Series: The unconventional Women of SSMI
In 2015, while delivering a TED Talk on ‘emotional first-aid,’ renowned psychologist Dr. Guy Winch said, “We sustain psychological injuries even more often than physical ones. Injuries like failure, rejection, and loneliness get worse if we ignore them. They impact our lives in dramatic ways.” Dr. Winch’s words made a compelling case to practice emotional and mental first-aid and offered a peak into the dark reality many people in the world live in. Psychological Abuse, also known as a ‘quiet epidemic,’ is one of the least understood or talked about forms of abuse and yet the most prevalent one.
Control, blame, manipulation, gaslighting, intimidation, humiliation, threat, and name-calling are some types of psychological abuse. Even if specific names are given to these forms, the problem is it takes years for anyone to identify that they are stuck in a psychologically abusive pattern. And when the victims identify, they are too scared to walk out of it. Abuse shatters self-esteem. And poor self-esteem forces one to stay in a toxic relationship.
The story of Jayashree Yadav, a primary school teacher at Swami Sivananda Memorial Institute of Art and Craft, is an insightful reflection on how psychological abuse damages a person’s idea of self. How it causes one to doubt their abilities? How quickly mental and emotional abuse converts into physical violence when one refuses to sit on the sidelines and starts confronting others? Her story speaks for all those women who have been abused by their partner in some way and those who have dared to break that pattern and walk out of a toxic relationship. Her story is both – heartbreaking and brave.
Since it would have been difficult to capture the essence of her story in one go, we have split it into two parts.
- Part 1 throws light on Jayashree’s struggle with an abusive marriage, and
- Part 2 will throw light on how she rebuilds her life from scratch.
(Please note: Names have been changed to maintain confidentiality)
There is a common belief that ‘Matches are made in heaven.’ What about those matches that do not get the blessings of the family? Are they also made in heaven?
Vijay and I got married in 2011. My parents would have never agreed to our alliance because we belonged to different castes, so I didn’t try too hard to convince them. And Vijay did not seek his mother’s permission either. One day, with the help of a few friends, we just eloped and tied the knot in an Arya Samaj Mandir. When we informed our respective families, my parents got so angry that they stopped talking to us, and my mother-in-law turned completely indifferent.
A few months into the marital bliss, I realized our families were poles apart in belief systems, values, and even things that mattered in day-to-day life. My parents had raised me to be independent and fearless. Here, I was expected to give up my opinions and meekly nod to the wants and whims of my mother-in-law. Moreso because she had not yet accepted me as her daughter-in-law. I let it slide because I had Vijay’s support. He would do little things to make me happy, and we were so much in love that everything seemed worth fighting for.
But as time went by, our equation began to change. His family expected me to do all the household chores along with my job. There was no house help or support system of any kind. I would do everything from laundry, meal preparation to dishwashing and cleaning. This hectic schedule started impacting my health. I tried talking to Vijay, but he could not utter a word in my support.
The excessive burnout landed me in the hospital. When my father learned about my situation, he offered monetary help despite not being in talking terms with us. But by then, I had gathered that the problem was not really financial. It was something else. Something deeply ingrained in the very fabric of my husband’s family. And figuring it out suffocated me. Every day, I would adjust a little more and agree to things I would not intrinsically believe in but would do just to keep everyone happy. Slowly, I was becoming a person I could no longer identify with.
Around February 2013, I conceived. I don’t know why I thought a baby would repair all the rift. Instead, my situation got worse. I worked from morning till midnight throughout my pregnancy and did all the household chores. No one offered to help, not even when guests paid a visit. By now, our marriage had hit rock bottom. There were visible differences between us, and Vijay and I had started fighting over trivial things. He would turn a deaf ear to my requests in front of his mother. If I said anything, he would turn aggressive and dramatic. My self-confidence was slowly evaporating, and I was nearing a breaking point. In October, I gave birth to a baby boy. A child brings families together in unexpected ways, but here no one from my husband’s family visited me as I lay in the hospital bed for three days. I kept quiet. I knew if I uttered a word, it would trigger a series of allegations – ‘I am too emotional,’ ‘I expect too much,’ ‘I overthink’, ‘I have no right to feel this way’.
The following months were spent dealing with severe mood swings, exhaustion, anxiety because I had slipped into post-partum depression. If that wasn’t enough, Vijay’s erratic behavior further stressed me. Soon after, he asked me to quit my job and stay home to care for the baby. Both Vijay and I were associated with a bank as Direct Sales Officers. After I resigned, his performance dropped massively. Little did I know that till now, he was achieving all his targets with my help. He had no network of his own. His poor performance severely impacted his salary and annual appraisals, throwing us into a financial crisis.
As time went by, he became more defensive. He would snap at me over the smallest things, pick fights, humiliate me in front of his family, and threaten to complain to my parents if I retaliated. I used to think we had cultural differences, but now as I recollect, it feels like I was getting trapped into an abusive pattern.
On one end, I struggled to make ends meet. On the other, Vijay’s absence and growing emotional unavailability drained me. He would always talk on the phone, not pick up if I called, and return home late. One afternoon, I received his phone bill with a detailed call list, and a particular number caught my attention. When I attempted to seek clarity, he responded with a tight-lipped refusal. After a few days, I found some objectionable items in our car. I again gave him the benefit of the doubt.
Then, something happened that broke my trust in him forever.
It was early 2015. I was at my parents’ house. Vijay and I had not spoken since morning, so I called him around 4 PM. He did not pick. I kept calling incessantly but no response. Worried if everything was ok, I asked a few of his friends to check on him. When they reached our house, they found a lady in our bedroom. I confronted Vijay, and he blatantly denied it again. All of this pointed me to a direction I was too scared to look at. My husband was cheating on me.
The affair lasted six long years. I should have walked out of the door with my son long before things became overbearing. But I stayed and watched my life fall apart. Vijay had rendered me powerless. Any reaction from my side invited blame, violence, mental torture, and humiliation. Should I have gone back to my parents? Maybe. Would they have accepted me wholeheartedly? Perhaps not because Vijay had convinced them I was the root cause of all the friction in our married life.
Financial anxiety was already weighing on me. On top of that, Vijay’s affair hit me like a ton of bricks. To keep myself busy, I started taking home tuition. It became so hard for him to accept that I was earning and standing on my toes that he would shame me every other day and put me down in front of my students. Many times, my mother-in-law would join him too.
The recurrent episodes of humiliation shattered my self-esteem. I would feel wiped out, helpless, confused, and sick in the gut. To release myself of this misery, I attempted suicide – not once or twice but multiple times.
Did that make my situation any better? No. It drove my husband further away. My mother-in-law didn’t bat an eyelid. My parents never got to know.
One day, Vijay and I had a huge fight, and he hit me so much that my entire face was covered in bruises. And he did that while having my parents on speakerphone. That’s when I decided to leave because it could not have gotten worse than this.
There comes a point in every ‘great love story’ when grand illusions begin to shatter, and you finally pop out of your bubble and face reality. Sometimes the reality is so ugly that all you want is to turn the clock back in time. Vijay was very charming. He had his way with words. We dated for six years before getting married, but I overlooked his imperfections. When he blatantly dismissed my opinions and feelings and controlled who I spoke to or went out with, I took the gestures as his possessiveness towards me. My vision was too clouded to see what I was getting into.
In August 2021, after ten years of insidious abuse, we separated (though unofficially). When I revisit those times, I wonder why this happened to me but I don’t get any answers. All I get is deafening silence. Then, I tell myself, “The storm’s over now. Don’t look back!”
In India, even today, many women live in abusive households. Several factors influence their decision to stay in an abusive relationship. Sometimes, it is fear and insecurity. Sometimes, it’s children. Sometimes, its financial dependency. Sometimes, they fall prey to such extreme manipulation that they feel responsible for the fallout. In my ten years of marriage, Vijay pushed me to the limits several times. And the thought of ‘leaving him’ always crossed my mind. But I had become so weak and vulnerable after being made to feel ‘worthless’ that I couldn’t take that big step. I thought the problem was with me. In August 2021, when he hit me while my parents were on speakerphone and pleading with him to stop, I decided to walk out for myself and our son. I didn’t want my son to follow in his father’s footsteps.
The first person I called after moving back to my parents’ house was Ms. Gurdeep Kaur, the school manager of the primary wing at SSMI. She asked me to get my medical examination done and a medico-legal certificate issued immediately from the civil hospital.
It had been days, and I was still navigating through my trauma and wondering that maybe it was all over now, but it took a while for Vijay to accept that I was not coming back. He would often show up at the school campus and create a scene by screaming and displaying all kinds of notoriety. However, SSMI stood by me and supported me in all possible ways. Whenever Vijay would make a scene, Ms. Kaur would accompany me to the police station to register a complaint. My colleagues were equally supportive. Whenever I experienced any breakdown, they would listen to me patiently. Gradually, SSMI became my solace and my safe space. Being a single mother is a huge responsibility. There is a lot of pressure, and you feel incredibly intimidated, especially because even today, our society looks down upon divorce and a broken marriage. It’s not easy to survive such pressure and judgment. Moreover, a sudden drop in income can be a significant challenge to overcome. Regardless of all that, I only encourage and push myself to do better for my son and his future.
In October 2021, Mrs. Sunita Bhasin, the Director of SSMI, introduced me to the Aatman Academy, an institution that caters to the individualized learning needs of children. They run a six-month diploma course in association with the University of Minnesota on inclusive education for diverse learners. Mrs. Bhasin insisted that I enroll in this course. Even though I was fighting my demons at that time, I decided to give it a try. Gradually, assignments and projects diverted my attention and focus to my studies, and good scores earned me appreciation from my mentors. Aatman Academy then referred me to a program by the Tata Institute of Social Science on an integrated approach to inclusive mathematics teaching. Mrs. Bhasin saw my capabilities when I considered myself worthless. She gave me a purpose and hope.
I, now, plan to pursue a Master’s in Science and hone my professional skills. I want to encourage fellow teachers to take courses that enhance their knowledge. I want to create a platform for them from which those who don’t have enough resources or awareness can also benefit. They can download courses for free and learn. I also want to empower students and encourage them to explore and enhance their skills. I want to promote an environment where students learn things organically and conceptually rather than through rote learning.
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One Comment Add yours
I am sorry for what you went through .. my story is similar .