My mom, at the age of 59 , left my father, someone who beat her and battered her physically and emotionally, virtually every day of their lives together.
For many of those 25 years that she lived with my dad, I begged her to leave him, she didn’t, she couldn’t. After Sammy was born, Sanj and I told my mom if she left my dad, she could live with us. Maybe it was the incentive to be with her new grandson, Sammy 24/7 that gave her the courage to leave this man that hurt her every day.
It took courage to leave my dad.
There is something about the Indian Christian culture that plants such deeply seeded guilt in women. Separation or divorced is not looked at in a positive light. It is better to be beaten every day, live in fear of being killed every day, than seeking a divorce, or even just leaving your husband.
In this culture, it is better to live with fear and unhappiness, as long as it is kept behind closed doors.
Do you know why most women will live with fear, shame, and total unhappiness most of their lives? The answer is simple: They fear the thoughts and words of their peers. Yes, even their Christian peers. They are driven by their shame. That is the biggest fear! What WILL people think?
While I am of the generation that has been taught to stand up for ourselves (I realize there are still exceptions to this) … my mom’s of the generation where gossip matters. Gossip is part of their day.
While in church, listening to my brother preaching, a Indian man sitting near my mom, leaned over and asked her, “Do you keep in touch with Peter, why did you leave him?”
My own in-laws have trouble understanding this … and they are now family. My father is brought up as if they are still married… my father-in-law asked my mom recently, “how is Peter? Do you talk to him?”
This is family that has heard the story of my life with my dad… and still finds it appropriate to drag him into our lives in opposition to our rather obvious wishes.
Now as much as I would like my mom to be strong and lash out… that is not consistent with her character. If I were my mother, I would say, “Here is Peter’s number, if you are so concerned about his well-being, give him a call.”
I can’t help but wonder if these men are not threatened by seeing strength in a Indian woman or is this reality in conflict with their version of a society without flaw?
Now, let’s be honest. Many of these people that look critically at my mom are women who have been in marriages that are dangerous… are in marriages themselves that are not of the fairy book variety. How many Indian Christians do I know that live in pure and simple unhappiness?
I am sure that if you knew the percentage of unhappily married Christian Indians, you would be shocked (or maybe not). When I look at the families that surround me, I see many women, that are beautiful, intelligent and capable, married to men that are not their equal, men that are unkempt, lazy, thoughtless and mean. Many of these men do not make an effort to be presentable to their wives or to be thoughtful or kind because their is little to no challenge to the stability of their relationship, married life is a given taken for granted. Of course it goes the other way too where genders can switch roles.
There is no love as we know it in these marriages. Oh, there is the duty factor. There are the moments where duty crosses into emotion, the moments when ones spouse is going into surgery that there is the obligtory kiss for fear of the unknown… but what I wonder is how many woman… Indian woman have married that man that made their heart race?
It is so weird to hear stories of aunties that were “friendly” with someone in their youth… and yet for whatever reason, married, or settled for someone that does nothing for them. They married a roommate and a partner. This is not that different than the arranged marriage.
As I read of Indian culture, stories and tales, the fate of Indian women hurts me so much. There has to be something to the confusion that arises between the culture of the race meaning the message of subservience, arranged marriage etc. and the blurred lines of Christian culture that preaches a very different message of choice and possibility. How does the Indian Christian escape the message of gender dominance where women have very little choice in life?. Women are taught to suffer quietly. Women are taught to not argue or fight back. Women are taught to just do it.
This makes me so sad.
So, while I wish that my mom had married a man that loved her and respected her as she needed to be loved and respected… she didn’t, she had to live with someone that was hurtful in every way.
My mom would never consider marriage again. My mom has learned that men are unpredictable and not to be trusted, she has learned that she would rather be alone and endure the viciousness of her fellow Christian Indians than consider life with a man as she knows it… ever again.
So… to those that don’t understand, I pray that you don’t ever have to. You may never have to worry if you made supper OK, or if it will land on the floor… while you get berated for your supposed incompetence. I pray that you don’t get called names… to the point that you begin to believe them. I pray that you don’t ever have to live with such fear that you are literally scared of your own shadow.
I also pray that you pause and seek from deep within, compassion and empathy… that you consider, what life might have been like to cause another to be willing to endure in quiet shame for so long and what courage it took to finally make a decision to leave knowing how her contemporaries would view and treat her.
I pray that you seek to encourage… find ways to uplift someone that has been so low, a low that most don’t even know exists.
For those that have found themselves being critical and judgmental perhaps they should be looking into their own hearts… their own marriages. Self assessment is a great place to isolate judgement and where it belongs most.
I wonder how many of these people that speak in these ugly terms and tones to my mom or think this way, are just jealous, wishing they had the courage to do what their heart has told them for years.. My mom got out. They….. many of them, are just plain stuck in ugly, sad marriages. It is funny how many of these same folks, ladies, have said to my mom, “You are lucky..” and yet it must only be that conflicted jealousy that causes them to turn around and speak ill of her and her life choices.
I speak of the Indian Christian community because I am familiar with it, this however, is a universal issue, isn’t it? There are women, wherever we look, that are hurting. There are men too, that live where the roles of abuse are reversed. We need to open our hearts and be more accepting of those that have the courage to leave the ugliness of abuse and seek a better, safer tomorrow.
No one should have to live feeling physically unsafe. No one should have to live with the ugliness of words that abuse ones emotions. Bruises fade, words… they seep deep into your soul.
Yes, if you are in a marriage of love and security, you are blessed. Just remember to be open to the reality that many may not be as fortunate. Think of this world… there are so many around you that are hurting and scared.
Let’s appauled those that take a stand and say, “You will not hurt me again!”
Written by Sanj and Reema Sukumaran
*** Disclaimer… If this literary piece seems too incredible to be written by me (Reema… blog owner), it’s because I wrote the skeleton of this piece, from my heart. My super smart husband came and “fixed” it with his brain. Yes… we do make an incredible team!!! 🙂