When does it stop being romance and become coercive control? When do you stop making excuses for him? How tough is it to break up? Sunday Times spoke to three domestic abuse survivors on how they found the courage to walk away


Toxic masculinity got a fresh lease of life this week when Kabir Singh director Sandeep Reddy Vanga spoke about love and slapping one’s love in the same breath. Vanga, who was explaining Singh’s aggressive, controlling character in the film, said, “When you are deeply connected with a woman or vice versa, there is a lot of honesty in it… if you don’t have that liberty of slapping each other, then I don’t see anything there.”

While the film is a work of fiction, the director’s comments have been sharply criticised for making abuse in a romantic relationship acceptable. NGO SNEHA’s Dr Nayreen Daruwala says that statements like these tread a dangerous path. “At our counselling sessions we often hear men say ‘main use marta hoon, par pyaar bhi bahut karta hoon’ (I hit her but I love her a lot too),” she says. Sunday Times spoke to three survivors on how they dealt with the Kabir Singh in their lives

‘The signs were there during courtship but I was too young’

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“I have had my face smashed against the wall, been thrown down the stairs, broken my arm but I stayed on for 10 years in the marriage. Till my son stopped speaking. I took him to doctors thinking he had a learning disability. The problem was not him, it was the trauma he was watching me go through,” Rashmi says.

Growing up in Kolkata, Rashmi had a very sheltered childhood. She moved to Delhi at 23 but her over-protective parents ensured that she was chaperoned everywhere. In 1992, she was married to a lawyer picked by her parents. “Now I think I should have seen the signs. The few times we went out, he kept losing his temper but I was too young to see it, “she says.

When the abuse became unbearable, she confided in her parents. They sympathised but sent her back. “My husband then threatened me. They didn’t take you back with one child. Let’s see if they will take you back after two,” she recalls. It was finally not the abuse, but the muteness of her child that made her walk out of 10 years of violence with her two children.

Then, began the uphill task of rebuilding her life. Rashmi started freelance work on an antique computer, while taking care of the two children. She spent five years counselling battered and abused women in Delhi Police’s Crime Against Women cell and wrote books about her experiences. She also set up an NGO that gives free legal aid to under-privileged women, gives talks to corporates and educational institutions on gender violence and sexual harassment at workplace.

‘I thought I’d be blamed

for my bad choice’


Zaaria was 18, a keen basketball player, when the neighbour’s good-looking son started paying attention to her. “He was seven years older, good-looking, charming. I was completely enamoured,’’ Zaaria says.

In May 2005, she said yes, much against her parents’ wishes who felt she was too young. The first hint of trouble was at the wedding itself. “As my friends came up on the stage, he started abusing them.” Zaaria put the disturbing thoughts aside as she headed for her honeymoon. “We had an argument over a minor issue. He lost his cool and slapped me right there on the street,” she says. Things went downhill very quickly after that. When she moved to Dubai, Zaaria’s calls were monitored, passwords to her email changed and her visits outside the home banned.

Even when she got pregnant the beatings continued. As her health deteriorated, she was finally allowed to fly back to Mumbai. Once she did, in February 2006, Zaaria realised she could no longer live in fear. “It was nine months of hell,” she says. But through her nightmare, Zaaria did not end up confiding in her parents for fear that she would be blamed for making a bad choice.

What followed was a long custody battle for her son that she won in 2012. In 2013, she fought another battle, one to get a passport for her son, without the name of her ex-husband.

‘I took the hitting and biting, and even cried when he left me’


“This is not working out. This is over.” With these two short sentences, Indu’s husband ended their tumultuous marriage. Instead of relief, Indu ended up in tears. Three years later the irony is not lost on her. “I was berated, hit and humiliated throughout the course of our marriage. But I was so ashamed to be divorced that I accepted it all. If he hadn’t left me, I don’t know how long I would have continued like that,’’ she says.

Things were not supposed to go this way. Indu, 23, was studying MBA in Bengaluru and recovering from a failed relationship when she got back in touch with an old friend. “It was a rebound. I thought I was marrying my best friend,” she says.

Soon after, the couple moved in with his parents in Chennai and she quit her job. Indu discovered that after a couple of drinks her husband would end up losing his temper at her. In a recent Instagram post, Indu talks about a traumatic vacation to Singapore in April 2014. “He hit me, scratched me and…had this habit of biting. That night he left a huge bite mark on my arm to ‘shut me up’. The next day he apologised. He told me it was my fault and I shouldn’t do it again,’’ she writes.

Indu, who is now working in Hyderabad, still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “Just the thought of going to that area in Chennai where my in-laws live, makes me shake in fear,” she says.

But the thought of perhaps saving another Indu keeps her going. She has started a support group for divorced and depressed women called Project Kintsugi. In a recent post she says, “For the 25-year-old Indu who did not have a voice to stand up for herself or for the right thing. For the 27-year-old Indu who was left crying on the street (literally!). To the Indu who thought she was not good enough, cool enough, smart enough and talented enough. I have finally become someone that 18 year-old Indu would look up to.”