This is a post not written by me … but by Meghna Pant, a friend, a writer and a Journalist. I am sharing it here with her permission. There is not a word in this post which I don’t subscribe to
I didn’t think I could do it. I didn’t think I could write this article. Every time I tried to I broke down. Now, after eight years, I have finally been able to.
And you should read this article. Not because I have written it but because it is important. You should read this because a woman should know that she does not deserve to be hit. She doesn’t ‘ask for it’. She needs to know that she has options. You should read this article because a man should know what it does to a woman when he hits her. How he strips her of all dignity, respect and self-worth. He should know how many years a woman suffers when a man she loves and trusts raises his hand at her. You should read this article because you could save someone’s life. You actually could.
One evening when I was at hishouse he hit me. We hadn’t fought or argued; I was, in fact, quietly studyingfor an exam. He began by shouting and screaming at me. He pinned me into acorner against the wall and pointed his fingers at me accusatorily. He calledme names. His cheeks had turned red and his eyes, which I loved so much, weresquinted in indescribable rage. Then he spat at me. He was scaring me – who wasthis man? – so I pushed him away. He punched me. I remember that my skullshook. My glasses flew off the bridge of my nose. Tears welled up in my eyesand my cheeks burnt with a hot acid sensation. No one had ever raised theirhand at me before.
Then the man I loved grabbedmy neck and began to choke me.
Again, I pushed him away andtold him to stop: was he trying to kill me?
That seemed to further enragehim. He dragged me to his bedroom, threw me on the bed and proceeded to chokeme again. He punched my arms. He punched my stomach. My survival instinct toldme not to fight back. I went limp. Then he pulled his hands away, flipped mearound and twisted my arm behind my back, lifting me as if trying to break myback. I was then yanked around again and slapped a few times.
He continued to keep shouting.I don’t remember what he was saying. I don’t remember what exactly he wasdoing, but I do remember feeling like this was happening to someone else. Ibecame numb. I think I went into shock.
At some point he let me go. Iran into the bathroom, locked it and stayed in there for a good hour or two,weeping, holding myself in disbelief. After all, educated women from goodfamilies don’t get hit.
Two days later I failed myexam.
The second time he hit me itbegan with a silly argument. This time too it began with him punching me hardacross my face. Again, my skull shook, my cheeks burnt and my glasses flewacross the room. I realised at that moment that he had a habit of hitting. If Ibecame submissive, like the last time, he would never stop. And I had to stophim. So I tried to slap him. I could not reach him so my hand barely touchedhis face. But he grabbed my hand tightly and told me he would break all myfingers. ‘I’ll begin with the thumb,’ he said menacingly and caught hold of mythumb, twisting it backwards. ‘Stop it, you’re hurting me.’ I yelled and whenhe let go, I ran into the bedroom. The same room where he had first hit me. Iwas suddenly afraid: what if there was a repeat of what had happened the lasttime? I locked the room door. But he knew a way to open the door from theoutside, something he’d done many times before. I was sitting at the edge ofthe bed when he stormed in and again began to hit me. At some point I stood upto push him away. That’s when he lifted me and flung me across the bed. Ilanded on my neck on the hard floor. I fainted. I don’t know what happened nextbut when I came into consciousness he was no longer in the room. He must havechecked for my breathe, known I’m still alive and made no effort to revive me.
It has been many years sincethese two and other similar incidents. In this period I have written novels,short stories and many columns about many things, but my few attempts to writeabout my abuse end with me breaking down. Yet, every time I read reports ofviolence against women I feel like I must gather strength within me to speakout. I know women go through worse, yet I wish no woman to go through even alittle of what I went through, and if she does, as the increasing rate of physicalabuse shows us, she must know that there are many like her and, moreimportantly, that she has options.
Naïve and inexperienced as Iwas, I didn’t deal with my abuse with the clarity and strength that time hasnow afforded me. I hope that by reading about what I did wrong women in similarsituations can better deal with their abuse.
DEMANDAN APOLOGY OR WALK
I trusted him enough to thinkthat he would apologise. After the first time he hit me, I had come out of thebathroom to find him in bed, curled up in the fetal position, sobbing. He saidhe didn’t know what had come over him and that it would never happen again. Iwas young, innocent and madly in love with him. I wanted to believe him. Youcould’ve killed me, was all I muttered in chiding. The second time, and all thetimes after, there was no acknowledgement or apology.
Studiesindicate that even if theincidents of physical abuse only occur one or two times in therelationship, he will continue to physically assault you. Minetoo seemed to spend a lot of time thinking about what I had done wrong anddevising ways to make me pay for it. It was almost a fantasy for him.
I realise now that, in oneway, I was to blame for his lack of remorse. I hadn’t immediately ended therelationship. I hadn’t demanded an apology. I hadn’t possessed the courage todiscuss what had happened. I had blanked out portions of the incidents because,like an accident victim, my memory could not revisit these dark spaces. I hadwanted to forget. It was too painful. Therefore, unintentionally, I let a manthink that it was acceptable to hit me.
Never tolerate violence. If aman hits you once, he will do it again.
DON’TLIVE IN FEAR OF HIM
I was afraid of him. One dayI actually kept a kitchen knife in my purse to protect myself in case he attackedme. I lived in constant fear of displeasing him because I didn’t know whatwould trigger a violent reaction in him. For as all women of abusive partnersknow, such men are vindictive and petty. If I made a mistake he would go to anyextent to demean me. If we had an argument his reaction would be to comecharging towards me with his fists raised in the air.
An abusive man will maintainthe threat of violence. Keeping dangerous objects close at hand, for example,is a tactic of intimidation. Mine always kept a small ornate knife around.Twice he brought the blade of the knife to my neck and said that he might justslit my throat for fun. He laughed as if it was a joke.
Act. Once you become a victimyou will continue to stay one.
BEWARY OF EMOTIONAL ABUSE
Physical abuse does not stopat hitting. It takes many more ugly forms, mostly in the form of emotional oreconomic abuse. After all, if a man hits you, he cannot possibly love orrespect you. Mine lost no opportunity to demean and criticise me. He insultedme with the worst adjectives used to describe people. Initially I wassurprised. I had always been a happy person, surrounded by a doting family,loving friends and able to get along with almost anyone. So why was he thefirst person in my life to say all these things about me? These people don’ttruly love you, he’d retort. I am only one who loves you and that’s why I tellyou the truth about yourself. He told me that I didn’t deserve to be loved orto be happy.
It reached such a ridiculousstate that if I ever told him that he was doing something wrong he would mimicthat back to me. In fact, once when he slapped me really hard and I warned himthat I’d tell people, he threatened me: if you tell anyone that I hit you, Iwill tell them that you are actually the one who hits me. I’ll tell them thatyou are a liar. He put the onus on me, acting like the hitting was my fault. Iwas provoking him into it.
My resistance wore off and Istarted believing the things he said about me. I was wrong. I was dumb. I wasstupid. I couldn’t do anything right. I started thinking of myself as aterrible person. I started thinking that I was the one who was crazy. Hestripped me away of all my confidence. It took me many years to regain my senseof confidence and to begin liking myself again.
The worst part, I realisenow, is that he made me start believing that physical abuse was normal in arelationship.
A man who hits you will – toestablish his control over you – assault you emotionally as well. Don’t believea word he says.
BECAREFUL FROM WHOM YOU TAKE ADVISE
People willwonder what you derived from staying in an abusive relationship.How can you tell them that you wanted the abuse to end, but not therelationship because in between the episodes ofabuse he was nice to you?Also, you are afraid of being judged. You are scared to be alone. And if you’re married it is more difficult to leave because you may have the children and your family tothink about. Remember, the excuses that you make for staying in an abusiverelationship will seem trite once you’ve left him. Trust me.
You may also receive somerather shocking reactions.
An old friend of minedeclared that unless a man sent you to the hospital it was not an act ofviolence. Even if your incidents of physical abuse seem minor ascompared to what is shown on television or printed in newspapers, it is stillabuse. There isn’t a ‘better’ or ‘worse’ form of physical abuse. Even a pushcan severely injure someone. Theextent does not matter, the intention does.
I didn’t tell most of ourcommon friends what he’d done. Some part of me wanted to protect the man I’dloved for years and to end our relationship with dignity. Yet, there was a friendI did tell and he still chose to remain friends with him. You are strong, accomplished and look reasonably happy,he asked me, so how could you possibly become a target?
Cut such people off. Don’tlet their opinion matter. You don’t need to be surrounded by people who supportmen who beat women, doubt you or have no respect for your life. No one, noteven your father or mother, is allowed to diminish the horror of what you havebeen through.
Fortunately, such reactionsare not common. Almost everyone, including some of my rather conservativeaunties and my traditional grandmother, told me that I should not have put upwith this. Most people were incredibly kind.
So, tell people. Reach out.Spread awareness. Don’t let another woman’s life be ruined.
He seemed mature, calm andcaring. He did not look like he could hurt a fly. In the early days of ourrelationship he treated me like a princess. The fact is that abusive men do notcome with a placard. You will likely not recognise them till the first timethey raise their hand. But you can recognise the tendency to violence that aman may have by identifying certain characteristics.
If a man is oversensitive,petty, vindictive, negative, over possessive, suspicious and critical, with a bad and unpredictable temper, he may be someone who cannot rein in his emotions andtherefore more susceptible to hit you. He will likely view the worldsuspiciously. No one is his friend. Everyone is out to get him. Stonewalling isalso a common recurrence with abusive men, making communication with themalmost impossible. If he tries to control you and dominate you, to assert hispower over you on a regular basis, be alert.
Look closely at the family ofthe man you’re with. Has there been a history of abuse? Has he seen his fatherhit his mother? Does he have a behavioral pattern of getting into fights? Mineonce beat up a boy in his school so badly that the boy had to be hospitalised. Such men are more likely to resort toviolence.
An abusive man will show sometell tale signs. Do not justify or rationalise such behaviour even if you’re inlove or lonely. Be attentive. Be honest to yourself. Be smart.
If your partner acknowledgeshis mistakes and stops, if he is willing to change, then by all means keep thefaith and carry on. Take him to a psychiatrist. Make him control his temper.
Meditate. Meet friends. Takeup hobbies. Help him become a positive and calm person.
Tell some trustworthy people,especially your parents. Involving other people can keep him in check for thefuture because he knows you have found a way to protect yourself.
Identify the trigger pointsthat send your partner off the edge. For example, the first time he hit me hewas going through a family crisis (of which I was informed much later) thatproduced a deep dread in him of our own committed relationship. Instead ofdiscussing it with me, he expressed his panic by hitting me. Recognise thesetrigger points and work together on maintaining calm when they occur.
If he had even once sincerelyapologised and agreed to get professional help for his abusive habits, I wouldhave happily held his hand and walked into the sunset with him. It’s adesperate hope we all cling to that the one we love will change for the better.Sadly, it rarely happens. In our patriarchal society men often hit because theythink it proves their masculinity. Additionally, a man who hits you wants tocontrol you and diminish you; he will likely not let you give him advice.
So if he is unwilling toacknowledge what he’s done and to stop doing it, don’t wait around. He will notchange. Your hope cannot make a man stop hitting you. If you are too kind ortoo patient, he may, one day, take things too far and you could end up dead.Don’t be deluded into thinking that this cannot happen to you when it has,sadly, happened to many women before, even when the man didn’t intend to killthe woman.
The first step is thehardest. It will feel impossible. You’ll tell yourself you can’t do it. But youcan. So get out of the house immediately. If you have children, take them withyou, or he may threaten to hurt them. Tell your parents. Stay with a friend,stay with family, stay in a hostel. Be out of reach to him. Report him to thepolice. The law under The DomesticViolence Act 2005 protects you. Go to a woman’s organisation or a socialworker. If you’re married, find a lawyer. Reassure yourself that you are notalone. There are many people to support you.
Understandthat leaving an abusive situation is a process, not an event.
You will cry. A lot. Probablyevery day for many months, maybe years. You will feel depressed, helpless,drained, scared, ashamed, and confused. Acknowledge the reality of yoursituation. Be strong. It will only get better. The scars will heal, as will thewounds. The tears will dry up. You will no longer feel a weight on yourshoulders. You will feel light. Relieved. Free. You will smile again. You’ll beable to trust again. You may also love again, or not. It doesn’t matter. Theworse is behind you and your future can be anything you want it to be.
Sometimes I find it difficultto believe that I’m still here. But I am. And, more than anything else, I amlaughing again. You will too.
– Published in Femina (July 2015)