Domestic violence: The scars that remain
The first time he hit me was just after our wedding. He begged forgiveness. But then it happened again, and again.
I had met Sumaira Waseem* many times for work. Vivacious, smiling, in control - she seemed to be a confident, educated woman who had it all: a home, a comfortable lifestyle, three children, a ‘nice guy’ husband and a career she enjoyed as an HR consultant. But sometimes, just sometimes, I felt her eyes did not smile along with her lips.
Over the years, slowly, we developed a friendship. This year, during one of our heart-to-hearts, Sumaira spoke out. She came out of her closet.
What I heard stunned me.
Waseem and she seemed like the almost perfect couple. He was quiet, yes, and withdrawn, but seemed caring and was a good husband and father and provider for his family.
But reality is often more than meets the eye.
These are excerpts of her story. In her own words. A modern, urban, affluent, educated Pakistani woman. A silent victim of domestic violence. The fire may have burned down, but underneath the ashes, embers still burn in the form of resentment.
She has survived, but the scars remain etched on her soul.
“The first time he hit me was hardly a few months after my wedding. Generally, he is not a temperamental man so it was a shock when I simply asked why he was late from work and a stinging slap across my face was the answer. He was immediately remorseful, begged for forgiveness and begged me not to tell anyone. I wanted to believe him - and so I did not tell anyone. But then it became a norm. On the most unexpected smallest of pretexts. And then the requests slowly turned into threats – threats of divorce, of more beating, of leaving me, of beating my eldest son after he was born.
What was confusing was that on regular days, he was not a bad guy. Sometimes a month would go by without him hitting me. Every time I wanted to and actually did believe that this was the end of the violence. But it was not.
I remember being kicked with boots, shoved, pushed, flung against walls. I remember bleeding through my nose and mouth. I remember being punched so badly in the stomach that I felt tender for days. My face often had marks and a lot of my casual leave at work was used up by me waiting it out at home till the marks disappeared, and finally I gave up work, telling the world it was because my kids were small. I was never allowed to see a doctor. Reporting to the police was out of the question. And the fear that I would be divorced was so super-imposed in my mind that I never even thought of complaining.
Every such bout was followed by flowers, gifts, dinners in fancy restaurants, promises of a vacation abroad, profuse apologies and threats if I thought of telling anyone. And also those words:
“Honey, you drove me to it”.
The controlling behaviour was very subtle. But I know that the feisty woman in me took a back seat and I was bludgeoned into submission.
I was like a zombie, I feel, in all those years that made up more than a decade. A lot of times I took the beatings to save my kids from getting a beating. And in spite of all this, I cannot understand, now that I look back, how I did not tell anyone and stand up for myself. Somehow the thought of giving up on my marriage hurt my already shrunken self-esteem. I was the strong one, the confident one, the extrovert, the woman of today. I was not a woman from a rural, under-privileged background who was unaware of her rights. They are the ones who get beaten, right? Not women like me!! Perhaps this is one of the best-kept secrets of Pakistan.
People generally thought I had the upper hand in our marriage. And I liked the feeling that they thought so. How could I tell the world that my ego and self-respect was crushed and trampled with severe thrashing intermittently? And so I would tell myself at times when I nursed my wounds or cried for hours sitting in the bathroom or sat in the same position for hours staring at an object that “this happens in every other home. This is not a biggie. I have so much to be thankful for. And I need to improve myself. Maybe I am not a good wife or mom or homemaker.”
I was inwardly afraid when he touched me in moments of intimacy, but I never dared to share this with him.
I have no brothers. My parents are old. We are a family respected for our values. I somehow couldn’t imagine my parents telling the world that their daughter had returned home with the medallion of divorce and 3 kids. And so, I continued.
Somewhere, I told myself this was a sign of bravery and courage. Today, I know better. I know, now, for sure, that denying issues and not asking for help is never a sign of bravery or courage.
Courage is what I have today - that I am sitting here and sharing this story with a friend.
That I have told my family.
That around the time my children were all in schools and I had had enough.
One day, I looked him in the eye and told him that I did not care if a divorce would follow – he dare not lay a finger on me.
Inside, I was trembling, waiting for the worst beating of my life - but it actually helped! That day, all that followed was verbal, not physical.
He dare not hit me now. But he still breaks things, yells and gives threats, which I don’t pay attention to.
What gave me this courage? Probably finally sharing with a few friends who made me see light. And my faith and a stronger connection with God. Going back to work and enough economic empowerment that has told me that I can take care of myself if “I” decide to leave him.”
Sumaira is still married to Waseem because of her children. She has sought counseling but he has refused to go with her to the therapist, though they both know he is the one who needs help. The last time he hit her was a couple of years ago. Yet, she cannot remove the resentment she has for him. The wounds may have healed but the scars remain.
*Names have been changed to protect the victim.