You can’t break me
The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women just went by. We spoke to women from the world of television and cinema, who were trapped in abusive relationships. They shared what gave them the strength to fight back their perpetrator and rebuild their lives all over again.Updated: Dec 04, 2019 13:25 IST
One of the most flawed perceptions about domestic violence is that empowered women rarely face it. But the truth is that social and economic backgrounds do not make any difference when women find themselves trapped in such traumatic situations. You could be a progressive, independent, educated woman and you could still be silently putting up with domestic violence. “A woman might be from higher sociology economic background and in a high powered profession but may be enduring severe violence at home. Recently, the voice of Mel B of the Spice Girls fame for Women’s Aid as an ambassador serves as a great voice for women who may not look like victims. Who could have thought that Scary Spice could be a domestic violence survivor? On a daily basis, it’s heartbreaking to see women put up with violence for years silently and feel ashamed of speaking out about it,” says journalist, author and filmmaker, Reham Khan, who has counseled barristers and human right activists to walk out of abuse situations.
This happens because women are conditioned to undermine domestic violence. There are societal pressures, and domestic violence is often shrugged as ‘gharelu mamla’ by neighbours, relatives and even the police. And many remain in love with their perpetrator, hoping that he would change one day, only to be killed by him one day.
The United Nations General Assembly has designated November 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. We spoke to domestic violence survivors from the world of television and cinema, who shared with us how they fought against domestic violence and walked out stronger than ever.
‘I did survive and I’m happier and stronger’
Journalist-filmmaker Reham Khan, the former wife of Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan had married her first cousin, a British psychiatrist, Ejaz Rehman when she was 19. She put up with emotional and physical abuse for 13 years. “People view me as a confident woman who will not put up with bad behaviour. However, for women in intimate relationships, the dynamics are different. They don’t call it crazy love for nothing. We try to save a relationship while sacrificing our personal safety and freedom,” she says. Reham says that the biggest hurdle police and support workers face even in the West is normalisation of domestic abuse. “Women do not realise that they are being abused. In the UK this year there has been a 44% increase in deaths related to domestic violence. Women might even report an incident but will not press charges. This is either because of crazy love for the perpetrator or because of fear of the repercussions,” she says. She shares how despite her educated, privileged background, she put up with abuse on a daily basis. “I found no support from family or friends. I struggled alone. It was difficult to muster up the courage to report the perpetrator,” she says. Even after the divorce, it took Reham a few years to muster the courage to break her ‘so called dignified silence’. Her marriage with Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan also ended in trauma. “A high profile marriage with a powerful man exposed me to another kind of abuse. This time, a man I was married to collaborated with a man I had left to abuse me publicly. It was emotional abuse and much harder to recover. But I did survive and not only am happier but stronger,” she says.
‘Only a happy mom can raise a happy child’
When you talk to Dalljiet Kaur, it’s difficult to imagine that such a lively, cheerful person with an infectious smile could have lived a past that can destroy the strongest of people. But there was no way that Dalljiet could let that trauma haunt her present. The actor had allegedly faced torture and abuse in her marriage with actor Shalin Bhanot over six years, including a murderous attack. It was not easy to put the pieces together after the soul-sapping experience. But Dalljiet found strength in her six-year-old son Jaydon to not crumble and take charge of her life. She wanted her son to look up to her as someone who fought her battle courageously. Her love for her child gave her the courage to fight back, become independent and above all, work on herself to transform into a strong, happy individual. In the process, she learnt one of the biggest lesson of her life – how important it is to love one’s own self. “Being a mom changed me overnight. Till the time I was not a mother, I could still hope that things would get better, but when Jaydon my life, I decided that there was no way I could continue,” she says. The biggest lesson that Dalljiet learnt was unless a mother is genuinely happy, she won’t be able to raise a happy child. “For a long time, I concentrated only on loving my husband and in-laws and those around me. I loved everyone except myself. Today, I things to make myself happy. Women take pride in sacrificing their own joy all the time which brings them grief. When the mother is sad, it’s impossible for the child to experience joy,” she says.
‘Don’t let anyone kill your self-worth’
Bollywood stunt woman Geeta Tandon quietly kept getting bashed up and raped by her husband almost every night for years. Once, he even picked up a gas cylinder to hit Geeta. With two little children to feed, and no support system, walking out the house seemed impossible. Every time Geeta tried escaping her perpetrator, she was discouraged by relatives, neighbours and even the police. “They would tell me things like, ‘bachchon ka muh dekho, bachchon ke liye baap ka naam zaruri hai, akeli aurat, duniya jeene nahin degi, adjust kar lo, maaf kar do and so on. (Think about your children, they need their father, it’s a big bad world out there, you will be exploited, try to adjust somehow, forgive him). I realise how silly such advice was. Leaving him liberated me and changed my life forever,” she says. Geeta decided she was not going to suffer silently and die in his hands. She left her home with her two toddlers, lived in a gurudwara for a few days, took whatever odd job she could find till the time she made an entry into Bollywood as a stunt artist.
Geeta says that after she became a stunt artist by fluke, a profession dominated by men, and learnt dangerous stunts such as high falls, car stunts, stunt fighting, running through fire, she was surprised to realise how strong she was, both mentally and physically. “A woman is conditioned to believe that she is weak. But that’s a lie. She is as strong physically as a man. If I had any idea about my own strength, I would have tossed him in the air before he could strike me,” says the woman, who was married at 15 and became a mother at 19.
Geeta’s advice to women: If your partner slaps you, please slap him back right away. Do not hope, wait, pray for an apology. The only answer to a slap is a slap right across his cheek. Love, live-in, marriage whatever it is, it is all about equality. If you will choose to ignore, you will come across as weak, and your oppressor will get a free hand to keep torturing you.
You should be your first priority
Subuhi Joshi can’t forget the day she put the latch of her apartment with trembling fingers even as her nose kept bleeding. She called the police, fearing that her partner could kill her anytime. “He started banging the door. My house help was also petrified. That night, I decided to move out of this toxic relationship forever,” says the actor who was engaged to TV comedian Siddharth Sagar. The actor says that in the name of ‘sanskriti’, women are taught to be submissive to men, and such conditioning sometimes costs them their lives. “There are so many women who quietly endure violence. This must change. Women must learn to prioritise their own selves. You can’t put yourself last,” she says.
Subuhi says that she herself is responsible for the ordeal she lived. “I know I was wrong. Once a man raises his hand and we don’t stop him, thinking, he got angry, he won’t do it again, he will change, we are encouraging violence. We, as women have to stop such behaviour at the first instance,” she says. Subuhi urges women to reach out to people for help. “It is important to have a support system and that support can be your family, friends or even an NGO, says the actor.
‘The society can’t decide your fate’
With an eight-month-old child in her lap, actor Chahatt Khanna freed herself of her toxic marriage with actor Farhan Mirza. The fear of being judged and persecuted by the society had deterred her fight for her freedom. “I was scared of ridicule and criticism that the society would have subjected me to. So, I stayed in the marriage for four years,” she says. Chahatt’s mother talked her out of the abusive relationship. “It has taken a serious toll on my mental and physical health. I knew that I was going to perish in that situation,” she says. Sailing through the storm, she has learnt one lesson: Men and women aren’t equal, women are stronger! “Women have a lot of mental and emotional strength, and perhaps that’s why God makes them go through such situations – because they can endure,” says the actor. Chahatt had the most heartless remarks coming her way when she ended her marriage. “I often get to hear, why did I give birth to two children if I was trapped in such a marriage. People don’t understand that children keep you sane, they give you strength to fight. When you return home, you are energised by looking at their faces,” she says.
Chahatt says that women should not let the society decide their fate. “Do not break down due to social pressures. Is your marriage affecting your sanity? Then your responsibility towards yourself is more than anything else in the world,” she says. Once you have the will, you will always find a way. “Take your stree dhaan. Use it to support yourself. Sell it and become independent. Call a friend, they will help you, stay with them. Reach out to your people. You don’t want your child to suffer that life of grief. If you take a step in the right direction, God will help. You just have to take the leap,” says Chahatt.