"Us arguing and him beating me became a routine. We lived in a joint family, so it was no secret, but no one spoke for me."

Feel like Im the hostage my kids the ransom Indian domestic abuse survivor in the USImage for representation - Photo by Senior Airman Rusty Frank via Wikimedia Commons
Blog Domestic abuse Saturday, December 10, 2016 - 17:29

Drishya* has been in the United States for over seven years now and has been fighting for custody of her two children from her ex-husband for the last one year. All of them are Indian citizens.  

Drishya and Naresh’s* 11 year-long marriage ended in divorce in 2013. 

Now 40, she wants to return to India with her 13-year-old and 9-year-old sons. However, she fears that coming back to India with the legal process still going on for the children’s custody, may result in abduction charges being filed against her. 

This is her story.

***
To us Indians, the US has always seemed like the land of dreams and freedom. For me, I thought it was a fresh beginning and perhaps a chance to stabilize my volatile marriage. 

So, when Naresh* told me on a cold winter day in November 2008 that we were going to move to the US in exactly a week with our two children, I was taken aback, but I hoped some good would come out of it.

I was going to find out how wrong I was.

I met Naresh in 2002 through an arranged marriage proposal in Delhi. We were married in April after being engaged for about three months. I was 26 and he, 29. 

We were on our honeymoon when I told him one night that I was too tired to have sex. We had had a long flight from Singapore to Malaysia. He started banging his fist on the wall violently. I was scared but I did not see it for the beginning of the cycle of abuse it was going to become.

From there on, us having an argument and him beating me became a routine. We lived in a joint family, so it was no secret, but no one spoke for me. Among the taunts I had to hear on a daily basis was that I was obese, less educated and not good enough for their son.  

My own family knew, but because my father was physically disabled and I had no brothers, they initially would tell me to work on my marriage. 

Naresh decided to move us away from his parents and family to Gurugram in 2005. I thought, things may just take a turn for the better because it was going to be just the two of us and our toddler.

But what do you do when the only person living under the same roof as you, apart from a two-year-old child, refuses to say two words to you, let alone a full conversation? His physical abuse also escalated when I would try to approach him. It was a dark time. I wasn’t sure if I was doing anything right. In 2006, we shifted again to Dwarka to be nearer to his parents. 

My second pregnancy was not a planned one but Girish* was born in 2007. Looking back, he used to be such a happy, bubbly little baby. But because of everything that happened when we moved to the US, he’s only nine but has low self-esteem and is easily intimidated. I wish I could have made him un-see everything he has.

Naresh had abandoned us again in April 2008 after an argument, where he even hit me with his shoe. But I guess that was the time he found out he had been promoted and could relocate to the US, because he reconciled and came back to us. Perhaps he didn’t want his visa to be rejected because of our domestic troubles. 

By November, we had packed our bags and relocated to Cincinnati, US. New country, a new life and a real new beginning, I thought. And for a few months, it seemed to be working. But things changed in October 2009, when I found out that my 62-year-old father had to undergo a brain surgery.

In January 2010, I returned from Delhi after paying a visit to my dad who was unwell, but Naresh was not at the airport to receive me and the kids.

I did not have too much cash on me but I somehow hailed a cab and went to our apartment. The sight that greeted us still makes me cringe: he had moved out of the apartment and left it a complete mess. There was no food for the children. I panicked because we had nowhere to go. I was on a dependent spouse visa, had next to no money and no work permit, no driver's license. Our Indian neighbour across the street took us in for the time being.

I informed Nishant’s (my elder son) school principal about our situation because I had no means of getting him to school; I did not know how to drive. She told me that I had to send him to school somehow or child protection services can get involved. 

A week later, I informed the principal about the email my husband sent me, asking me to come up with a “parenting plan”. The principal told me to seek legal help right away as it looked like Naresh was seeking divorce. She told me that I wasn’t the first Asian woman who had been caught unawares by a move like this. I was completely stumped. Had he been planning this all along? I couldn’t believe this was happening to me.

Somehow, Naresh must have got an inkling that I too was seeking legal help because he came back and apologised. “You know I get angry and do these things,” he justified. With the final shred of hope of giving my children a real family, we were living together again by February. 

A few months later, I conceived for the third time. Deciding that I did not want to bring another child into this volatile relationship, I decided to undergo a complicated abortion. 

One night he was drunk and began pounding on the door yelling, “You can’t listen to me for this one thing, I’m going to get you deported without your children, you watch!” 

I locked myself with the children in their room.

When he didn’t come home again for a few days, a friend asked me if I felt safe in the house and suggested I move to a shelter. In August 2010, I did. After that, Naresh filed for legal separation. And because I lost my dependent status, my application for a work permit was rejected. 

According to the guidelines of the Ohio Supreme Court, the divorce case had to be resolved in a year-and-a-half. The case got dismissed in November 2011.

I even contacted the National Commission for Women in India and when they tried to follow up with Naresh’s family, I was in for another shocker: his family said they had disowned Naresh in 2005 because he was abusive.

Within 15 days of the dismissal, Naresh filed for divorce the second time. In 2013 finally, our divorce was finalized. I had gotten a U VISA in October 2012, which is given to domestic abuse survivors, and it enabled me to get a work permit. I thought I would leave for India with Nishant and Girish, as per the decree, when my VISA expired. I worked various part-time jobs, right from being a sketching teacher, a cafeteria aide in my son’s schools and as a language interpreter in courts.

Then I found out that Naresh remarried in December 2014. 

We were divorced on grounds of incompatibility, which is not a legitimate rationale for divorce as per Indian laws. Due to the fact that Indian matters are pending, I also plan to pursue the false marital debts he declared in decree.

Perhaps Naresh figured this out, which made my returning to India a problem for him. He filed a suit to gain custody for our children in 2015; for he knew I wouldn’t leave without them. I found out in one of the hearings for the same that he obtained green cards for them, without my knowledge.

I have had to apply for an extension for my U VISA, which expired in October this year, so that I do not accumulate unlawful presence. I lost my job in September due to my immigration status. Now, I make ends meet with the $1,380 I get for child support.

People ask me why I don't just get on a plane with Girish and Nishant and get out of here. I know my family back home will help with the money. But with the legal process ongoing for my children’s custody, I cannot afford to have an abduction charge on my head. I cannot afford to lose them.

My kids have gone through things no one should ever have to, let alone at such a young age. For a long time, Nishant blamed himself for how broken our family was. “I should have done something ma,” he would tell me. It broke my heart but I’ve tried hard to find alternatives for them. And while Girish still needs help, Nishant is a black belt in Taekwondo. He is a bright student and loves reading. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for them.

The irony of my life at this point, is that when I was in India, I became blind to the pattern of abuse. I kept trying to mend something that was broken beyond repair. And when I finally realized this, it was in a foreign land with no family, friends or financial support. I haven’t seen my parents and sister in seven years. I feel like I am being held hostage here, and the ransom they demand are my children.

 

(Written as narrated)

(*Names have been changed to protect privacy)

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