in jail forever if he doesn’t convince me into forgetting the boy. My in-laws wanted the alliance to be broken from the girl’s end so they don’t have to hurt their only son. I was furious when I found out and put my foot down that I will not get married into such a family. But my husband stood by me and told his parents that if he gets married at all than it will only be me else he will remain a bachelor. Finally his parents had to give in and apologised to me, my dad and uncle and twisted the whole story saying that they only asked the police to enquire about family. Anyway with a lot of convincing and persuasion and of course drama, my wedding took place. I consoled myself that we will soon go back to Australia and in-laws interference will be very less. Oh boy how wrong was I!
Not even a month after marriage, there was constant nagging from my MIL to bring my husband’s only sister to Australia which he obliged and she was here to stay with us soon. I never had any issues with her and we got along fine. There was drastic change in my husband after marriage, [IHM: Warning Sign 2] he was constantly irritated with me. He would very often tell me that marrying me was a very bad decision as he didn’t know his ‘worth’ before and now he knows. Had he wished, he would have got a fairer, good looking bride. I didn’t believe him at first and thought he saying just joking. I started getting a complex that I am not good enough for him and maybe he really deserved someone who is better looking than me. I wanted to make up some way for my looks and make him a happy husband. I blindly followed whatever he asked me to do.  Our finances were merged and I no longer had any control over my salary. My husband would do all the banking transactions and I was given $50 as monthly expense. Even simple chores like buying groceries were (currently) handled by my husband. I remember the first time I got slapped  was when I bought some pasta home for $2.00 when the similar thing could be bought for 40cents. The physical abuse only put fear in me and I taught myself not to upset my husband ever again. Just not the financial independence, I also realised very soon that I didn’t have any more friends of my own.  For some or the other reasons, my husband would turn me against my friends sighting trivial things. The only women or friends I was allowed to talk was wives of his male friends. I gave up all my friendships to make him happy as I thought I’ll have to live with my husband not with friends. You could be wondering what happened to my family all this while, I was too ashamed  to discuss with anyone, as I didn’t want people  to think my husband is bad. I remember when we got groceries, I would ask for deo and he always bought men’s deo only and used to say there is no difference between men’s & women’s deo and I should use his to save money. I once got a beating in return for saying ‘get women’s deo and we both can use it if there is no difference’. Every time he hit me, he would apologise and convince me that I get a beating because I have done something wrong and he is only disciplining me and it hurts him too when he is hitting him. Mentally, physically & psychologically I surrendered to him. I think that is my biggest mistake ever.
There was so much pressure from fellow couples as most of his friends started having babies and it was our turn. I got pregnant  soon and the whole pregnancy was a very difficult one as the baby wasn’t growing well and I had gestational diabetes. Also there was continuous stress as my husband would not let me have maternity break for more than 6 weeks after childbirth. In my workplace, I was only entitled to 6 weeks of paid leave and if I wish to take it longer leave, then I had to go without pay which was not acceptable by my husband. Every time we had a discussion, he would strongly disapprove. I thought my child is my solace and didn’t want to let go of precious time with newborn. Well after lot of convincing, my husband agreed to 12 month maternity leave. My happiness didn’t last long as soon my in-laws arrived and the real trouble had only begun. My boy was born premature & I had several complications while delivery. My mother in law took control of the whole house including my son. She would only give him to me for feeding, I wasn’t even allowed to put him to sleep. While I was at home, both my in laws would tell me how bad I was for their son and how he has missed out on the opportunity to get a fairer beautiful bride. Now my task was not just making up to my husband for the lack of looks but also make up to my in-laws by being an obedient ‘bahu’. What was supposed to be a year after year visit became a permanent stay for my in-laws in Australia. I started a full time job after 10 months and found going back to work therapeutic. Against my husband and in-law’s wishes, is started making friends at work whom I wouldn’t discuss at home. For my ill luck, my husband got a full time job in the same company. As it was an issue of pride for him at work, he started loosening up a bit. He no longer controlled me in what I wear. I started having choices in buying clothes that I’d like to wear. Once after a fight at home, I discussed my issue with my colleagues/friends and they were shocked to know the truth. They slowly and steadily started brain washing me on how I am being abused by my husband and in laws. Talking to them made me realise how naïve I have been all these years and how my thoughts got clouded into believing that all this while I was making up for not having fairer skin.
I successfully persuaded my husband to allow me to have a credit card and access to banking details. I was allowed to buy anything under $10 without seeking his permission. I was also allowed to go out for lunches with my colleagues. In all this while my mother in law was taking in charge of the house. She didn’t want me to do washing as I wasted too much water and soap. I was restricted only to do dishes, cleaning & occasional cooking. I let her do whatever she wished as I wanted to avoid conflicts. Then came a time when it was my son’s first parent teacher meeting at school. I put in extra effort that morning for the meeting to look presentable. To my surprise, my husband drove me home instead saying I don’t deserve to go for the meeting and he will go with his mom as she knows better since she is teaching my son at home. I was flabbergasted, as parent teacher meeting for a kinder going child is not about study, it is more about getting to know the parents. No one cared for what I wanted, my husband said he was only being logical.
Four years were gone by and I got pregnant with second child. Unlike last time, this pregnancy was smooth. A girl was born, happy and healthy. I was very thankful for a complete family. My in-laws/husband were unhappy though as the girl was darker skinned, in other words, darker them me. I would get constant reminders again on how only if their son choose a fairer bride, they wouldn’t have to go thru having dark skinned grandchildren as theirs don’t look like north Indian at all. I couldn’t take insults anymore and gave it back to them (mind you my sister in law has got a permanent skin condition called Vitiglo and it pains me to hear that above all it is my in-laws who are judging kids for looks when they have their own kid with such condition) Once during such argument, my FIL kicked me out of my own home calling me ‘bloody south Indian’.
I was waiting in garage for my husband to return with a three month old baby and my son. I waited there for 4 hours before my husband arrived. He was very upset for his dad’s behaviour and went to confront his dad but was replied with a tight slap across his face for questioning his father. I eventually had to get my sister in law to interfere and explain to her parents what it will feel like if her in-laws treated her the same way.
Even though we never talked about it, there was unease and constant nasty undercurrent at home. The environment got toxic and it took a toll on me. Within a month, I was admitted to the hospital with a brain stroke. At thirty two years of age, I was diagnosed with high blood pressure and stroke. I managed to survive the first episode of stroke without any physical damage but my life hasn’t been the same since. I had a second stroke in another 6 months and doctors strictly warned me to change my lifestyle as they couldn’t put a finger on what is causing it except for stress. I have since been on medications that are for lifelong. Have had two major surgeries accounting to poor health. I am now on the verge of a life in a wheelchair as my legs have completely gone crooked. I look for happiness and strength from my children and haven’t given up on full time job. All my health problems are brushed away as minor issues. My Mil doesn’t even have the curtesy to ask me about my health. On many occasions, I wasn’t even offered a glass of water after returning from hospital stays.
My kids love me lot but they are totally controlled my MIL. She decides what the kids will wear, what they eat and when they sleep. I am only an entertainment segment when I get to play before bed after finishing the house chores. My Mil is a control freak, I am not even allowed to put clothes for charity without consenting permission from her. She has got this weird desire/habit of saving, only brings vegetables at the end of day that are sold on special price and half of them are rotten. We never bought fresh veggies. I am not allowed to even throw away stale food without her permission, just to quote few examples of her freakiness.
Just recently my MIL got sick with flu and was admitted to hospital. She has since been discharged and made a good recovery. But for last 3 weeks, I have been too busy attending to house, kids, work and in laws. I have been working around the clock meeting all their needs. My husband hasn’t offered to help me in any way and last night we had a fight over how I am not doing enough for his parents. I couldn’t take it anymore and I blasted with all the anger. I told him how I can never forget the fact that my Mil didn’t even offer me water when I was sick, how they do not want a darker skin bahu and how happy their life would have been if a Punjabi bahu came home instead. I didn’t hide the fact that I am looking after his parents only to please him. I told him that whether it’s my parents or his, there is always going to be a conflict and it is us as a couple who need to make adjustments and compliment each other instead of looking for flaws in me alone. Yet again I was silenced with a slap.
I have had enough and can’t take it anymore. I cannot keep battering my self-confidence for the sake of a man who hasn’t got any respect for his wife. I don’t have the heart and feelings anymore for his parents.
Please give me some thoughts and please don’t ask me to leave him as it is not possible. I have tried in vain several times to get this parents to live separately. I don’t see that happening. For my own sanity and health, I am coming out in open requesting you to please read my letter and offer some words of wisdom.
Thanks in anticipation.
Recognizing Emotional Abuse – Priya
Changing Someone (or oneself) – Priya