One can never truly predict the outcome of an arranged marriage. Although, most women marry with dreams of a happy life, fate is often unpredictable. As Saheli has found, domestic abuse, has affected the lives of many women in the South Asian community and increasingly, courageous women are making the choice to leave abusive spouse. Saheli, Support and Friendship for South Asian Women and Families works tirelessly to help survivors of abuse, because the efforts of many kind and caring people are required to regain a good life, knowing full well that the journey as a single mother is long, hard and lonely.
Manju a vivacious, pretty, young woman grew up in a small town in Bihar and her marriage to an IT professional was arranged by her parents to a stranger. Excited about going to America, she was full of hopes and dreams. However, after a brief honeymoon period she discovered the unexpected horrors of her husband’s addiction to alcohol, gambling and pornography.
Manju remembers vividly her husband’s absences after work; hours spent alone in their apartment, searching late at night in bars and casinos in San Francisco, looking for him. She recalls with deep sadness the drunken fights, the threats of abandonment, screams and tears, the insatiable demands for sex and the physical abuse. The couple was well-known to police, there had been several 911 calls; and following each incident were apologies, regrets, and promises to do better.
The couple moved to Boston and his gambling and drinking became uncontrollable. The situation worsened with his addiction to online sex. Manju now had a child and often was left with no money or food. Credit cards had been maxed out to pay gambling debts and the young child had serious allergies that needed regular medication. One day, in desperation, Manju called the Saheli helpline and asked for financial help. A Saheli responded by meeting Manju to evaluate her needs. Although the initial request was for financial help, it became quite clear that Manju was really in danger for her life. She was paralyzed with fear, confusion, and uncertain about how to move ahead. Several meetings followed and many conversations later, Manju revealed the full horror of her daily life-police interventions, days without food, and prolonged absences of her husband. Saheli, evaluated Manju’s needs and options carefully, helped her to find part-time work at a coffee shop, a carpool for her child to attend school, and financial help to hold the small family together.
As Manju struggled with decisions about the future, her husband, after days of drunken absence was fired. Seeing that his marriage had also fallen apart, he disappeared entirely. What followed were a series of rapid catastrophes — Manju was evicted from their apartment, her child became ill and she lost legal status in the US. She turned to Saheli once again. Saheli used their Domestic Violence Crisis Fund to help the young mother. Manju found emergency state aid for her child’s medical needs, joined the food stamps program, and friends took her into their home. Saheli, in turn, turned to their friend and attorney Manisha Bhatt of Greater Boston Legal Services for advice about Manju’s legal options. Manisha, a skilled family law attorney, well known in the South Asian community for her outstanding work with immigrant women, was extremely generous with advice and support. Turning to her “inner circle” of colleagues and friends she obtained free legal help from South Asian immigration attorney, Hema Sarangapani and Susan Matthews of Greater Boston Legal Services. The combined work of the three attorneys with Manju led to her application for a VAWA immigration visa specially created under the Violence Against Women’s Act.
While she waited for the long drawn out legal wheels to churn, Manju’s uncle and aunt invited her to live with them. She waited twenty long months to establish her legal status and thirty-six months for the much-prized green card. Today, this brave young woman is energetic, cheerful, and excited about starting a new chapter in her life.
She thanks Saheli and the caring people who surrounded her with kindness and support and the chance to reclaim her life. She now has two years of work experience, and her son is healthy and doing well in school. We have no knowledge of her ex-husband’s location but Manju has moved on. Although there is very little money, and the future is uncertain, she struggles on with courage and hope. All the volunteers at Saheli endeavor to make these positive changes in the lives of women, who come for help, please join us on this journey.