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16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence

"I" Stories: Turning life around

Alisha Maharaj

2008-12-03, Issue 410

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/16days/52394

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I grew up in the arms of poverty, having just basic meals and two sets of my uniform throughout my primary and high school years. One pair of sandals got me through many years right up to high school. As a Hindi speaking child, I had to live within a certain protocol. I felt as if I did not have any rights. I was not supposed to demand, but to do as I was told. Doing household chores and my schoolwork was not enough. I had to do the homework of my brothers as well.

I grew up in the arms of poverty, having just basic meals and two sets of my uniform hroughout my primary and high school years. One pair of sandals got me through many years right up to high school. As a Hindi speaking child, I had to live within a certain protocol. I felt as if I did not have any rights. I was not supposed to demand, but to do as I was told.

Doing household chores and my schoolwork was not enough. I had to do the homework of my brothers as well. If I did not, I would be beaten, called names, and sworn at. At times, I felt I deserved what came to me. To keep the peace I would do all that I was told to do. Numerous times, I hated my body and wished myself death.

My teenage years became more torturous. My brothers were very dominating and demanded a lot from me. The load of homework from them became a lot and it had to be done right. At age 14 years, my dad passed away and poverty grew intensely, and so did the abuse. My mum could not do much about it. Even if she tried to defend me, abuse would come her way, my brothers swearing, screaming, and breaking of dishes. High school was difficult. To me, this was how Indian girls grew up.

My tears did not seem to be exhausted and the downpour would continue. When I finished matric my mum found an escape for myself and that would be marriage. She found a suitable suitor for me straight after matric. I was not allowed to study afterwards, as it was not what Indian girls did. I was married off against my wishes.

My husband seemed to be the knight in shining armour that was going to make my problems disappear. He seemed to be angel like, sent by God to protect me and carry me away from all the pain. At first the marriage was a perfect bed of roses. Then, the alcohol and abuse started. The dominating behavior took off like a jumbo jet. The verbal, psychological, emotional, financial and sexual abuse became a normal thing in marriage. There was no way of getting out of the marriage.

To get out meant going back to the abuse that I left. Indian girls do not leave their marital home at all. There cultural beliefs and myths were that they stick to their marriage and endure all no matter what. I told no one of the abuse and continued to cry in silence. About ten years back I found out about an advice desk. This took me by surprise as I had then only come to realise that I had been a victim all my life.

As a way of getting out, I applied to learn counseling skills and worked as a volunteer at the advice desk. This too, was against my husband’s wishes and I would continue to serve the advice desk without his knowledge. When he would find out I served a shift, I would take the brunt and abuse. I became so numbed that I became a living corpse and shut everything out. The abuse did not matter anymore because I could not feel.

The only love that prevailed in me was the love for my children. There was no other love. Going through all the programmes and workshops made a huge difference to me and I have healed and become stronger. I became a mediator and am now financially secure and a little independent. The abuse still continues from time to time. I have since learnt not to let it affect me emotionally. The programmes and the workshops that I have attended has made me realise that one can turn their life around.

I have come to a stage in life where I realise that life is a gift and we need to live it. I received my gift very late in life and I plan to live it to the fullest. Life is never perfect but I have learnt to make each day count and face every challenge life throws at me. My experiences had taught me to teach others that abuse is never right.

One should not have to endure abuse and stay quiet about it. Speak up and make that difference. Life is for living. Live life to the fullest! No one should take abuse especially not by the opposite sex. You are made for them to love you and that’s the way it should be!

* Alisha Maharaj is not her real name
* This story is part of the “I” Stories series produced by the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service for the Sixteen Days of Activism on Gender Violence.

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