Below a powerful narrative about a Sikh woman (who uses the pen name “Chardi Kala Kaur”) who experienced domestic violence in her marriage. She writes to heal, to bring awareness to a typically silenced topic, and to inspire others who are in negative relationships to seek help and stand up for themselves. Names, places, and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals. The photos are generic and not associated with the people in the article.
Love Shouldn’t Hurt
by Chardi Kala Kaur
According to a Huffington article I read, 1 out of 4 women in the United States has been a domestic violence victim. Worldwide, that ratio increases to 1 in 3 women. Statistics always fascinated me — until I became one.
Sitting next to Raja Singh, in front of the Guru Granth Sahib, we anticipated taking our lavan and vowing to commitment ourselves to marriage, I was the happiest I could ever remember. My dreams were coming true as I was going marry my best friend and spend the rest of my life with him. I was a smart, successful and spiritual person. The foundation of my being was solid: close-knit, supportive family and sangat, and strong education. I had chosen Sikhi by taking Amrit, was confortable in my skin, and was a “happy go lucky” type. I felt like I had hit the jackpot with a gem of a guy to complement me, to be my partner in life. Raja was stunning in looks, intelligent, open-minded, spiritual, deep, and my soul mate.
We had met while volunteering and became close friends. Years after this friendship, Raja confessed he had “liked” me since he first saw me. As we continued to spend time together, we realized we had many similar interests and goals in life. He was very patient with me, and I grew very comfortable with him. My friends envied how romantic, caring, and funny he was. Raja and I knew each other’s strengths, weaknesses and things we had never shared with but our Guru. When I was with him, I felt safe, comfortable and we had a great time together. I knew Raja was the one, so I had no problems telling my parents that I was going to marry Raja. I was on a path to a very happy and fulfilling life ahead – or so I thought. Once Raja and I were married, things were great for the first year and half. We enjoyed going on vacations together, cooking together and sharing our day to day events. Life appeared to be great! But those days of happiness did not last. Where the hell were the red flags? How would l know the love of my life would start considering me his enemy?
Raja’s behavior began to change. I began to experience a side of him I never knew existed. A negative, passive-aggressive side, which led to volatile anger because he could not express his emotions nor let them go. The arguments would start as petty and then escalate out of control. Initially, I thought his frustrations were due to him having a hard time finding a job and him missing his family and friends. When I spent time with my family, he became jealous, complaining he felt I loved them more than I loved him. To reassure him that was untrue, I would repeatedly tell him how silly he was being. As I did however, his anger grew – spiraling out of control. In many different ways, I attempted to make him feel loved, because I loved him, and it worked for a while. Yet, when his anger returned, he’d bring up arguments from the past – those that were irrelevant to the current situation, but he just could not let go of the past.
Over time, Raja started taking out his anger on me by yelling loudly in my face, blaming me for his own weaknesses. If I challenged him, arguments would last forever. Thus, I soon learned it was better not to respond, than to challenge him. I chose to not engage in the vicious power struggle so that the yelling would end quicker. Raja, however, misperceived my silence as acceptance of his unjust blame. We began to dance this dance of a cycle of emotional abuse. His anger was the signal to start this tiring dance. As such would be the pattern: he would get angry, yell, and verbally attack me with insults and name-calling. In return, I would either argue back or cry because his words were so hurtful and untrue. In the end, he would feel bad and “make up” for his behavior. His excuse was that I “made him do it” and that he didn’t mean it. I was so confused. At times, he could be the very best husband and at others, he was so cruel to me. Yet, wanting to believe that my Raja, the one I trusted with my life, was still there, I accepted his apologies. He would then become Prince Rational again and things would be fine for a short period of time…until another situation triggered him once again.
One day, Raja finally got the job offer he was seeking, but accepting it meant moving far away from my family. Although I already had a great job and was financially supporting us, I gladly welcomed the idea because I thought it would increase his self-esteem and he’d stop this strange behavior. My gut feeling though was telling me not to move. But I didn’t listen to it because I would do anything to get back the Raja I loved and married. For a short period of time after moving, he was happy and things were back to the normal loving way. However, the verbal abuse did not stop and as I heard these negative words daily, I started believing the name-calling. I began to internalize the negativity, to truly feel that I was indeed “stupid,”, “ugly,”, and “the cause of all his problems.” We relocated close to his family and friends, but things did not get better. After some time, he began to control me, shutting me off from my family and friends. He did not let me talk to them because he felt they were poisoning my mind against him. I would think, “How insane? You’re in the room with me during the short conversations of asking everyone how they’re doing!” However, to decrease the frequency of arguments and in the hopes of eliminating the abuse, I gave up everything: my home, my job, my family, my friends, and myself – all in the hopes of making the marriage work. Raja’s anger, however, escalated from weekly to twice weekly to daily bouts. The abuse became physical as he began to throw things and started to push me. I was stunned, shocked. I could not believe my husband in whose arms I once felt safe, secure and loved, I now feared and could not trust.
Raja and I spoke about having a family, but I refused to get pregnant knowing my world was so unstable. Therefore, I told him he needed to learn to manage his anger before kids could enter the picture. Initially, he did not go, but eventually I convinced him WE needed marriage counseling. He agreed, probably because he thought the problem was me – not his anger. We went through marriage counseling regularly for 8 months. At first, things seemed to improve and he wanted to change. However, the therapy session would spill over into our home as he would use what I said in counseling to start yelling more at home. He could not adjust to the more expressive me because I had been so silent for so long. He refused to accept responsibility for his mistakes. Instead, he always turned everything against me. “You are a liar, you are manipulative” he would tell me. As much as we were great at hiding the abuse to others, our counselor recognized it, confronted him and advised we have separate sessions for safety reasons. The physical abuse during this time and more frequent. I was emotionally drained, exhausted, and could not handle counseling anymore when he refused to work with me to bring about change.
To cope, I would cry myself to sleep every night, asking Waheguru what I could do to save my marriage, what I could do to get my life back. What happened to my loving Raja? I started doing more paath, but the situation did not improve. I did not know what else I could give of myself. The physical abuse increasingly worsened, in frequency and intensity. The pushing escalated to him striking me. He would hit me so hard on my head that I would have a headache for days. If I cried due to the pain, he’d yell for me to stop crying. He took the kitchen knife and held it to his own throat and said he’d kill if I didn’t stop crying. He punched me so hard I thought he broke my bone. When I had big bruises on my arms, I would purposefully wear short sleeves in front of his family to make sure they knew I was being abused. Yet, they would say nothing. If I was ever killed, I’d want the world to know who did it.
Finally, my last attempt at saving my marriage involved me telling Raja’s brother, Sukh, of the emotional and physical abuse. Although he wanted to help me, he did not know what to do. Therefore, Sukh went to his mom and said, “Let’s do something to help Bhabiji.” My mother-in-law’s advice was for me to have a child. She said that having a child would improve our marriage. I was outraged, but I politely explained I couldn’t live with myself if I allowed an innocent being to enter this crazy, unstable, unpredictable world of chaos. As time progressed, I began to understand the abuse was not going to end. I realized his threats of killing me and my family could become a reality when we were at Raja’s mom’s house. Raja started physically beating me, Sukh heard and tried to intervene. Instead, he and Raja ended up in a bloody fist fight, Sukh was no match for Raja. At this point, my daily pleads to Waheuguru to fix my marriage changed to daily kirtan sohaila for me not to wake up in the morning. I felt that if I was out of the picture, everything would be fine. However, Guru Sahib once again did not hear my plead. I woke up to my living Hell day in and day out. Therefore, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I came home from work one day, and I prepared to kill myself before Raja came home. I wrapped the thick cable around my neck, tied it to a fixed object and started to pull. I could feel the lack of oxygen and began to pass out. In that moment, an image of my parents grieving my loss and as a result, suffering in so much pain, came flashing in front of me. I stopped pulling and gasped for air. That image saved me; I remembered their love for me and my love for them. I decided I was not going to end my life.
Yet, I was still so stuck. I had no answer as to how to escape this life of abuse. I was so conflicted. I feared my husband and sought a “getaway plan”, yet I loved him and couldn’t “give up” on my marriage. I had no one to help me as I was alone in another country; however, somehow the same Waheguru that I felt had refused to help save my marriage helped me dissolve it. The day I left him was just like I have seen in the movies: I ran away, was in hiding and he frantically searched for me. I only had enough money for an airplane ticket out and my passport. If caught, I could face death. I feared Raja would kill me if he found me. That day, Waheguru sent my many angels; such as his dearest friend picking me up and taking me to a hotel, as I had no car; the hotel receptionist putting me under a false name, which was against policies, the receptionist calling her friend in airport security to look after me. I never asked any person for help yet many lined up that day to help me get out of the country, to leave him, to run away from death. I did not know what was next, but what I did know was that once I was home, I would breathe. A dark, heavy cloud would finally be lifted.
Years later, with tremendous family support, I healed and with counseling, I was able to rebuild my foundation, a stronger one. I stopped blaming myself; I felt worthy once again. I always knew I was smart and loving, and learned to accept that once again. I grieved the loss of not only my husband, but of my best friend. However, there was another, more important relationship I needed to mend; I needed to trust my Guru again.
For an extended period of time, I was angry with my Guru and wanted to abandon being a Sikh. I couldn’t understand why–why did this happen, why did my Guru not hear my plea to make the marriage work? Why did Raja hurt me with his words, with his fist and leave me distrusting the world? However, over the course of years, I regained a stronger love for myself and my Guru. “There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom,” (Anais Nin). I wanted to blossom and the only way I knew how is to have Guru Sahib in my life. I came to realize that Waheguru did not give me problems without also providing me resources and solutions. Of course, at the time I was going through it, I did not see it as such. I was subsumed by hurt and anger. However, having navigated this path of abuse and recovery, I am now wiser and stronger. I feel like Guru Gobind Singh’s daughter once again.
In the end, I was not a statistic after all. Three women are murdered daily by their romantic partners in the United States. I am alive. I am well. I am chardi kala.
My advice to my sisters or brothers going through abuse, please speak out and get help. Don’t remain silent like I did, it could cost you your life. It is common to feel confused and blame yourself; you didn’t make him hit you. You are not weak or unwise, you feel this way because you are brainwashed into think you are. You begin not to trust yourself, and doubt your ability to make wise decisions. Listen to your gut feeling, it is the Waheguru in you, guiding you. You are worthy of a beautiful and loving life. Need help? In the US, call 1-800-799-SAFE for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
Chardi Kala Kaur is available to talk privately with others about their experiences and lend an ear to those in need. She can be reached at: Kaur.firstname.lastname@example.org
For more Kaur Life articles on the topic of domestic violence, click here.
The featured image is from: www.asare.org