By Sarah Kellapatha
I remember when I was about ten years old and living in Dhaka, a Sri Lankan family moved there. They had two daughters and we would often get together for play dates with children of other family friends. The family seemed normal, the wife was meek but we didn’t see anything wrong there. Never did we imagine that the husband would turn into a vicious beast when he was intoxicated. But we were never aware of what happened within the confines of their home. It all came out when all the children would get together for frequent play dates on weekend afternoons. The eldest daughter *Samanthi who was aged eight at the time would never play or interact with the other children. She’d sit by herself in a corner and watch the others including her little sister try their hand at dressing up Barbie or winning a game of cards. Often, she’d look scared. This fear in her eyes would be confusing and the rest of us never really understood why she behaved in that manner.
Time passed and she started complaining of blurry eyesight and feeling faintish. Since the family was relatively new to living in Dhaka, Mama took Samanthi and her mother to an eye surgeon. Upon checking her eyesight and discovering that it was absolutely fine, the eye surgeon referred Samanthi to a paediatrician. The paediatrician was confused, wondering why the child would complain when there wasn’t anything wrong. She began to question the mother . She asked if everything was alright at home and if she and her husband ever argue in front of their children. First, the mother got defensive and flatly denied that she and her husband argued or fought. Sensing something wrong, Mama told her it was normal for parents to argue and that it was important that she tell the truth to the paediatrician. With much hesitance, the mother admitted that they do indeed have arguments in the presence of their two daughters but that was all she said. Later on, Mama found out from other friends that those arguments weren’t just arguments but acts of violence. In his state of frequent intoxication, the husband would open the refrigerator and start yanking every bottle, jar and dish out. He would hurl a strawberry jam filled jar at his wife followed by a bottle containing tomato sauce. When she would duck and narrowly miss, the jars and bottles would crash into the kitchen wall thus the stains of jam and sauce. He would take dishes and use them too. Sometimes, he would just use his bare hand to beat his wife. And whenever these acts of violence broke out, their two daughters would bear witness to every single thing. When they would run and try to protect their mother, he would push them away fiercely and continue the violence.
And when things would get really bad, he locked the two girls in their room so they would not interfere in him beating his wife. And every time he locked them in their room, the elder daughter would hold her little sister tight, wipe away her tears and press her ear to the door trying to figure out what was happening outside just by paying close attention to the sounds. If this wasn’t appalling enough, her father would feel horribly guilty the next day. To make up for his behaviour, he would go out and purchase a gift for his wife, often an expensive handbag, pair of shoes or a piece of jewellery. For his daughters, he would take them to the expensive toy store at the Gulshan Market and buy two of the most expensive Barbie dolls there. Then he would take them out to dinner. To one of the finest restaurants in the city. And then magically, everything would be alright until he started it again. Again and again and again. I can’t count the number of times Mama approached the wife and tried to talk to her. To tell her that it wasn’t a joke to be trapped in an abusive marriage. That the abuse was terribly unhealthy for her daughters. But she never paid heed to what Mama had to say. Soon, she drifted apart from Mama and grew distant. In the December of 2002, we left Bangladesh and to date, we do not know of what happened to that family. Last we heard that the husband got a job transfer and the entire family moved to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. But that’s all. We don’t know whether the daughters are fine or whether the wife is subject to his abuse. We are aware that she hasn’t left him yet. But would she ever have the courage to leave him. To defy his acts of violence.
But this is just one of so many stories. How many women unknown to us must silently suffer the wrath of her boyfriend or husband? How many of them stay in a marriage with the hope of their husbands turning over a new leaf? How many of them stay in a marriage for ‘the sake of their children’? How many women are in abusive relationships? How many of them eventually get married to these abusive men? How many of them share a bed at night, sleeping in fear of the monster next to them? How many women do we know who wake up everyday in the morning, cook, clean and make tea for their husbands irrespective of the violence they have to put up with? What about the verbal abuse which is just as horrific? Emotional and mental trauma galore. There are many. Several, hundreds and we need to take action against the violence. Because it isn’t funny and because violence is scary. Domestic violence is a large issue here in Sri Lanka and several cases of abuse are reported. Often, the details are horrifying and one can only imagine what kind of strength these women are equipped with.
Never ever stay in a relationship with an abusive man. You need to stop telling yourself that he’s going to change. You need to stop telling yourself that the abuse is going to stop. Unless you have the courage to leave him, it will never stop. You are worthy of yourself and no man should hurl derogatory terms at you or beat you senseless for something you weren’t aware was wrong. You don’t deserve the blue marks on your arms, hidden by clothes. You don’t deserve the mental anguish. Remember that.
*name changed to protect the privacy of the individual
Sarah is a member of Reach Out. She’s a freelance journalist, food columnist and she blogs atwww.turquoisecupcakes.wordpress.com. Her opinions are her own.