In Punjab, it was normal for girls to be married at 18, but I wasn’t ready for it. One day, I came home from college at noon, and by 5 o’clock the same day I was married. That was a huge shock for me.
I don’t know why my parents gave me away. It was the tradition at that time, and they believed he was a good man. Also, he was going to England, and they thought it would be good for me to get an education there. But I never wanted to go and live overseas. My dream was always to study law in India like my mum, who was actually the equivalent of a magistrate.
We spent 4 years in England before coming to Australia. It was very challenging for me here. My ex and his family treated me like a slave. They wouldn’t let me go out and I was just a housemaid for everybody – they actually even introduced me as a housemaid when guests visited. When I couldn’t get things done, they used to kick me, and over the years I was bashed, bruised and burnt. One day, my ex-husband even scarred me with a kitchen knife. They all also constantly taunted me, and those words destroyed every bit of confidence I had once had. It was like a kind of living hell for me.
Every day I thought about leaving him, but I didn’t have the courage. I had no job, and later I had my young children to think about. And I couldn’t speak the language, as I was only allowed to meet with other people who spoke the Punjabi language. My husband didn’t want me to learn English. He used to rip up my books if he saw me trying to learn. He didn’t want me to grow in any way. I also had no phone and, as a result, I lost contact with my family from time to time when I needed them the most, as he wouldn’t let me call them and tell them the horrors I was going through. I didn’t even have a TV to stay in touch with the outside world.
Eventually, I started learning and improving my English through books I secretly stored in the toilet. I also slowly made some friends. Next, I started studying a Bachelor of Nursing. When he was at work, I used to tell him that I was just going out with friends but I would actually go to university. At exam time, I would sneak out when he was sleeping and go to my friend’s house to learn Maths. Then I would come home at 3 or 4 am and go back to bed.
Finally, he did find out, so I couldn’t finish the course. He bashed me so badly. At that time, my second daughter had just been born and he was also angry because I couldn’t give him a son, so he locked me for a few days in the toilet. Pretty much the whole time I was with him was a nightmare.
4 years ago, he bashed me very badly and actually kicked me out of the house. Then he took everything – my two girls, the money, the car, and went back to India. I was left with nothing. I was on the street, and I didn’t know where to get help as it was the Christmas holidays and everything was shut down. Luckily, my next door neighbour came to my rescue, and let me stay at their house.
At that time, I made a promise to myself to turn my life around. So I went back to my Nursing degree, and enrolled myself in multiple courses including the Victoria Leadership Program, the Lifeline Counselling program, and family/domestic violence prevention training. I also started working in the court system as a volunteer, and became a White Ribbon advocate to raise awareness in community for violence against women.
I now work for the Department of Human Services helping kids with challenging behaviour. And I’m in my second year of law school, finally realising my childhood dream of being a lawyer. I’m also serving as Deputy Chair of the Albury Wodonga Ethnic Community Council, and as an advisory board member for a number of organisations including the Albury Wodonga Family violence prevention committee. Last year, I was very proud when I was awarded the Bravery Award from the Victoria leadership program.
Now it’s my mission to spread awareness about the prevention of family/domestic violence and to build safe living conditions for our girls and women. I want all women to understand we have a voice and we have the right to speak out. Together we all can create a strong sisterhood against violence.
Although my daughters are now back in Australia, I still can't see them. Hopefully, I will have them back soon. And when they come, I want them to see me as a strong mother. I want them to be proud to say, ‘She is my mother.’
Photographer: In 2 Photography – Photography by Kerry Devereaux
If you are experiencing domestic violence, please visit www.1800respect.org.au