Guest post : Roel tells her story

Roel Raymond, blogs at http://kataclysmichaos.tumblr.com/, tweets at http://twitter.com/kataclysmichaos, free-lance journalist, full-time advertising professional. Mother. 

Original post can be found here.

Two months ago I sat for my first year final exams at the Open University of Sri Lanka. Last months edition of the Hi Magazine showcased 3 pages of clothes from designer K.T Brown – modelled by me. And in December, I will be on Art TV – as a contestant for the Super Model of Asia Pacific 2011. I suffer from no  grandiose illusions about myself – I am no super model, am extremely uncomfortable in front of the camera and at age 26 have only just begun studying for my degree – but every one of these steps are a huge achievement for me –  for just over three years ago I was trapped in an abusive marriage – one that wore down every shred of confidence I ever owned – confidence I have struggled to take control of and own ever since.

It has never been easy for me to speak of what took place during those 5 years I was married, I don’t think I ever fully have. I mean to now, because I feel that my story – or some part of it may resonate with someone out there – someone who may still be ignorant of her rights – for while it was youthful folly that led me to marry at the age of 18 it was  ignorance that held me there 5 years – trapped in marriage to a man who didn’t recognize me as an equal – a man who reflected attitudes and actions no different to 99% of the men here in Sri Lanka. Don’t get me wrong – I am no feminist. I see no reason to burn the bra when all one needs to do is not wear it – I can only attest to what is true for me – to what is my reality.

I was recently at an event at which a Buddhist priest spoke – he told the audience that he ran a pre-school in Kalmunai and how he loved working with children. He mentioned that he was brought up in a Home for destitute children and said that when he saw children ‘ mahath dukak mata athivenava’ (a great sadness come over me). It is this same ‘mahath duka’ I feel when I see women living lives they should not have to live. Sadness and anger. Anger at a system that makes it so hard for a woman to stand up for her rights, a system that doesn’t protect women, a system that discriminates against a woman and a system that casually accepts as normal all abuse against women.

I know what it is like to be beaten for having an opinion, beaten for answering back, beaten because he didn’t like what you just said, beaten because he was drunk, beaten because you felt you had rights and asked for them, beaten because you had values and you stood up for them, beaten because he felt you didn’t respect him. I have been beaten for less. I know what it is like to be told you don’t amount to anything, that you have nothing, that your parents are nothing, that you came from nowhere and that you will never amount to anything.  I know what it is like to believe these lies.

I know what it is like to stand waiting at a Police Station to make an entry (because my mother had the sense to push me to) and have the police laugh in your direction, look at you sneeringly, and make you feel like it is you who is in the wrong. I know what it is like to stand there alone, holding a crying child, scarlet-cheeked and ashamed, like scores and scores and scores of other Sri Lankan women do.  I know what it is like to want to leave an abusive man, but be too afraid to. I know what its like to feel like it is your responsibility to stay, for the sake of your child – even if you learn later that he has the bigger responsibility to treat his wife, the mother of his child right.

I know what it is like to be locked out of the house, in the middle of the night, because he felt he could do that to you and to be crouching in fear and shaking with tears. I know what it is like when all the adults that surround you tell you that time will heal all wounds, or that he will change with time, or that you should be patient – when all you really want is for the abuse to stop. How many other women are in the same predicament today? How many women are being advised to be patient, to ‘bow’ their heads, to stay for the sake of the children? How many are being told to be careful with what they say to their husbands, to refrain from angering him, to pray, to go to church, to write in a diary, to ask forgiveness for sin, to put their lives right in the sight of God, to make pujas?

How many women are – in addition to the beating they are getting from their husbands, beating themselves up – by taking blame and responsibility for a wrong that is not theirs? How many women carry this  guilt with them their lifelong? And how very few women know that they don’t have to? There is serious dearth of education and mainstream conversation on the topic of violence against women. And we that refuse to speak only contribute to it. Domestic violence is portrayed in images of black and white, in symbols and signage – but why do those of us with a voice not speak? We the middle and upper English speaking classes like to comfort ourselves with the idea that violence against women is a distant reality affecting only the uneducated and poorer classes- but the very real truth is that violence against women exists everywhere, in every class, in most homes. But how many of us hide behind the cloak of shame and refuse to speak.

Young men reading this, ask yourselves if you have not seen your father make your mother cry, your father hit your mother, even. Young women, ask yourselves if you do not throw yourselves into a social life that keeps you away from home for as long as possible because you just don’t want to go home and have to see the limited life your mother lives or at how abusive the father you love can be to her? Yes, there are exceptions, but I speak not for them or of them, I speak for all those of you in the system – being abused now, today, to all those of you watching someone else being abused now, today, even to you men who speak of equality for the sexes and yet shun the idea of counselling, couple therapy, anger management and a host of other tools that can be used to create an equal platform that will be the foundation for  the relationship you share with you partner. I speak to you – should you too not speak up? Should not this kind of behaviors and attitudes be labeled with a clear NO?

How many mothers stay in unhappy marriages for the sakes of their children and bring up children that can’t discern between the right and the wrong they see happening in their homes? How many women tell their sons that they must treat women right and then allow their husbands to walk all over them? Unless there is some bravery, some balls on the side of the women themselves, this cycle of abuse will continue. Sons will grow up to mistreat their women (whatever their true intentions may be) and daughters will grow up vowing never to marry. Marriages will fail and children (like mine) will have broken homes. But the question worth asking is – how much less broken is a home with an abusive father to a home in which their is no father at all? Not much less.

The Sri Lanka 16 Days campaign is a wonderful initiative. I am only coming out with parts of my story because there is a platform for it. (and because I am today, older, wiser, stronger) But there must be more platforms, there must be more conversation, there must be more acceptance, more support, more initiatives such as this and much much less tolerance for domestic violence. Sri Lanka has a long way more to go. The system of justice is marked with delays, administrative failures, bribery and corruption. It has been three years since my marriage ended and I am yet to get the justice I seek. The legal system needs to strengthen and we needs lawyers with integrity – lawyers that will demand an end to the bribery and corruption that goes on within the courts. We need counsellors that will counsel with a conscience, we need women to understand that an education can get them a job that can give them financial independence. We need trustworthy childcare systems and a trustworthy police force. Yes, we are a long way away from it all.

But today, I spoke up. And tomorrow I hope you will. And maybe the day after tomorrow more people will speak up and in the next generation our children will benefit from it.

Being a young single mother in this country hasn’t been easy. I feel judged – all the time! Not having a man ensures that I am an easy target to three-wheel drivers, baas’s, unscrupulous tuition teachers, dirty policemen, harsh neighbors, school principals – the whole lot. I have come to realize that the hardest thing a single woman, or a single mother faces is social stigmatization. And yet, when I wake up in the morning and I know the day is my own, that the goals I have set are my own, that all achievements are my own, that the decisions I make are my own, and that my son is my own, I am happy.

 Me and V – by Ruvin

38 thoughts on “Guest post : Roel tells her story

  1. A great post by an obviously brave and brilliant woman. Thank you for sharing. I have only one comment in argument and that is what seems to be your definition of a feminist. A feminist in the true sense of the word is someone who believes that women have human rights. The notion of bra-burning is one of the worst misconceptions of feminism. And we do not have to apologise for being feminist.

  2. You were and always will be a fighter Ro. For that and many other reasons you deserve the love and respect that I / we all give you.🙂❤

  3. You are indeed strong and brave to come out with your story, I respect you for that and admire you for your intentions of speaking up. I just wanted to voice my opinion about some thing you wrote. I just wanted to point out that its not some thing bad to be a feminist. It is because of feminism and the struggles that most of us are enjoying many of the things we do. It is because of the feminist struggles that we are able to actually go out to the world and be respected as who we are (or at least demand to be so), from our right for education, the right to vote to many other rights we enjoy came about through feminism. So I believe most of hte positives we enjoy today, from the job to being able to stand up as single women and single mothers came about through feminism. so no one has to say sorry for being a feminist or deny being one when we have inherited and enjoy what feminism has won for women kind.

  4. Unfortunately this society has a way of victimizing the victim, sad but true.
    I can only imagine the horrors that you’ve had to live through, and courage to you for standing up for yourself and your kid. He will thank you for it one day.

  5. This is very inspiring… I remember when I was in grade 4, we used to watch you run relays and cheer you on saying “Go Roel Go!” I admire you for being brave enough to share this story and I am definitely cheering you on!🙂 All the best Roel!

  6. ” trapped in marriage to a man who didn’t recognize me as an equal – a man who reflected attitudes and actions no different to 99% of the men here in Sri Lanka.”
    I don’t agree with the above statement.. You can’t assume 99% of Srilankan men are abusive just because your ex was abusive.. I never support physical or mental torture against another human being either men or women.. There is situation that not only men torture women, but also vise versa.. All that matters is who is the strongest and cruel minded..
    Finally, I appreciate what you did coz not much people can stand and fight just like you. Bravo..

    • 99% is a ridiculous statistic. Since you are a victim of abuse you may well feel that this is the case. But there are many more loving, caring and equal realtionships in Sri Lanka between men and women. So please dont tarnish everyone with the same brush. Congratulations to you on breaking free from abuse. Remember there are many good men still out there. So dont give up hope.

  7. We need to stop perpetuating this idea that Feminism is some sort of extreme, radical ideology of bra burning and a desire for masculinity. Reading your article has convinced me that you are indeed a Feminist. Be proud of it – It’s an impressive badge to wear.

  8. Your story is very inspiring. I hope that it will help other suffering women in Sri Lanka and all over the world understand that it is not their destiny or their duty as mothers to be silent and endure. Your children are fortunate to have a mother like you. I am sure they would rather live in loving home with only a mother than be under the same roof with an abuser.

  9. Hi roel Akki, I’m not sure whether u remember me or not but just wanna say how proud I am about u to come up and s
    Do something like this for u n everyone! To b honest Akki I went through the same exact thing like u and still suffering for it! I was beaten up every min for nothing and the exact things u’ve mentioned.not only from my ex husband but from my in laws too!! The hard part was my father in law was in the police so I had to go through more when I went to the police! So I ended up by doing nothing and leaving the country! I still can’t go back to see my parents or b with them cuz when he finds out I’m there he gives me a time that I almost kill myself!
    Anyways just wanna tell u how proud I am n I’ll always b there to help how ever in anything! God bless u always

  10. Really proud Roel! Been a single mother is not tough! It is the people around you who make you feel it. I am sure you must be enjoying every single moment with your child and also he will be much closer to you. But girl – don’t hate the world! Live Happily that you are free and you have been blessed to have a mother who helped you on all of this – so you are not alone. The world out there is tough- and it seems like you are tougher – so Good Luck and God bless.

  11. Really an inspiring woman Roel, it is the real truth that is not revealed in many cases due to the preciousness of marriage, shame and been scared to come out. When a person enters a marriage they never know what they have to undergo, but to save the marriage many women tolerate the abusive behavior of their partner. It comes to a point that it cannot be tolerated or may end up in a hospital. But still the men will not accept their faults and violence against women. As women we have to be there for one another and support each other for violence against women. We should not let people put us down for nothing and a woman is a precious gift to this world should be look after and taken care of not to be trampled by men who a aggressive and violent who think they are always right.

  12. hey, i can still remember you from school days and you were always a person that i looked up to and admired. i do not think you can remember me because i was still in grade 4 or 5 when you left school. i am a strong feminist and i have been involved in projects that highlight women’s rights and i must say i have a lot of respect for you and i am glad that you had the courage and strength to put a stop to the injustice that was happening to you. because you did not deserve the abuse and neither does any woman. you are truly inspirational and i hope and pray that all the women out there who are being abused will have the courage to stand up for their rights.i wish you all the very best. very proud of you..:)

  13. hey Roel… proud of your courage to leave the man u loved to be married at the age of 18 and have a son but realize he’s a devil, and stand up for what is right..I know few women who still cannot and will probably never stand up b’cause they still either love the devil or feels some fear or some kind of beliefe that they need to have patience because of their children or b’cause ……

    I don’t think it’s shame that makes women or in some cases men to go through mental or physical trauma in a marriage, in some cases it is our culture and in some cases it is for the sake of the children,(fear of loosing the right for the children). abuse in marriage is not only physical abuse even mental abuse takes place more, b’cause of people who do not know a limit or have no respet over anything.
    it takes one person in a marriage to stand up to what is right that will also educate the children to do what is right in life and know that violence is a big NO and that it can be stopped if you are strong within..

    wish u all the luck in life and God bless u and your little one..

  14. thank you for sharing your story… it’ll help many realize their own situation (actually name it; An abusive relationship!) and could be the nudge that helps them free themselves of an abusive relationship. I wish you strength and love.

  15. Admire the courage that would have taken to write and post this. don’t however agree with the staetment that 99% of men in SL are chauvinists.

  16. Very well written! I applaud you for having had the courage to leave a marriage that took away you’re self worth, but mostly, i admire your courage to have re-build your life.

    I’m a child of a broken home; one that saw my father beat my mother. As a child, you feel nothing but fear and agony. The day my parents seperated was the day that i was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that I would not have to witness the violence, hear the screams and see the pain it caused.

    I hope that women such as yourself would set an example and finally end the age of myth that a woman’s role is to keep the family unit together no matter what. Clearly, this type of sexist notion only leads to lifelong misery.

    Anyway, best of luck to you!

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  18. Hello

    This was a beautiful and important piece of writing and I wanted to thank you for telling your story.

    It particularly resonated with me as it validated my own story. A story that I have been trying to deny over the last couple of years.

    I too was in an abusive relationship in Sri Lanka which lasted a little more than a year. During that period, I was subjected to the most insurmountable violence which included broken bones, bruises, scratches and worse-a broken soul. I went from this vivacious, bubbly woman who had spent her entire lifetime growing up in the west with absolutely no comprehension of why a woman would put up with domestic violence to being one of “‘those women” who stay with the abuser, feeling blinded by the inability to find an exit to the hopelessness. I finally escaped the situation with the help of family and returned back home, a shell of my former self. It is only now after a year of therapy that I am trying to regain a sense of my identity and it is so hard as I feel my experience defines me at present and I don’t want it to define my future.

    My experience taught me that no matter where you come from, what your socio economic status is, your religion, or educational background, anyone can easily end up in a cycle of abuse that we never intended to be part of or had the foresight to predict . And when I say abuse, I include the emotional and physiological aspects too, which are perhaps, the most harmful. While I understand that this phenomenon prevails across the world, I must say that the ”system” in Sri Lanka perpetuates it. The system has no respect or empathy for the battered victim. “it must be her fault” ”she must have done something” all those clichés certainly ring true in SL.

    I tried to escape this man several times and I too suffered the humiliation of being sneered at by the gawking police who thought I must be a prostitute as I was not married. You see ”good girls” dont go to the police station for help. There I was with a broken jaw, writing a statement, while the officer in charge is asking my friend in Sinhala whether I would be interested in having a relationship with HiM cos “”she must be easy”!. I was sneered as I walked in public with my punched out black eyes, crass comments, even women nudging themselves as they giggled. It made me realise that I was not only a victim of abuse at home but also in society where judgement and lack of empathy was actually causing more damage to me making me feel like an outcast and not worthy of being a human being. Being a predominant Buddhist country, this is blatant hypocracy.

    I know that there are thousands of men in SL who would never lay a finger on a woman and would never condone making a woman cry. These men need to come out and voice their opposition to violence against women. There needs to be a measurable change. There needs to be a greater understanding politically, socially and within the legal framework of the complexities associated with the psychology of abuse, both from the victim and the perpetrators perspectives. We need to examine ourselves to gain an understanding of why society has evolved to being this way. If we dont attempt to make a change now, really there is little hope for the future.

    I was lucky to escape because I had the means to. But what of those women in SL and elsewhere where escape simply isn’t an option?………

    • Dear Danielle,

      I am so shocked to hear this, not just the fact that one can fall in the trap but that the only system to turn to is so poisened to the level of the person taking the statement…. I had to cry here. I think your piece should be read on a bigger scale for women and who knows children to get inspired and to have eyes opened…. and I admire your courage and the journey of how you got free and back to your normal self thanks indeed to the means you had and your own power as well….for sure you found it and there is no way back, only up!

      for lasting change, i know there is bits and pieces of small organisations doing what they can, it is out there, and hopefully one day it will reach and make a larger group aware… like here in Malaysia they spare advertising time on the radio to inform the public in a 1.5 minute ad that is is not cool to through waste out of your car window, or poking is reserved for facebook, not for fruits in shops, or yes,…women give us life, treat them with respect. small reminders if you hear them several times a day.

      not that that is the solution but hey things are out in the open… like you do.

      I admire your courage, your journey and I am sure you will reach and change many people’s lives in one way or another with this attitude and proven will power.

      mutiara

    • You are absolutely right. Sri lankan society does not know the word empathy. They just preach but never show any empathy for the victims.It happens every where. My sister’s friend told us in Srilankan universities boys do lot of verbal abuse to the girls during ragg season.It’s a shame.

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  20. Well its really good to see a women standing up to the abuse that was done to her, and as the away she sees, that is happens to most of the women in sri lanka. What worry me is that she criticizing al the people in sri lanka just because to the fact that she got abused. Let me ask all the readers of this, do you see your dad coming home drunk or been the head of the family, well I have but let me tell you this he was all that but he always respected my mother the most and as the way I see it thats what a real man is. I have seen men who are really bad in anger management but MOST of them are good to there wife’s and gives there family the utmost importance.

    “yes true there are some men who are mean to female and who will just abuse them just because that they are female, but what makes you think tht all men are like that??”

    Personally in my family my mother is like a queen, she even decides how the plan of the house going to be or what color is the tile that is going to be at my place.

    if you take me, I say bad things to my girl whn im pissed but thts not who i am i love her more than nything and i wil mkae sure that she will be happy all the time. i am the one tht she turns to when she has a problem because she knows that i will be strong and help her to get through that. thats what men are for and that is why there are born tough, to make sure that they help you at your darkest moments. true that some men abuse i, but come on how many people has power abuses it, its not a problem with gender its the problem with the person.

    so dont think men are bad just because that you met the wrong one!!!!!

    Roel just because on ant bites you doesn’t meen that you should exterminate everyone of me cuz there are good ones and bad ones. “ying and yang”

    so when you say something make sure thatyou dont shoot the innocent ones!!!

  21. Hi Everybody.

    Thank you all for the kind comments and the empathy!

    Some of you have been through similar incidents and those that have will know of the trauma faced and hard work it takes to regain a sense of identity post the abuse. But there is always hope: being a survivor isn’t only about getting through the madness – its about being able to love yourself and heal even afterwards so that one day you can afford yourself the opportunity to love again as wholly as you did before.

    I apologize for the bra-burning metaphor. I only used it to make clear that I am not a feminist and that I see no need to label myself a feminist in order to champion equal rights for women! I am..if anything, a humanist – and perhaps, in that case, the metaphor was a poor choice…

    I didn’t say or mean that 99% of the men in Sri Lanka were abusive – I said and meant that 99% of the men in Sri Lanka do not recognize women as equals. Post writing this article I gave that sentence much thought and asked myself if I was being fair in my judgement, and I have decided to stand by my initial assessment. To my knowledge and experience, 99% of the men in Sri Lanka do not recognize women as equals.

    There are men in this country who genuinely do not believe that women are equal and there are men who will accept intellectually that women are equal – but when pushed will regress. I do really believe that both men and women must be given given an equal opportunity to be anything they want to be and to grow and evolve as much as they each want to. One day, perhaps, we will be able to create that kind of world.

    In the meantime, lets stop the abuse!

    X’s.

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  23. You have the courage to write this wonderful piece and the response you gave regarding the feminist angle and your reiteration about your believe that 99% of Sri Lankan men doesn’t recognise as equal. Many comments expressing sorry for your story. I don’t want to take that route of feeling sorry and move on. I hope your articulated article will give inspiration to other women to stand up and to be independent. Have a voice, opinion and feelings too!!!. From the writing, it looks you are from an educated and middle class family. If this happened to you, just imagine what is the plight of rural uneducated women, trapped in the social fabric. Even worse, the vulnerable Tamil women in vanni.after the war.

    Samuthra

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