Nina held her little girl in her arms feeling like the happiest person on earth. Holding her baby, she could feel love coursing through her veins. Not only was her daughter born but a mother too was born today. Nina’s own mother was sitting next to her in the car while her Dad was driving them home. She looked at the proud grandfather in him. Things indeed had transformed. As the car moved, Nina could almost see her past playing itself out in the sights outside.
Nina thought back to her wedding day almost 5 years back. How hard it was to take that decision. The memory of that night still made her shiver.
It was Nina’s wedding day. Her parents had brought together a beautiful wedding for her. It was an arranged marriage but Nina had met the guy once. She had taken an instant liking to him. He was shy and reserved like her. They shared their passion for books and went on talking about them for hours. The family had taken that as a very positive sign and fixed up a marriage date. Nina was happy to leave her parent’s house. She couldn’t bear the thought of being in that house any longer. She wanted to get out. Away from it all.
She entered her husband’s house. There were some welcome the bride ceremonies and her husband was pulled away by his friends for a drinking after party. Nina was shown to their room where she waited for him. Soon he came. Stinking of alcohol. Slurring. Unsteady. He came very close to Nina. She cringed at the smell but put it aside trying to soak in the romance she had seen in movies. It was the first time she would feel a man’s touch. She waited a few moments holding her breath and she felt a hard slap across her face. She had a rush of emotions- the sting of the foreign hand, the welling up of tears in her eyes, the droplets straining down her made up face. She lay still trying to understand it. Nina stared at her new husband only to realise he barely knew what he just did. He was muttering away “Your father promised a bigger car and all I got was this small one. My friends are making fun of me outside!”
Her own home flashed back to Nina. Memories she had thought she had left far behind after getting married. Things she did not want to think about at all. Nina had thought in a new place she would get away from it all but not so soon. This climax was contrary to all that she imagined.
Every evening after Nina’s dad returns from work she makes some excuse to go out and then returns only in time for dinner, grabs a quick bite and locks herself up in her room pretending to do homework. Mostly she goes to Tarun’s house in the evening. Tarun tried asking her many times what bothers her but she just shrugs and unconvincingly says “Nothing.” He could see the sadness in her eyes. He also knew she was brave and fearless. One day while returning from school, some boys started teasing Nina and her friends. Nina went and hit them. She threw some hard punches and injured their faces. Tarun and other friends joined in too and taught those nasty boys a good lesson. They all admired Nina for her courage to initiate it. Especially Tarun who enjoyed her company and thought to himself that one day she would open up to him about what bothers her. She barely spoke about her parents though they seemed so warm, cheerful and welcoming! Her mom made the tastiest snacks when their gang went to Nina’s house and dad told the most interesting stories.
But Nina was living in hell. Ever since she could remember, her father used to get drunk and verbally abuse her mother. Some days he would raise his hand, shoes, belt or anything he could lay his hands on. Nina had been seeing this for years. Terror at first. Anger and resentment after that. A feeling of vengeance for some time. But resignation and indifference now. She had often asked her mother why she continued to live with this man but her mother used to say, “Just because of you! He is a wonderful father to you and feeds our family well. He is a good person at heart and it’s just the alcohol talking at night. All day he is a wonderful man.” Nina tried to argue that the first time he raised his hand her mother should have retaliated or walked away from the relationship but her mom just kept quiet. All these years Nina had witnessed the atrocities her dad bestowed on her mom. Locking herself in her room but unable to drown the loud noises, shrieks and shouting. She had a brave exterior for the world but could never stand up to her own father and stop him. She prayed to God for that strength but every time stopped out of love and respect and the fact that he was a wonderful father to her.
On some days she was so tempted to vent it all out to Tarun. To have a shoulder to cry on. A friend to confide in but she was stopped by the loss of family honour that was sure to follow. What would others think? Neighbours would whisper. No! She could not face that. So, she bore it all alone. Hoping her marriage would free her from it.
But would it all start over with only the characters changing?
Now, on her wedding night, Nina thought how easy it was to give advice to others and how tough it is to follow. Nina’s husband passed out within moments and she sat there thinking. Nina could have never imagined that her man would turn out to be like this.
The next morning when he woke up, there was no remorse. Nina thought maybe he didn’t register the events of the last night. So she started saying “Do you know yesterday…” before she could finish he interrupted her and said “Yes, I know what happened” and walked off to freshen up. Nina gave him a few minutes to see if he would apologise but he did not. He went about as if nothing had happened. That moment Nina knew what she had to do. She went out to talk to her new family. They tried their best to justify his behaviour and blame it on the alcohol. But Nina remained unconvinced. She thought what had happened once can recur and most importantly, the perpetrator had no feelings of regret. It was as if she were his property to be treated as he fancied. She left without saying another word to her husband of one night. She picked up all the clothes and jewellery her parents had given. She picked up the car keys her dad had gifted her husband and walked out.
When she reached her parent’s house they were confused and surprised to receive her so early that day. When they looked at her they knew something was wrong. To her Dad’s questions, Nina looked straight in his eyes, fearlessly and strongly, and said “He slapped me and I cannot stay married to him”. Her dad lowered his eyes and was silent.
Back to Year 2015
But today was about her precious little girl. Nina is naming her Nirbhaya. She will raise her to be brave standing up to what she believes in. She will prepare her for everything life throws at her. Nina is not closed to the idea of giving her a father someday but he has to love her as much as she does. He could be Tarun, her childhood friend, who is still single and expressed his desire to marry her. It came as a surprise to Nina who had no idea he liked her but he said he hesitated to admit his feelings earlier. Nina has asked for some time and is considering the proposal.
The day Nina returned from her marital home and told her dad what had happened, he swore never to touch alcohol again making her mom the happiest. Nina continued staying with them and found a good job. She feels a sense of completeness holding Nirbhaya.
Today Nina is an inspiration to many. When Nina opened up about what led to her divorce she only had one message for others – You have to tell somebody about what is going on and not bear it alone. You can’t be embarrassed or ashamed about it. It takes courage to stand up and one should muster up all of it in such times. She also learnt that like her, many of her friends and family were victims of domestic abuse – physical, verbal and emotional. Nina’s story had encouraged them to put a stop to this.
Nina is not bitter. She hasn’t lost her faith in institutions like marriage, family etc. She has vowed she will not shape Nirbhaya’s beliefs based on her experiences. Nina also understands that things change, people change and tough situations bring out the true character in people. She wants people to realize that raising a brave, strong woman is the greatest favour a society can do itself. The power of women to give back is beyond doubt for she will always make anything greater- a sperm into a baby, a house into a home, groceries into a meal and love into devotion.
This article was first published on Women’s Web.