This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Sonal Kothari. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

A Letter To Every Woman Who Has Been In An Abusive Marriage

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Yours wasn’t a love marriage but everything about it made it look like a match that God and you had conspired together. You had never seen him before you saw his photograph on your dad’s phone when he asked for your hand in marriage. Both of you were smart, educated and were astoundingly compatible. Your likes, choice of food, and love for nature made it a perfect match. Nobody would admit it, but many women were in awe of the bond between you and him while many of our men acted snobbish and superior to us. You got married half a year later and moved to his city to live with his family.

You were versatile. You were good at sports, academics, cooking and socialising. You loved having nights out with your friends. You believed in God. You loved to party and watch movies at home with homemade popcorn. You were creative. You were retro. Your parents had taught you every skill there was, they never discriminated between a boy and girl, and taught you that you both were the same.

You had your dream graduation. You had the best friends. You strived to achieve what you planned. You even got to marry the man of your dreams, one that many of us dream of marrying. You had dreamt of joining the police force. You wanted to study. You wanted to work. You were pretty and humble. But you had given it all up for him because he wanted a ‘homely’ wife which meant you had to stay at home with his mum and manage the household. Yet you were happy and you didn’t regret giving up your dreams because you now dreamt of having a family with him, loving and living together, till death did you part. So adjusting in any environment would not have been difficult for you. Right?

After the marriage, you decided to wear sarees because that was the norm his family was comfortable with. You agreed. You buried those pretty dresses and heels deep inside the closet. In fact, you wore sarees confidently and carried them with more ease than most women did.

It all began with the slow and soft verbal abuse made of seemingly harmless comments. Then came the disapproval of your housekeeping skills and then something else. Slowly, it began happening in front of his family and friends. After that it wasn’t about disapproval – you couldn’t see it turn into clear insults. Initially, they laughed it off, but slowly, things got serious and he would sit there and derogate you while the onlookers kept themselves behind his abusive noise.

A month later you came back to visit your parents. While you looked, laughed and talked the same,  your smile wasn’t reaching your eyes. Something wasn’t right, but you decided to keep it to yourself, maybe because it wasn’t that serious. You thought it was all about settling in. You thought it would soon be alright. You wanted him happy and were ready to do as told in the name of ‘adjusting’ and being a ‘responsible’ and ‘loving’ wife.

Then came the demands. He told you had to do as his mother says otherwise it would upset him. You cooked three meals a day and stood beside the table each time they ate not matter how tired, hungry or busy you were. You had to dust and wipe the house for hours every morning, no matter how squeaky clean it was. You had to clean the toilets by hand, not with a brush, it was disgusting, but you did it anyway. You had to wash brass utensils with bare hands and ash, even if your nails split down the middle. You gave up your phone and all your jewellery. You did everything they asked to avoid their tantrums, didn’t you?

You began to realise something was wrong. Your room didn’t have a latch and the lock was open to everyone in the house. You told him about this but he waved it off saying you didn’t need a lock while you stayed with family and your own people. You weren’t allowed to rest at noon or sit in your bedroom, just because. You didn’t complain because you didn’t want to upset him by making him feel he wasn’t doing enough for you. His brother visited the room every so often, while you slept, washed, or changed clothes. This time you told him about it and he called you a liar. You told his mother and she blamed you for alluring her little son.

The gas lighting started from here.

They told you weren’t cooking right and no matter how hard you try, you would ruin a meal because it would always turn out to be too salty, spicy or bitter. You, the girl who cooked lip-smacking dishes couldn’t hold the frying pan in her hands now. Then they told you had developed the habit of lying because their little brother/son could never lay his dirty eyes on you. You were asking too much of them, even if it was just a short rest after a tiring day or a visit to the doctor when you fell sick. They made you believe that your family, friends and cousins were bad people and didn’t allow you to talk to them for months. You weren’t allowed to visit the temple or meet the local relatives unless they accompanied you there and back. No one spoke to you for days because it was your fault.

You began to fear them from this day.

You were left with nobody but a mirror to talk to until the day he smashed it before you. That was the day when you found out about his alleged affair. You confronted him and he responded by smacking the belt on the floor and threatening to beat you. He made you feel that it was your fault he was having an affair. You cursed yourself for being a bad wife. You tried to forget his disloyalty and his affair. You loved him just like before.

From that day on, it kept getting worse. It wasn’t verbal abuse anymore.

It was that night when he slapped you because he was intoxicated. You forgave him because he was not in his senses. One day he got you a pretty dress. He asked you to wear it with his friends. You were confused but you obeyed because you didn’t want to upset him. Later he blamed you for being slutty. He got you drunk even though you didn’t want to drink, clicked pictures of your bedroom that night and laughed at them with his family and friends.

He threatened that he would send them to everyone if you didn’t do as told. A few days later his father began to eye you as you worked in the kitchen in the morning. You tried to unsee it because they said it was your imagination, until one day his little brother came and tried to force hug you in front of his mother. You tried to push him away but his mother said you were at fault by not letting him express his pure love. You got slapped that evening again for expressing your ingratitude towards them. His mother began to drag you out of the house by your hair because she was angry. You wouldn’t let go. You got punched this time.

You were confined to the four walls of his house, with occasional social gatherings where you were forced to look happy, otherwise, there were consequences. One day he took your hand and forced it onto the hot pan because you bled the previous night.

You began to distrust yourself.

You still believed in him. He told you that they were straightening you and your ill-mannerisms. Maybe you felt that he still loved you. You tried to adjust with whatever scraps of love and warmth you could get, until one day, they didn’t let you eat. They would throw away the leftover food and made you sleep hungry for days. Nobody would talk to you. You craved the touch of another human being. You wanted someone to hold your hand, stroke your head, or at least ask how you felt.

You were like the frog in a pot of water on the fire, who bore the heat until it was too late and couldn’t jump out to save itself.

The day you decided you wouldn’t succumb, was the day you left.

Then came the day when he decided to abuse you with words no one should hear. You kept silent until the moment when you couldn’t take it any longer and decided to break it off. You asked them why they were torturing and abusing you? He had sent your video everywhere. Something didn’t feel right and you knew he didn’t deserve you.

The next day your father came and took you home. You had met after months, and he couldn’t recognise you. You had marks on your face and body which were proof of the torture they put you through. Your saree hung on your shoulders like rags on hangers. You looked malnourished. Your nails and heels bled. Your eyes were tearless, but they cried out. You had imagined your death here. He seemed an angel from heaven when he said he had come to take you home.

When you returned a year later, you were no longer the girl you were. You were weak, you were not ready to believe what he had done to you. You had given in to your fate and your heartless in-laws.

Yet here you stand against all those who tried to silence you.

You always wondered why it happened to you, haven’t you?

It wasn’t your fault.

They were the one’s with the wrong goals, trying to achieve the wrong things and hence, you were like a mountain of obstacles to them. You showed them that their possessions were not enough to lure you in. You were too strong for their weak-minded games. You were too valiant for their cowardly and spineless acts. You reminded them of the lack of substance and truth their hearts possessed. Every time they saw you, they felt an invisible smack on their face. They couldn’t stand your veracity and truthfulness.

Now you know why it happened to you – it was them!

All those who want to bother you for the rest of your life, tell them not to give up. You’ve always been working towards perfection. And you’ll need someone to pull you down so that you can slingshot yourself even higher. You’re not going to stop loving yourself.

And you’ll do it even more now because now you know!

Did you love him and break your heart? Try loving yourself now and mend the pieces forever.

Did he drag you by your hair? You grew that mane, and don’t you dare cut it short.

Did he try to confine you in a cage? You’ll break that cage and let the world know about the fierce lioness that you are.

Did he hit you? You shall hit them back, with nothing but confidence and triumph.

Did they abuse you? You don’t need to remember those words.

You will now rise as the power they feared. You are a woman, a goddess in herself. You will not let those scars deform you. They will be motivations to those who are on the verge of succumbing to theirs. You must rise up and shine and work harder to achieve what you dreamt of.

This is a letter to her, to every girl out there who is fighting the evil in their homes, and to all the women who have survived the atrocities that these heinous people put them through. This story is based on a real-life incident. This post was originally published on the blog “Life Past One.” You can read it here.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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