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How An Abusive Marriage Gave Me Freedom

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I was born in a conservative society, which was immersed in its values and traditions. Since our childhood, we were inculcated with discipline and qualities that a girl should always have. A girl was supposed to be an excellent cook and an expert in homemaking. It was accepted for a girl to have male friends but communicating at odd hours raised many an eyebrow.

I was brought up in a house where the girl is considered the honour of the family. We never got permission for night outs or long drives. Not that I regret or complain about it. But that was the way of life for us then, and if we violated any rule, we were immediately considered a disgrace.

The story of my life in a typical middle-class family closely mirrors the story of ‘a frog in the well’ I read in childhood. Until the frog was in a small well, he felt that it was his world. But when he came out of it, he understood that his home is the best, but the world is just so much bigger.

Somewhere people with less exposure feel the same.

While education was considered very important in my family, doing a corporate job was frowned at. I was still expected to be a housewife one day and take care of my household. This formed a major bone of contention between our elders and us, kids of the house.

I always wanted to be a dancer. A dancer with whom Bollywood directors aspire to work with, one who would make stars sway on her fingertips. I wished to be a choreographer. My family loved seeing me dance. But they only encouraged it as a hobby. I never had the guts to communicate my real dreams to them.

I completed my education, did an MBA, learned housework while climbing the ropes of a corporate job. And then, I was finally married.

They say that marriage changes a woman’s life. And apart from the people and the house, it changes her image in the society. Something similar happened to me. I moved to a different city and started living with new people in a new surrounding. My in-law’s house lacked the warmth and care that I enjoyed in my home. The love and respect I got from my family was nowhere to be found. Yes, I was a ‘bahu’. That was to be my only identity for the rest of my life.

The first few days after marriage were all good. I was pampered a lot and got a lot of attention. But it fades away with time, and I was not ignorant of this fact. But what happened in the next three months would come as a surprise to me.

Gradually, I realised that my in-laws treated me differently. I knew how to cook, but my dishes could never satisfy them. Long story short, I became a punching bag for all their resentment. My husband was no exception. I had always heard that everything is good if your husband supports you. I grew up with that feeling of contentment that come what may; I will always have my husband in my team. Unfortunately, even on this front, I failed miserably.

I was ignored, disrespected and insulted by my husband and consequently by his family members. And soon enough, I was in an abusive marriage. I could still not accept that this was happening to me. I had married into a good family through an arranged setup, wasn’t my life supposed to be a fairy tale?

I realised it was not. I changed my ways, controlled my anger and several times put myself down to make things work. I was wrong at numerous occasions they said, and I did try to rectify my mistakes. But I guess they never wanted me to correct myself. They just needed a reason to get rid of me.

After a lot of deliberations, confusions, discussions and arguments, I finally decided to move on. I decided I won’t let anyone attack my self-respect and get away with it so conveniently. I decided I will no longer satisfy his ego and pride at the cost of my self-esteem.

This was a big blow to my family, we were never in such a situation earlier. In a marriage, couples are supposed to tolerate and endure and of course, compromise as much as we can. We could not just walk out of it like this. So, they tried to hush up the situation as much as they could. I was devastated, but I soon realised that this was the time to pursue my long forgotten dream. It was finally time for me to find my calling as a dancer.

You face struggles in every phase of your life. Naturally, I was not spared. I had only passed the first obstacle of the long race that I had decided to win. I had a hard time convincing my family to let me move to Mumbai to pursue my dreams. They were quite reluctant, but eventually, they agreed.

I faced a bout of asthma for the first time since my childhood. I got an attack every time I cried over what had happened to me. I never knew I could cry so much. But those tears made me stronger, more determined to forge ahead and fulfil my dream.

Few months went by in trying to manage myself in this huge city. To come out of depression and to finally get comfortable in my own skin. Which I was never was. I became a new person every day.

Eventually, I picked up the broken pieces and tried to start life afresh. Now, I could stay out till late at night enjoying the breeze on the sea front. Or I could travel alone to another corner of the city. I could stay awake, and binge watch my favourite web series. I could do all those things which I thought was not ‘right’. I learnt the new definition of being right and wrong.

I could buy things for myself, without thinking if my in-laws would like or not. I could eat an ice-cream even if it made me fat. I realised that now I could LIVE. No permission needed and no confinement imposed. No walls and no handcuffs, I could fly like a free bird.

My marriage taught me many life lessons, and it gave me the freedom I always wished for.

Author’s note: This is the story of Laxmi, who is currently working as a choreographer for a TV show by Bajali Telefilms, which is to be aired soon. I met her during a train ride and realized that this is the story of empowerment the world needs to know. She demanded her rights and emerging out of darkness; she is now living a life she never dreamt she could.

She is empowered, not victimised, or oppressed. Living alone has some disadvantages, but Laxmi is living her dreams in the best way possible.

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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, 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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