Home. What do you ponder when you think of home? Do you consider it as a place of comfort? Of safety? Do you connect it with a person? Someone who made you feel safe, loved, and comforted? Someone who made you feel like you belonged? At least, that’s what home generally means to a person. Sadly, It’s a bit different for Naina, a person on my WhatsApp group. Before writing this blog, I put a broadcast message on a couple of my WhatsApp groups, asking women in my contacts to share their experiences about the violence they’ve witnessed or gone through. Naina, reached out to me to tell her story. After a bit of reassurance, she also permitted me to share it here, so long as her name is changed and she remains anonymous. I can understand her apprehension. I acknowledge her fears, it is not easy to come forward and share what you’ve gone through, especially when there’s the threat of being dismissed at every turn.
She started, “Home was never a place of comfort and safety for me. I don’t think I can even call it home; it was a prison. It was hell. My father was a violent man, I’ve learned most men are. He would often have these unpredictable bouts of anger; I don’t really know how else to describe them. My mother, as you might have guessed, was not quite a parent but more of a maid in the house. I know it’s a horrible thing to say about your own mother, but that’s the truth. She’d fed us, clothed us and accompanied us to social gatherings; but I don’t think I’ve ever had a conversation with her; not a meaningful one anyways.
My life at home was quite typical, we weren’t exceedingly rich, nor did we ever have to worry about the annual school fees or how we’d finance our daily lives. My father worked in the family business and my mother was a housewife. The violence at home was no different from what was happening in my neighborhood homes. In our cultural context, a father represented a person who was nothing more than a person who paid for your life but held control and had a say in everything you did, someone to fear and obey without asking a question. My mother was typical in many ways, she clothed us, fand ed us but most of all, she told us to be quiet in the presence of our father.
One of my biggest feelings of betrayal comes from my mother. I cannot forgive her for instilling this overwhelming sense of fear of our father in me and my siblings. I know it is unfair, but I hate her for being at our side and reaching out for our defense, standing up for her children, and preventing the trauma he put us through. Why did she never try to take us out of that house? Would life on our own be worse than the hell we were in?
What most people don’t seem to understand is that physical violence against women doesn’t just happen out of the blue. Ever since you’re a child you’re told that a woman is inherently bad and sexual. I remember my mother’s disgusted face when I wore a dress to go out for a movie with my cousins. I will never forget the way she looked at me with such hateful eyes and said “stop dressing like the whore you are trying to attract your male cousins (Bhaiyas)”. It is so hurtful when your parents blame you for the unwelcoming gazes that some of your uncles show you once you have grown up and arrived. My parents opined that I was distracting them. I had the unfortunate experience of the very same uncles groping or touching me and here I was scanning myself and examining every word, every gesture I made trying to figure out what is it in me that was wrong and made them do this you.”
The Oxford dictionary simply defines home as a place where one lives. For Naina, the concept of home was much more and it brought forth a series of questions in her mind. Isn’t it so much more than that? Isn’t home much more than a house? Isn’t it much more than a place where you live? Isn’t it a place where you make your life and happiness; where you spend some of your best and worst moments; where you experience love, sorrow, happiness, and everything that comes in between? It doesn’t have to be a place, home can be a person, your person, the one who is there by your side when you most need them knows your good, bad, and the ugly, and has loved you regardless.
Naina’s story may be an echo for many reading this blog. I write these few lines to validate and emphasize that violence is real. I may not have started as something physical but can be mental and wear us down. Many times, it is difficult to recognize it; we are often clueless about how close it is in our personal spaces, not to undermine how pervasive it is in our societies. Let’s take one of the most common examples that every girl witnesses with the school uniform mandate. We are shamed if the skirt is ‘too short’ meaning to say, we are dressing as provocative. We are told not to let our hair loose, use nail polish, kajal or lip balm, and so on as it may take the focus away from education. Yet the same time, we are expected to be feminine and adorn with clothes and cosmetics that complement and fit the space of societal picturization of women. This, however, cannot be too much as to entice men.
I once read a quote that said “pretty is not the tax you pay to exist in this world”. This resonates with me at a deeper level. I agree that being presentable for certain settings and gatherings is of great importance, however, am I not obliged to always look ‘pretty’? Waxing/shaving, pouching my eyes brows, taking time to do my makeup, all of these things should be my choice, not a social mandate.
The reason that I thought this story was so important to pen down and share with others is that it made me see how most women go through this kind of emotional suppression, shaming, and abuse in one form or the other. It’s important that we understand that we are not alone in our experiences and that we can help each other find our support systems, fight societal expectations and push us into submission. Before anything else, we need to break free of these subtle, subliminal messages that first shame us for our inherent femininity but at the same go, punish us if we try to deviate from the standard of what a woman “should be”.