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The Venus Flytrap: How I Survived An Abusive Marriage As A Woman With Disabilities

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By Payal Kapoor:

When I was married 14 years ago, I was both totally blind and partially hearing impaired, as I still am. (I was not born with these conditions, but acquired them at the age of 22.) I was very much in love, and had the whole blushing bride thing going for me — I was looking forward to the beautiful dream come true that was going to be the rest of my life.

“Were you happy you were marrying a sighted man? Or was it that you were marrying at all?” A good friend asked me this question some time after we were married, after she’d looked at our wedding photos. This appalled me. “Of course I was crazy about him, which is why I was deliriously happy. And it shows in the pictures you just saw,” I answered confidently.

I waited for my husband to answer while I unseeingly looked into his seeing eyes. His response was casual: “I liked her from the first time I met her. I loved her confidence and thought I wanted a relationship with her. Marriage was not necessarily on my mind. But since my feelings grew stronger with time, I decided to go ahead with it.”

To say that this response had my eyebrows disappearing into my hairline would be putting it mildly. This was the first time I’d heard him say something like this, and it made me wonder if I had somehow pushed him into a decision. I shook it off, because he was an adult and was therefore fully capable of making informed decisions. But although I did my best to let it go, the thought stuck.

I had known him for two years before we decided to get married.

As excited as I was during the courtship — I loved the poetry, the flowers, and even the fact that he wrote to me in Braille — the cautious side of me always won. I questioned his motives, since he had been married before and had children from that relationship. But the attention and constant encouragement he showered upon me, the fact that we had lots in common, and — most importantly — the fact that my disability didn’t matter to him at all sealed my commitment to him.

If I said I was sent to the salt mines straight away, I’d be lying. There were good times, new experiences, things I learned because of him that made me a more independent person than before. We weathered the usual settling down blues most couples go through when they are finally under one roof. He was messy, I was a neat freak. He procrastinated, I needed things done yesterday. We saw these times through with smiles and tears.

But then, things began to go downhill.

Suddenly, he became a very private person. He began to have a problem with me talking to my close friends or my parents. He didn’t want to hang out with my friends or have much to do with my family any more. He regularly dumped me with my parents while he went out to see his friends — which he just had to do alone.

I had to explain these actions to my family, even though I found them baffling. If I argued with him, there would be long painful silences, which to me as a blind person were like torture.

He found other ways to punish me whenever we had a disagreement. He would not touch the food I cooked and said he’d rather go hungry, which he knew was very painful for me. I’d beg, cajole, and go hungry myself, but to no avail. Much later, I realised that he would cook instant noodles while I was away at work and go back to playing possum when I returned.

Even though I took great pride in my home, housework had always been shared between us. I don’t know how this happened, but suddenly all of it became entirely my responsibility. We didn’t employ a cleaning lady, so aside from the essential daily chores, I swept and mopped the house once a week since I couldn’t manage it on my own.

He just sat and watched me crawl my way around the house, without once offering to help. Once, his aunt asked him, “How do you manage without a maid?” He answered with great hilarity, “I married her!” Because this brought tears into my eyes, I was told that I had no sense of humour.

As a strong and independent woman living with a disability, I did not receive the support that I deserved from a partnership. I only had more and more work dumped on my head — and the more I used my voice, the worse I was treated.

The illustration shows a woman with black hair, with her eyes open, lying back on a pillow. To the top left, there is a reversed image of the same woman.
Description: The illustration shows a woman with black hair, with her eyes open, lying back on a pillow. To the top left, there is a reversed image of the same woman. Credit: ‘Dream of two women’ by Minjung Gang, via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Things that I could not avoid became reasons for his anger: clothes that came out of the washing machine with lint on them were thrown at my face, missing and odd socks were all my fault, utensils that were washed and wiped with lint weren’t fit to be used. He once threw a bowl of curry because he found a piece of thread in it.

My hearing impairment also became a huge problem. He spoke softly and sometimes I had difficulty hearing him. But if I asked him to repeat himself, he would walk away. The more agitated I got, the lower my ability to hear got. Sometimes he left me alone in the house in the middle of the night with the door locked from the outside, without telling me he was leaving or answering his phone.

Was it my home, or prison? Where had all the love gone?

The distance between us grew. I changed — although I am a talkative person, I found myself becoming quieter. My love for singing and listening to old Hindi songs became unbearable to him. I was tone deaf and Lata Mangeshkar shrieked. I stopped that too, to keep the peace. I stopped watching TV because we were interested in watching different things, and there was no middle ground. In the past 14 years, I have not seen a full TV show.

But all my efforts were in vain. He frequently threatened to leave me. I could do nothing right. When I said as much, I was told that it was the truth. During the calmer times, the love came back, with expectations of physical intimacy. Does this make things better? No, it only makes you feel like you’re being used, which is sad because physical affection can often be such an integral part of marriage.

I started walking on eggshells. Friends told me the spark had gone out of my eyes. My family told me to come back, but I argued with them. “Marriage is about adjusting and making things work, isn’t it?” I told them. “Surely he has his reasons for being the way he is? I must be causing things to be this way, too?”

But when things continued to get worse, I realised that it would be very difficult for me to stay. But I was perpetually frightened and insecure — did I have the courage to be on my own? Would I be able to leave the home that I had created, which had become part of my identity? I couldn’t talk to anyone, because it would lead to dire consequences at home. I didn’t want to worry my parents. He spiralled into depression himself, which didn’t help matters.

When I think back now to isolate the final step leading to our separation, I can’t find it. But I do remember that after yet another incident in which my inability to comprehend what he was saying to me led to another hunger strike and the silent treatment from him, I asked him that final question: “Do you want me in your life?”

Inside, I was dying. It was difficult to breathe.

Deep within myself, I knew the answer.

“No! I don’t, and this is all your fault.” My marriage was over.

This conversation happened at my parents’ house, while they were travelling. When I asked him if he’d take me back to our house to get my things, he said, “I will take you, but you’re on your own after that. Over is over.” I’ve never seen or spoken to him since.

I can still feel my heart as it was that day: first pounding, and then sinking. That desperate fear of being all alone, and having to give up a life I’d built. It had come apart right in front of my eyes, never to be the same again.

This was six years ago.

It turns out that I needn’t have worried. Slowly but surely, I’ve moved on to a happy and independent life. I have experienced adventures I never thought possible, and now have more people in my life than ever before.

The new chapter of my life — which I’ll write more about — had only just begun.

A hotelier by education and profession, Payal loves life in all its varying shades. Along with working with a group of hotels, she makes time for friends, experiments in the kitchen, and travels whenever possible.

This post was originally published on Skin Stories.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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