Beyond Domestic Abuse: A Survivor’s Story
By Salita Mehta
Malti, a South Asian woman in her 40s, approached Saheli for help several years back. Through her own strength and courage and help from Saheli advocates she is in a physically and emotionally safe place today. A survivor of domestic abuse, she shared her story with Saheli so that other women could learn to ‘break the silence’, stop living in fear and make changes in their own lives. In Malti’s own words:
I was a young, naïve girl when I got married at 18. I was shocked when my husband started abusing me almost immediately. My happiness was replaced with constant fear. I spent several nights in the first few years, sobbing into my pillow.
Eventually, I learned to live with his behavior. There was no question of discussing his actions with my in-laws. If my own parents did not want to hear what was really going on, my Sas and Sasur would definitely turn a deaf ear. During the course of the marriage we had two children and my husband made the major decision to move to America in search of a better life for the children. Once we had our Green Cards, we borrowed money as a couple to pay for our passage to this country. Despite his promises, the abuse got worse. It started to impact our children. He refused to give me more than $20 a week to feed our family of four. There was never enough money to feed the kids, or clothe their growing bodies adequately and I had to go without food so my children could eat. In desperation, I found myself a job at a local Fast Food store. He forced me to deposit my entire paycheck into a joint account towards which he did not contribute. From the first paycheck he would take my salary away. However, there was some improvement as I was able to bring home leftover food from the restaurant for the children.
My son was in High School and my daughter, the elder of the two, graduated and was ready for college. Her father told her he could not pay for her college and suggested that she should either find a job or prepare for an arranged marriage. This made me mad. My husband and I had several fights and he slapped me, pushed me around and dragged me by my hair. He took my jewelry and Green Card, etc. and hid them. After several days of this, I moved out of the house, taking only a couple of garbage bags with my clothes. I learned about Saheli from a girl at work and called them.
The next day, two Saheli advocates picked me up and drove me to the local district court to obtain a 10 day Restraining Order against my husband. I could not have done this alone as I was scared of law enforcement officers and my inability to speak fluent English made me even more scared. Later, the advocates accompanied me to the police station. With the help of the police and the advocates, I was able to go back to my apartment for a few minutes to pick up my possessions. The police made my husband return my Green Card and jewelry.
Within a week, Sahelis had found an affordable apartment for me as well as a roommate to share the rent. I had moved into the apartment with only a couple of garbage bags of clothes and had no means to cook. I was reduced to sleeping on top of my clothes. Saheli put out a call to its members and in two days they brought over a van filled with everything I needed for a home – mattress, bedding, pots and pans, dishes. Some nice person had even given a TV.
Once I was settled and more relaxed I found an additional job. Slowly, at the suggestion of my Saheli, I started taking ESL classes. Soon, I was reading and writing English. This helped me to start working towards getting a Driver’s License. Saheli paid for driver training when I was ready. I saved every penny I earned from my two jobs. Over the past couple of years, I was able to help my daughter pay for college and send money home to my mother for food and medicine. With legal assistance, introduced to me by Saheli support and friendship, I was successful in obtaining a divorce.
As I look back over the past few years I am content with the decisions I made. I have regained my self-esteem and belief in myself. I am living a stress free life and have more money in the bank than I ever dreamed of. I do not have to constantly fear the approach of evening when my husband would come home and start yelling at me for no reason or slapping me and pulling my hair. The funny part is that he found out about my savings a few weeks back and asked me to go into a partnership with him to buy a house!!!
I could not have done any of this without the help of Sahelis who were always there to listen, advise and encourage. I want to tell all women – If you are in a scary situation, empower yourselves by reaching out for support to Saheli at 1-866-472-4354, they speak your language. Saheli website: saheliboston.org.
This story was related to Rita Shah and Salita Mehta, Anti-Domestic Violence Advocates for Saheli. This is copyrighted material no part can be used without permission.