Happily Never After by Natalie Soysa

(Based on a True Story)

Colombo, 1973
Sunday morning.

And Radio Ceylon plays her favourite; ‘Someday my Prince will Come’ from the 1937 Disney classic, Snow White. She rises to sit by her windowsill and dreams of that someday when he would come for her.

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1976
Today was that someday; her Prince Charming had come to sweep her off her feet.
She blushes in the morning light.

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1978

The sound of wedding bells fade, just as quick as his charm.
It was five weeks since the wedding and the fairytale was nowhere in sight.

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1979
He hit her.
Hard.
The chicken curry didn’t taste the way he wanted it to.
She wondered if anyone would notice the bruise at office the next morning. They did.
And they looked away.

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1980
The fairytale fades, the bruises darken.
Thousands of women have endured it before you, her mother says. So now, she’s the weak one?
But then, a baby girl is born. And for a brief moment, he was almost her Prince again.

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1984
The child wakes up to the sound of her mother’s screams.
The louder she screams, the harder he hits her.
But she can’t stop crying.
It hurts too much. And she is always afraid he would go too far.
The little girl hides under her bed; a habit that would continue into adulthood.

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1989
There is no fairytale. There never was.
She thinks about running away, child in tow. But where would they go?
Maybe it was time to do as the women before her had done and come to terms with it.
Acceptance is a dirty word, sometimes.

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1990
She picks herself up from another beating, adjusts her thoughts and settles into what life was probably always meant to be.
A few decades too late, she thought – but I finally know what love is…

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…a prison you can’t leave. Won’t leave.

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2015
He is finally too old to beat her. And the bruises had time to heal.
But her daughter visits, adorned with bruises that seem all too familiar.
She sees them.
But she looks the other way.

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Photographer Statement:

Domestic Violence (DV) or Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is an issue of pandemic proportions.

The world over, women are abused in their homes; beaten into submission, beaten because they aren’t good enough or their dowry too small – and sometimes because their partners are drunk or had a bad day. Some countries have adequate measures in place to intervene in such situations; women and children are provided housing away from the perpetrators, who are then brought to justice.

Closer to home, the context differs:
While a Prevention of Domestic Violence Act exists since 2005, it seems a mere formality to be in line with global requirements. The act doesn’t set out specific procedures to follow when cases are reported. Medical officers are not compelled to report cases to the authorities who in turn have no mandatory procedures to ensure that these women and their children are placed in protective care. Instead, they are encouraged to go back home and ‘work things out’. By doing so, they walk back into abusive homes, coming to terms with their plight, very much like the woman whose story I’ve attempted to narrate with these photographs. The issue is also cyclical with behaviours being passed on to children living in abusive homes; sons inherit the right to be abusive and daughters are forced to accept it. What’s more, we are unable to quantify the issue in Sri Lanka because crimes of this nature often go unreported.

Our culture seems designed to celebrate the perpetrator and make the victim feel guilty. How does a woman admit she is beaten when society demands her subservience? Her family demands that she not bring them shame and the rest of us merely look the other way. In cases where a woman does find the courage to report the abuse, no one can tell her what happens next. Where would she go? What would the future hold for a woman with no home?

Each of us either come from an abusive background, heard the neighbours’ argue into the wee hours or know a friend who lives in a violent home. Almost every time it happens however, we’ve learned to brush it aside or consider IPV to be normative behaviour.

How many of us have done something to stop the violence?
How many of us have brushed it aside? Pretended it wasn’t happening?

Why do we let our daughters grow up to believe in fairytales?
Why do we let our sons grow up feeling superior to women?

Why aren’t we pressuring the state to rectify their shortcomings?
And shouldn’t we all be held accountable for looking the other way?

—————————
Natalie Soysa
Colombo, November 2015
Featuring: Christina Britto

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