TN from Bangalore shares a personal account of abuse.
As a 16 year old, I had had a typical Indian, middle-class, protected upbringing. I had no brothers my age, and being an introvert I had only been in ‘groups’ of 1 or 2 girl-friends. So, when I read this unfamiliar text message on my phone from the boy who I had kissed, and in doing so handed him rights over me, I was stunned and didn’t know how to react. I remember feeling angry and hurt. We may have been dating for six months then and this was the first time he (or anyone) had verbally abused me.
While I was stunned and hurt, he realised his mistake, apologised profusely, and convinced me that his anger stemmed from his love for me. He was not doing well in school, and I understood the pressures he faced. I was a ‘good’ student, the nice, obedient, sincere kind. Gradually, I started undervaluing my aspirations to excel and became more and more worried about his grades and his (lack of) goals. Being the ‘nice’ girl I lived up to the part by putting him before me. My upbringing was pretty liberal but my internalised conditioning I think came from traditions, gender dynamics in social gatherings and Bollywood films, among other veiled regressive elements around me.
Moreover, I knew he loved me. In fact, everyone knew he was crazy about me. I knew I must be there for him during difficult times. He always made me feel that my problems were nothing in comparison to his. The real, masculine problems.
After that incident, ‘chutiya’ became normal. So the next times when there were fights, if I had done something wrong (from wearing the wrong clothes, going out with the wrong people, smiling too much to wearing anything but kurtas, smiling at anyone except him), I’d be on the receiving end of a string of abuse, creatively put together to shock me every single time. Cos you know, it’s only once that a ‘chutiya’ can stun you.
We were physically involved and used to sext a lot too. As I let him explore my body, I lost more and more control of myself. I felt I was giving myself to him in return of his love. The day I lost my virginity to him, I remember trembling with fear and crying thinking — this is my forever. I used to always cry after sex. It was a strange mixture of guilt, helplessness and an overwhelming emotion telling me that something is amiss.
He oscillated between loving me passionately, loving my breasts, my thighs, showering me with praises full of endearments and hurling abuses at my dark, loose vagina, calling it things I hadn’t heard before, calling me a whore if I spoke to a boy, accusing me of being manipulative and selfish if I would refuse an unreasonable demand. Some nights when I fell asleep while texting/sexting he would call on my house phone to check on me. It was all very confusing and heart-breaking.
I still remember the first time he slapped me. It was in the dark stairway of our coaching class. Apparently, my butt crack was showing. That day I gave away my short top.
The insult I felt was not much different from when he had first verbally abused me. The hurt was deeper, and I cried harder, but silently. I went to my room, locked myself up, and cursed my fate to have ended up with him. I really believed that this is it. This is going to be the rest of my life.
I never could bring myself to share details of these or thousands of other abusive incidents with my family or friends, because I was ashamed of the mess I had created for myself. My family knew something was wrong and it was because of them that I took my first big step out of the relationship. I moved. I was forced to move by my parents to pursue my undergraduate degree. Forced because, he didn’t want me to go as he hadn’t been able to get admission in any college with his marks. He emotionally blackmailed me, created a scene at the railway station, and made my life very difficult. At that moment I felt like a loser of the highest order for disappointing everyone I love; my parents, my boyfriend and my friends (who by then I had deserted).
The physical distance played a huge role in freeing up my mind from self-destructive thoughts induced by our interactions and his threats started to feel empty now.
It took me two and half years and many lessons in psychology and feminism to gradually rebuild my self-worth and to get out of it. His abuse didn’t end it. My taking the very conscious and seemingly impossible step of not putting myself through the abuse did. I realised I could not change him and I should not bear the responsibility of doing so. I realised his promises to change were just empty words to tie me down, to give him another chance. In some way the thought of leaving him and facing the world on my own seemed impossible and scary then.
To add to it he pointed out several times that I was responsible for his bouts of anger. I wasn’t. Maybe he wasn’t too. Maybe it stemmed from his childhood, his parents, his internalised misogyny.
Whatever it was, it wasn’t worth the violation of my mind, body and soul.”