When I was in 10th grade our class got a new class teacher. Priyanka mam. Ours was an Islamic school in Bangalore and she was one of the few non Muslim teachers. She was newly married and had just moved from Lucknow to be with her husband who she adored.
We loved her, we were fascinated by her stylish clothes and matching accessories. We'd wait to see what she wore each day. I still remember her sweet smiles and the way she'd look at us with mock anger if we were being cheeky (which we were often).
One day she came quite upset to the class. She couldn't focus on teaching and was tearing up. We could gather it was something at home bothering her. So we did what teenage girls do to cheer each other up. We gave her a handmade sappy card with designs and doodles and childish message of love and support from us. I still remember how happy that made her and how it moved her to tears. She was proud to call us her class and we were happy to have her as our class teacher.
One of our schoolmates got married and she was there with her husband. We met the man she always gushed about and secretly gauged him as they ate at the table next to us.
In a few months it was time to graduate and the 30 odd bunch of girls were excited and thrilled to see the world beyond this small school. But we were also sad to let go of the teachers who treated us like their own children. Priyanka mam cried, we cried. It was a sobby mess.
We moved on, got into different streams, different schools.
Three years later I am in my first year of uni. My friend rings me up. 'Did you hear about Priyanka mam? She's no more.' I couldn't believe it of course and before I could make sense of it my friend continued 'She was murdered' It was like a blow to my gut. The air left my lungs.
We spent the next few days scouring the news for anything at all regarding this. There were articles saying the husband is suspected to be behind this. We didnt believe it, we knew how much mam loved her husband and how she spoke about him. 'No way' we told each other.
A few more days pass and we find out the husband had been taken into custody. He was actually the one who murdered her. His own wife. He had planned it all. He told her he's going to surprise her and blindfolded her. Then he slit her throat. Then he made calls from her phone to his. He went out for a 'walk' and staged a robbery and called the cops.
He killed our sweet Priyanka mam. I still can't digest it. In my mind she's still somewhere teaching a lucky bunch of kids. Scolding them with love if they don't study. Being proud when they do well. I can't erase the picture of her and her husband together at that wedding. They seemed like such a normal newly wed couple.
Today I finished reading Meena Kandasamy's new book- When I hit you: Or a portrait of the writer as a young wife. I read as the narrator talks about how she, an educated, fierce, free woman,got into marriage not knowing that in 4 months she's going to be raped every night by her husband. Slapped around. Threatened with death. Have her freedoms taken away. Have her manuscripts and 25000 emails deleted. All by a 'revolutionary' communist, an educated English professor. A man who's respected by the society. Who people would never doubt of being abusive.
I didn't realize it but I was holding my breath for pages at length. My stomach clenched, my palms cold and sweaty as I hurriedly turned the pages to make sure she's okay. That she got out ok.
I turned the last page, after reading her resistance, her grit, her courage, and the beginning of her healing, and I let out a huge sigh.
I was wondering what about this shook me so much and I remembered Priyanka mam. I remembered our hesitation to believe that her husband, a soft spoken techie, could be one of 'those guys'. The ones who'd rather murder their wives than divorce them. It shattered the illusion we had that only a certain type or class or section of people are capable of unthinkable abuse and violence.
Domestic violence is very real and very close. Closer than you think. It could be your close relatives or your friend who just got married or your grandparents who have been married for more than half a century. It is real, it is wide spread and it is terrifying.
I get the impulse by some men to jump in at this point and interject 'Actually, not all men'. Here's what I have to say to them. Take a seat. This is not about your feelings and we will not let you make it about them. Instead of jumping up and down and asking 'but why didn't she just leave?' I'd like you to, just once, ask 'why did he abuse her? How could he be such a monster? What can we do to make sure more men don't turn out like this?' If that's not what you are going to say, don't leave a comment. This post is not for you.
This post is for those who have been abused and are finding their way out, those who fear they are being abused and want to find a way out, those who are alone and have no one to turn to. The ones who are told be more silent, more pleasing, more passive in the face of abuse. The ones who are coereced into bringing children into an abusive marriage because apparently 'a child is all a broken relationship needs'. The ones who are looked down upon when they finally find the courage to leave. The ones who brave the judging glares and continue to pave the way for more women like them to get out of stifling marriages. We see you. We hear you. We are with you.
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