Beyond Domestic Abuse: A Survivor’s Story
(featured in Lokvani Magazine)
Malti, a South Asian woman in her 40s approached Saheli for help several years ago. 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 lives. In Malti’s own words:
I was a young, naïve girl when I got married at 18. I was shocked when he started abusing me almost immediately! My happiness was replaced with constant fear. I spent several nights in the first few years of marriage, 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 to pay for our passage. Once we settled down, and despite his promises to be a good husband, the abuse got worse and was witnessed by our children. My husband controlled our finances and refused to give me more that $20 a week to feed our family of four. There was never enough money to feed the kids 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, but here he forced me to deposit my entire paycheck into a joint account towards which he did not contribute. But there was some improvement in our home life as I was able to bring leftover food from the restaurant and feed 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 and pushed me around. 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 their helpline.
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 whose help I was able to go back to my apartment for a few minutes to pick up my possessions. The police also made my husband return my Green Card and jewelry.
Within a week, Sahelis had found an affordable apartment for me. I 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 to run 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. 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 in India. With the legal assistance introduced to me by Saheli, and Saheli’s 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 taken these important steps without the help of the Sahelis who were always there to listen, support and encourage me I want to tell all women -If you are in an abusive situation, if you do not have the respect and support of your partner and family, reach out to Saheli. You can get help and support even if you wish to remain with your partner.
Saheli will support you regardless of your immigration status, and will help your children to get food and shelter resources. empower yourselves by reaching out for support to Saheli at 866-472-4354, they speak your language. Go to the Saheli website: saheliboston.org and see what Saheli offers.
This story was related to domestic violence prevention advocates Rita Shah and Salita Mehta,. No part of this story can be used without permission.