This summer, my father beat me and threatened to kill me. I responded by scribbling Maya Angelou on all the walls. This prompted him to take me to a psychiatrist, who laughed at my story and attempted to give me an anti-anxiety shot, which I refused.
All Hell had broken loose.
I took refuge at the home of a distantly related aunt, a woman who condemned my copy of Pride and Prejudice by saying, “Girls shouldn’t read so much,” and advised my mother to bond with me by spending time with me in the kitchen.
After a while, I was finally able to move out of the aunt’s house and get a room in a hostel, but even that didn’t save me from my abusive family.
On September 28th, 2017, a day I will always remember as the Day of the Nightmare, my abusive family came to bring me home.
I’d been preparing for an interview for a content writer position at a major corporation. It was a great opportunity, and I had told my mother I’d be able to support myself with the salary the job was offering. She asked me if that meant I would cut all ties with the family. This kind of parental insecurity prevents most of the women in my country from ever being able to realize their true potential.
I was getting ready for the interview when the doorbell of my hostel rang and a minute later my landlady appeared outside my door. She told me that my brother was outside, waiting to take me home.
I told her firmly that I wasn’t going home.
Outside my door, my brother would not leave, no matter how many times I told him to go away. He said he was there to take me home on the instructions of my parents, who were scared shitless at the idea of me being financially independent. He didn’t say that last part, but I knew it was true.
My landlady told me that my parents had called to tell her I needed psychiatric treatment and that I needed to be sent home so I could get well. She cupped my face in her hands and looked at me pitifully.
“Go home, girl.” she said, “Be a good daughter.”
Be a good daughter. If someone wanted to write a book about deconstructing women’s empowerment in desi culture, the entire book would just say “be a good daughter.”
In the end, my brother forced his way into my bedroom and began packing all my things. The landlady came in and helped him. He dragged me back my abusive family, to a town where I have neither friends nor purpose. I’m at my parents’ house and everyone tells me, “nothing could be safer,” but nothing could be further from the truth.
This is bigger than my personal story of woe. My story is not unique.
Women all across my country are deprived of education and financial independence because they’re taught to stay locked up at home, where they are often physically and emotionally abused by their male family members. Sadly, matters such as these are hushed, and women with abusive family members often choose not to come forward. The terror of physical abuse will silence most girls anyway, maintaining the status quo.
And when women do come forward, they aren’t believed and are painted as the ultimate villain: the “bad daughter.”
As desi aunties continue to gossip and defame women among the fuming cauldrons of culinary expeditions, people like my shrink continue to laugh at the tales of violence towards villainous women such as myself.
My story is a painful one to recall and even more painful to tell, but I tell it because I believe people need to understand that things like this happen to women in my country all the time.
My father stepped on my face. What did yours do?