The Great Indian Dhakosla
A gut-wrenching story that hopefully gives you hope
I am going to share just one story with you today which captures several aspects of Womaning in India. Things will get very dark this week, fair warning.
But first, some happy wishes.
Happy International Day of Sign Languages
Yesterday was the International Day of Sign Languages. And this week is celebrated as the International Week of Deaf People worldwide.
Exactly two months ago, I wrote this piece about Womaning for differently-abled women. Since then, I have been learning the Indian Sign Language (ISL) through a course organized by the Haryana Welfare Society for Persons with Speech & Hearing Impairment.
This course has brought me in touch with the brilliant and inspiring deaf community in India. I have learned a lot about the many myths surrounding the community and sign language. The experience has expanded my mind, as learning any new language always does. But the classes are also filled with laughter and joy, and the friendships we have made through this course will always be special to me.
For example, did you know that a hearing person should only learn a Sign Language from Deaf teachers and not from other hearing people who know the Sign Language? Here is a short video with some of my teachers explaining why:
Here is the link to their website where you can join their upcoming courses, or make a donation to the Society.
To celebrate this week, I will be uploading a video with the ISL translation of the piece “The Mother with 3500 Children, and other stories” on my YouTube channel and within the post itself this week. For those hearing people who missed it, do go back and read the piece - it is one of my personal favourite editions of this newsletter so far. ❤️
Happy International Day of Sign Languages, everyone!
And now, onwards to the story of the week:
The Great Indian Dhakosla
Trigger warnings: Domestic violence, abuse, miscarriage, abortion, divorce, attempted suicide
About 10 years back, Swati got engaged to Raman. Both of them were medical students. Their families knew each other for generations. It was an arranged match that seemed perfect on paper.
The engagement happened after a year of courtship, during which Swati too felt Raman was the perfect man for her.
However, she began noticing some changes in him right after the engagement.
"He suddenly seemed to lose interest in us. As our wedding date drew closer, he told me that living together for the next three years would not be an option for us. He made excuses like our Masters coming up - how I was a good student and might get into a government hospital, but he might have to study at a private hospital in another city. His logic seemed far-fetched to me. When I questioned him, he told me that I'm ‘not accommodating’, and ‘too modern for a simple man like him’. He started saying things like ‘You are a perfect example of how a happy woman is a myth’."
However, it so happened that both Swati and Raman did not get into their first choice of institutes for their Masters.
"I told him that maybe the bright side of this could be that we could now find a college where we both could study together while living together after the wedding. He refused, yet again. This time, his excuse was that if I would be living with him, he would get distracted from his studies."
Swati requested to push the wedding date, in that case. But Raman was adamant and in a few months, the wedding happened as scheduled.
"On the day right after the Wedding Reception, he left town - even before all of the guests had departed. He did not allow me to go with him, and asked me to move in with his parents instead."
“The first time he raised his hand on me”
The first time Swati visited Raman in the city where he had moved, she found him distant and apparently busy with work.
"He had told me that he could not take time off from work to spend time with me while I was visiting. One day, while he was away at work, I decided to catch up on my own studies and picked up a diary to scribble on. It turned out that it was his work planner. I found that he had already been sanctioned leave for the week I was visiting, but then canceled it and pushed it to the next week."
That day, when Raman got home, Swati confronted him.
"That was the first time he raised his hand on me. He shouted how dare I touch his stuff, and hit me. And then, he just kept hitting, and hitting, and hitting. I was shocked. Even my parents had never laid a finger on me. I just couldn't take it. All the frustration of the last year and a half was piled up and this pushed me over the edge. I walked in to the kitchen, took a knife, and slit my wrist."
(At this point, I should add that while Swati did this in a weak moment, suicide is never the answer. If you, or anyone you know, is having suicidal thoughts, please seek help immediately.)
"Because I was crying and shaking when I did it, I missed the artery. The sight of my own blood and flesh paralyzed me and I couldn't cut again. Later, Raman would taunt me, saying I knew what I was doing as a doctor, and staged it all for sympathy."
After the incident, Swati return to her in-laws' place and told them what had happened.
"They fell at my feet. They begged me not to say anything to anyone because that would send their son to jail. I remember noticing how they were more concerned about whether I would go to the police, but not about their son's behaviour."
“A baby will solve your problems”
Next year, Raman secured admission in a hospital in another city for his Masters. Swati offered to take up a job in the same city so they could finally start living together.
"He told me that he stayed in a hostel where women were not allowed so there would be no point if I lived nearby or not. Besides, my in-laws were not too keen on me working."
However, Swati realized by now that the thing that was more important than anything else was for her to remain financially independent.
"When I landed in his city, I discovered that he had lied about staying in a hostel and was actually living in a 1BHK apartment. I confronted him, and that was the second time he raised his hand on me. My in-laws, once again, showed all signs of pity and sympathy towards me, but did not do anything about their son."
As a 'solution to their marital problems', Raman and his parents started pressurizing Swati to have a child with Raman.
"They wanted to convince me that a child will be the ticket to making our marriage successful. What's more, Raman insisted that we go to an infertility specialist for an IUI procedure (Intra-Uterine Insemination). Considering we weren't even married for a year at this point, I objected to this. In response, he stopped talking to me for months. Finally, I gave in and went for the procedure."
Soon after, Swati found out that she was pregnant.
"But, as fate would have it, I found out that it was an ectopic pregnancy (the fertilised egg implants outside the uterus, and therefore, cannot survive) which had to be medically terminated. The whole process - right from being in pain, to scheduling a visit with the doctor, to going to the doctor, finding out the cause, going for an ultrasound - I did it all alone. My husband lived just 15kms away and did not come to see me at the hospital. Ultimately, he called me and said, 'It would be better if you call your parents and tell them the cost of the surgery'. I hung up and went through the surgery alone."
After the surgery, Swati was not in a condition to go back to her Paying Guest residence. She called Raman and told him to take her to a nearby Guesthouse.
"He turned up and started talking about trying again in two months. I had lost a fallopian tube in the surgery. I thought he was having trouble accepting the loss. When I told the doctor to counsel him, he threw an angry fit and walked out, leaving me to carry everything to the guest house myself in that condition."
At the guest house that night, Raman began drinking.
"We had an argument over something small and I told him how I had gone through all this just so he would look at me like I was his wife. He got furious and started hitting me again. It was barely over 24 hours after the surgery, and he beat me so much that he broke my hand."
The next day, Swati was back at the hospital to get her injury treated.
"My husband was not by my side while I lost my baby. But he made it a point to be there this time, so that I could not tell the doctor how my hand broke. I think the doctor figured it out, though, and she said to me 'What has happened has happened. At least you are alive. And that is a blessing.' When I heard these kind words, I broke down crying. But I still did not report him."
Each time Raman was violent with Swati, his parents would call her to beg her not to go to the police.
"A few months later, it happened again on the night of my birthday. I finally told my parents what I was going through. And I told his parents that I want a divorce."
“What a romantic husband”
Once the families got involved, the pressure started mounting on Swati to give the marriage another chance.
"Things started getting very messy after that. They asked me to forgive him. They asked me to give it time. They asked me not to go to the police. At one point, my mother-in-law even asked me to 'put on some weight'. She made it clear that this was euphemism for me to grow the size of my breasts so that my husband would like me better and not hit me. Of course, nobody asked him to change anything."
Three years passed like this. The narrative started changing. From apologetic, Swati's in-laws became accusative.
"They started calling me ‘characterless’. They suggested that I was having an affair. I even had to hide my actual salary from them so that they would not try to take away my financial freedom. When he got wind of this, my husband suddenly suggested we open a joint account - an offer that I promptly declined."
All through these years, as his family tried to make her stay, Raman lived in the same city as Swati but barely ever met her.
"On my birthday, he would send me flowers. People around me would gush at what a romantic husband I was lucky to have. That was when I learned how misleading appearances can be. Only I knew that he had hit me on this day just a few years back. Even now - living in the same city - he was not bothering to visit me on my birthday, but making empty performative gestures."
Meanwhile, the emotional onslaught on Swati from the families continued.
"Once he finished his MD, I asked him how he wanted to proceed with the marriage now that all his excuses for living apart had been exhausted. His next step was to question my mental health. He told me I was unstable, that I had personality issues. He even started telling people that I would hit myself and blame it on him."
“My life got reduced to a small room in my parents’ house”
Ultimately, the divorce proceedings only began when Raman said he wanted a divorce.
"In our society, if a woman says that she wants a divorce, even her own family members will comment on how she doesn't want her marriage to work. But it is okay when a man asks the same after years of torturing his wife."
The divorce proceedings were anything but smooth.
"Months passed. We went through counseling, mediation, everything. By this point, I was starting to believe that there was something wrong with me which had caused my husband to reject me since the day we got married. However, I was jolted back to reality quite ruthlessly when my family was given an ultimatum by his family that they would 'take me back' if we paid them Rs 50 lakhs. Even my lawyer was shocked at the brazenness my in-laws were showing, and said he had never come across people like them before. He suggested that I should go all-out and file domestic violence charges against them."
And yet, Swati ultimately agreed to a mutual divorce without filing any charges.
"I chose to end things in whatever way was fastest, because I realized that - as the court proceedings dragged on - Raman was back in the city, living his full life, rising up the ladder in his career. My life, on the other hand, had become reduced to a small room in my parents' house in our home town. I was not practicing. I was not earning money. I was slowly getting robbed of my self-confidence. There was no way I could treat patients with that mindset."
Seven years after the wedding that he left before the guests did, Swati finally got a divorce from Raman.
"My marriage was a dhakosla - a sham - dragged along by my husband and in-laws for years due to fear of legal action. I wasted seven precious years of my youth on this man, while his life and career moved absolutely according to his plan.”
“I was questioned why I didn't file a case for those years. Everybody asked me during the divorce, 'Why were you silent for so many years?' But here is what happened after I did get my divorce: My own lawyer commented, 'The sole cause for divorces these days is the education of women'. That is what a woman gets to hear for fighting her way out of irreparable physical, mental, emotional, financial trauma in our society."
With time, and her family's support, Swati is slowly healing from the trauma.
"Every time I was in front of a judge during the entire divorce process, I would tell them my story. And I would ask them to imagine if a privileged woman like me - a doctor, no less - went through all this in her marriage, just imagine what a majority of Indian women who are far less educated, empowered, and financially independent than me are going through."
Swati's story - while should not come as a surprise to any of us who are familiar with the statistics of gender-based violence and domestic violence in India - was still shocking to hear. And probably shocking for you to read.
Swati was brave enough and kind enough to share intimate details of her relationship with me, saying she hopes that someone somewhere will read it and derive hope and courage from it.
Swati's is a story that begins with domestic violence, includes the medical termination of a pregnancy, and ends in divorce. It is deeply disturbing to talk about these things. And yet, the silence around them is only hurting the women who suffer through them.
In that spirit, I will be delving deeper into these three issues over the next three weeks.
If you, or someone you know closely, has been through any of these experiences, and you/they are willing to share the story as Swati did, please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Like Swati, I hope that these stories will infuse us with hope and courage.
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What you are doing Mahima will help many more people than you can imagine. Much gratitude your way for choosing to write these stories. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be for you to process and then document all this.
And I cannot imagine what these women have suffered/are going through. I wish I could write more here.