‘How I Survived Regular Domestic Abuse, Sexual Assault & Loss Of A Brother’
The first time you come across Arya, you may not feel that she is anything out of the ordinary — cheerful, although a little restrained, and determined to make her mark in the world. But that’s until you notice the scars on her arms.
For years, the 27-year-old content specialist in Bengaluru had been struggling with anger issues and a tendency to cause self-harm.
“That’s not surprising, is it? Considering that I have faced regular physical abuse at home every day since I was about five,” says Arya. “That’s some of my oldest memories. I don’t even remember anything before that.”
According to Arya, regular beatings at home in Siliguri, West Bengal, were the only way her parents communicated with her. “The abuse would first be verbal. They would always start with ‘We spend so much money on you…’ and I knew the blows would follow soon. It would go on for hours. My mother and father would attack me in unison.”
And it wasn’t just slaps.
“They would punch and kick me black and blue. The assault used to go on for hours. There were times during these sessions when I would lose consciousness and wake up to more beatings. My parents would not stop even after I fainted,” says Arya.
This continued for years. Teachers at school noticed her bruises and tried to make her open up to them. But by that time Arya had realised that her parents’ behaviour was not normal. None of her classmates turned up with similar bruises. It made her more reluctant to share her feelings. And scared.
Once, however, she mustered the courage and spoke to a teacher. After listening to her ordeal, her teacher apparently told her: “Tell your parents not to hit God’s child.”
“Those were the exact words,” says Arya.
Regular assaults at home made her resort to self-harm to deal with the pain — both physical and emotional. She began to cut herself.
But when she turned 16, Arya decided to fight back. Quite literally. “There were times when if my parents would shout at me, I would shout back. If they hit me, I would hit back. But obviously, I stood little chance against the two of them,” she says.
To curb her rebellious spirit, her parents decided to take her to a therapist. “They found me three therapists. To each of them, my mother would say that I needed to be brought under control,” says Arya.
“Thanks to this, it was extremely difficult for me to explain to the therapists what I was actually going through. Nobody took my word for what it was and all three of them thought that my problems were only family oriented and caused by the generation gap between my parents and I. Nobody took me seriously and since it was making matters worse, I decided to discontinue with the sessions,” recalls the 27-year-old.
Meanwhile, the assault at home continued. Almost every day.
When Arya started college, she picked up the occasional drinking and smoking habits from her peers. Also after being exposed to relatively wider world, she started to look for affection from outside her family.
“I never felt an ounce of affection from my parents and by then, I had begun to look up to other men for any amount of love or attention. I dated men who were significantly older than me — by 10 years or more. This obviously made me vulnerable to attacks by paedophiles,” Arya says.
And she was attacked. By a man significantly older than her. Her uncle.
“Around 2016, we moved from Siliguri to Kolkata, mother would keep harping about how I hung around with bad people because I would occasionally smoke and drink and encouraged me to mingle with her side of the extended family. The irony was, even they would drink and smoke,” says Arya.
During her attempts to socialise with her relatives, she came across a maternal uncle. “He was about eight years older than me and seemed more like a cool cousin than an uncle. He was quite jolly and warm. With him around, I would feel accepted and a part of the circle and not an outsider. He soon became my favourite person, besides my brother,” Arya recalls.
Her younger brother, Neel (name changed), had been a witness to the regular assaults at home but was sent off to a hostel so he escaped the torture, but having witnessed Arya’s plight, he was always anxious to keep their parents satisfied with his performance.
“Marks mattered a lot to my parents and he would do everything he could to ace all the exams,” says Arya.
Once, the siblings were invited to a family wedding in Bengaluru. The uncle was also a part of the celebrations.
The night before the wedding, the cousins, including the uncle, slept in the same room. “There was this big bed in one of the rooms and a number of us squeezed into it and fell asleep. In the middle of the night, however, I woke up to a hand on my body,” says Arya.
“I opened my eyes to see my brother asleep and realised that it wasn’t him. My uncle was lying on my other side and it was his hand. It was also at that point that I realised I was being groped.
I was both groggy and confused, but one thing was crystal clear to me. Whatever was happening, my brother should not get to know about it. I tried to fend off the groping hand. I told uncle ‘No. Please, no!’ I couldn’t shout because I was afraid of waking my brother and others. But he did not back off. It was a long night,” recalls Arya.
The next morning, while she was trying to put herself together, her uncle apologised to her for his behaviour and blamed it on him being drunk. Arya, however, claims that he was not drunk.
“The night before, all the cousins had shared drinks from one bottle and we all had only 60 ml alcohol. It was impossible for him to get drunk with only that much to drink,” claims Arya.
At that time, confused and hurt, Arya decided to keep the incident under wraps. Three weeks later, she finally opened up to her best friends, who urged her to tell her family about it.
Reluctantly, Arya first revealed it to Neel. He too encouraged her to let their parents know about it. “He had said that despite what my parents do to me, this was something serious and they should help me out,” says Arya.
But, when she did tell them about the incident, her mother’s first reaction was: “Who asked you to hang around with them?”
My family was first in denial. And then they blamed me for it,” Arya claims.
“I wanted to file a police complaint, but they would not let me. I relented for a bit, but then I filed an FIR and then all hell broke loose,” she says.
Once the police were informed, the news spread like wild fire. And people around her, relatives, neighbours and even her parents blamed her for lying about the uncle and began to humiliate her at every chance they would get.
“My uncle had a pleasing personality and made friends easily. He was also friends with a lot of people in our apartment complex. Naturally, they all thought I was lying and they began to harass us,” adds Arya.
Speaking about the kind of treatment she received, Arya says, “We used to pay our common society bills by transferring money online, but yet, these people would show up at the door and claim that they haven’t received the money even after we showed them the receipts of the transaction.”
“They would also call these meetings where my parents would be asked to ‘rein me in’ or face the consequences. They threatened to disconnect our drinking water supply.”
But Arya resisted. She stuck to her side of the story, refused to withdraw the police complaint. Eventually, with an active investigation, the uncle absconded.
The sexual assault aggravated Arya’s self-harm tendencies and she began to feel suicidal. Her friends then persuaded her to seek therapy and this time, she found one for herself. This time, the therapist actually listened and helped her.
The domestic abuse, however, continued. It was then that help arrived in the form of two furballs — Rosette and Euron.
“My cats saved me,” says Arya. “I had adopted them because I felt lonely, especially with my brother away, but they turned out to be my saviour.”
It turned out that Arya’s parents hated cats and as long as Rosette and Euron were in her room, they would not enter it. “They let me be by myself. So I did not have to face assault anymore,” says Arya.
But living in a room with two cats for a long period of time was not helpful. Arya began to consider looking for a job so that she could move out.
“Initially, I was scared to live by myself. I thought, if my family can do this to me, others can simply kill me, but then, I derived courage from my pets. I decided to move out for their sake. So that they do not have to stay cooped up in a room,” she says.
But while these plans were afoot, tragedy struck. In April this year, Arya lost Neel to suicide.
“He was a good student. He was about to complete his Masters degree from ISI in Bengaluru and had already been accepted into Indiana University in US for a PhD. But his last semester exams were not going too well and he was anxious about Indiana University rejecting him. He was so depressed about it that he did not even consult his dean or counsellor for possible options. He just gave up,” says Arya.
The night before killing himself, Neel had spoken to Arya about finding her a place in Bengaluru and both were planning décor ideas.
Neel was not only Arya's little brother, but also the only person in the family who loved and adored her. When he would return home during vacations, the two would be inseparable.
"The beatings would also take a break," says Arya. "His arrival would mean that our parents would either stay distracted or in a slightly better mood and therefore, I would get some respite from the regular assaults."
Recalling an incident from when Neel was a toddler, Arya says, "When he was tiny, he would get so scared when I would get beaten up. He used to get scared and confused. Sometimes he would hide in the other room, but once he had rushed in to help me. Neel was just a child and he wanted to save me."
Having learned from his sister's experience, Neel was determined not to let their parents treat him how they treated Arya. "At one point, most of the time my parents would pick on me because of the marks I scored or when they saw that I wasn't spending too much time with books. Anything less than 90% was not acceptable to them. So, Neel decided to not give them that excuse. He excelled in academics."
But, it was his anxiety to perform to the best of his ability that may have perhaps led him to kill himself.
Having been a good student, getting through ISI in Bengaluru and then Indiana University in the USA was the path that he appeared to have had envisioned for himself. His plans had no room for failure. Hence, when he was not satisfied with his performance during the last semester of Masters exams in ISI, it rattled him.
"He did not speak to me about his suicidal tendencies. I got to know later that he told his girlfriend that he was panicking over being rejected from Indiana University of his scores were not up to the mark. She suggested they all go to the college Dean and counsellor for help. They have always been student-friendly and were sure to think of a way out. Neel agreed but could not go through with it. He committed suicide on the third day of the examinations," says Arya.
She may not have grieved for her brother yet, but Neel's tribute page on Facebook are filled with messages from Arya.
"Where are you? Can't find you. Number not working. Where are you? Come home fast. Worried." A post from June 28 read. Months after Neel had died.
"Bhai (brother), bhai, come back na. Please. Please bhai. Can't sleep. Come back na. Please." - another from June 18 stated.
Another read: "Amar shona baba ta. Amar shona chele. Toke r ador korte parbo na, baba? (My darling boy. My dearest son. Won't I be able to pet you or embrace you anymore, my baby?"
It has been months since and Arya now has a new job and her own place in Bengaluru. She is, however, yet to grieve her lost brother. “I cannot do it now. I need time,” she says. And her voice trembles.
But on being asked if she has resumed taking therapy in Bengaluru, the confidence returns. She says, “I have studied myself thoroughly to know when I need professional help. I have been able to pull myself together and stay that way, for now. But, if I need help, I won’t hesitate to ask for it. Life after all, is precious.”