Relationships have become distorted for me; if it hurts, then it’s right.
From when I was little, I was taught that as women we are the ones who always compromise. We are the ones who suppress our happiness and smile when we want to cry. Our pain is what makes us so noble. Noble? Hah. When something goes wrong, it’s always us women who will be blamed. Noble. Other titles for us include “slut”, “whore” and “bitch”.
Let’s look at the very first relationship I had – and one we all have; the relationship that none of us choose but almost always are grateful for; the relationship between my mum and I.
Our relationship was an ordinary mother and daughter relationship until that evening. It was a Friday/Saturday, she was cooking in the kitchen. I came downstairs from what was to be my last session of sexual molestation by my religious uncle. I remember it was either a Friday or Saturday, because I sat down with my Quran to prepare for mosque. The surah I was reading was “alif-laaaam-meem”. That page still has drops of my tears entrenched in its revelations. I cried as I read these holy words wondering what was happening to me. How do I make it stop? Do I tell mum? I’m crying but mum hasn’t even realized? Maybe I’m not supposed to tell her? I looked at the clock, and spoke to my Lord; I told him, “If you want me to tell mum, you’ll have her ask me “what’s wrong” in the next 60 seconds”. The longest hand on the clock did a full 360 degrees, but mum didn’t turn to face me once. I thought then and there, Allah doesn’t want me to tell her. Then, I have no clue what came over me and I told her. I told her that “uncle” kept touching me and I didn’t like it. Then I was 11 years old. The way she dealt with it was not great, but it could have been worse. I was confused, and her reaction made me even more confused. She didn’t believe the words that came out of my mouth and asked for me to repeat what I said; almost as if she was hoping she heard wrong. Only, I was in tears as I told her again. She paused. Not knowing how to respond.
I remember my little brother was in the living room having his dinner, and asked for some ketchup. In passing him this, she dropped the bottle and it broke. The next memory I have is of her calling my uncle down from upstairs, and says in a joking tune “What’s Annon saying? Why is she crying? Were you playing with her and did you accidentally touch her?”. In this, she gave the culprit such an easy way out. All he had to say was, “Yes, bhabi, I was just playing with her and I think I must have hurt her”. He would have gotten away with it and God knows what he would have done to me after. However, to my surprise now, that’s not what he said. He came downstairs into the kitchen where mum and I were. Mum was doing the dishes (well washing the same dish over and over again) and had her back towards us. I was sitting on my dad’s chair with my head forcefully down pretending to read the Quran, while my eyes poured with tears. He came and stood fairly close to me; he was blocking the doorway. Later it turned out, that though mum had her back towards us, she actually could see our reflections (or at least his) on the window that faced the garden in front of her. It was night time, so the light in the kitchen turned that window into a mirror. We all stayed in our position for a good 20/30 mins. Imagine. I was petrified. I wanted to dive into the Quran and get lost among these words and never come out ever again.
After a while, the silence was broken with the uncle saying to mum. “Bhabi, come upstairs with me. I have some talking to do with you”. He then leaves for the stairs and head up. A reluctant mum follows. I get off my chair to hear what’s doing on and hide behind the stairs. They were on the top of the stairs, and all of a sudden I hear a THUD! Then I see two legs lying on the floor and I hear him begging, “Please forgive me Bhabi, I’ll never do it again. Please don’t tell anyone, I’ll never do it again”. He admitted it.
My mum, panicked, didn’t know what to do. She called up an aunt, who told her, “Kick him out of your house, NOW!”. She did.
Then came confronting me. However, before she could do that, I stood outside her room and watched her cry in disbelief. I worried I had done something wrong. I worried that since she had not asked me within the 60 seconds, it meant I wasn’t supposed to tell her. I was paralyzed with fear. When mum saw me outside her room, she came towards me. She got on her knees, and asked me if he had raped me. I didn’t know what rape was, but when explained I answered no. She was relieved. Seeing her smile in a sigh of relief, I realized my answers were very important. The next question I remember was, has this happened more than once? I said … No. I lied. He had done this to me more than once, but I was confused and scared. Then mum told me never to speak of this ever again; she even specifically told me that I couldn’t write it in my diary. He has a wife and he will be fine, but if this gets out then it is I who will be broken and I who no one will want to marry. She also said, that we weren’t to tell my dad. If my dad knew, he would 1) kill him and go to jail or 2) have a heart attack and die. She asked me if I wanted any of that? Of course, the answer, yet again was – no.
At the same time, keep in mind, I was being bullied in school. I had no friends to confide in and so my diary was my only release. However, I have been banned from writing in there about it. So I found a way to get around it and wrote poems about how I felt. As soon as a diary would fill up, I’d chuck it in the bin to ensure mum wouldn’t see. What became clear to me was that pain is what made us women noble. At the age of 11, I chose to cry myself to sleep every night and wake up with a smile for my dad and the rest of the world. I had no expectations, so when anyone did anything for me – it made me weep. I became extra sensitive. I would cry from watching a save the children advert. I was a pushover. My bullies, who became my “friends”, were now bullying me under the new label “banter”. I continued to smile, for now at least I had “friends”. It hurts, but that’s what relationships are. Mum always said, relationships are compromise.
I always appreciated my education, because of the world I had seen in Bangladesh, and understood how fortunate I was. Education also became my escape from everything. It was the one thing that I had that didn’t hurt me. I found that hard to accept. English, History, Art, Drama and Music became my favorites; I suppose it was a way of expressing myself, something I had been banned from doing – and I excelled.
As I grew, I never really had to see my abuser because of unrelated family feuds. However, of course that couldn’t last long. The first time I saw him post everything, was when I was in year 10. It was my cousin Joom’s Mendi, and there he was. My body went into shock and I was shaking, while tears welled up. My cousin Shilin (who I had confided in) saw, and held my hands and took me to my mum. When mum realized what was going on, she put on her scary eyes and rebuked me. She told me off for reacting like this because I was making it obvious. People would be able to tell. She sent me off to clear my face. I had to lock myself into that disabled toilet in Atnury Community Center, and cry. Then, I looked in the mirror, wiped the tears away and told myself I am someone else. This was a technique we had learnt in Drama; we are assigned a character and stay in role for a certain period of time. Only, due to my circumstances, I became excellent in holding these roles for hours, sometimes days. The role I assigned myself, was a much stronger version of myself. Someone I’m really not. Again, my mum had taught me that I am only worth what the outside world values me as. My fake smile is what is desired.
Why was mum teaching me these things? I don’t know if she even realized that’s what she was teaching me. She was merely passing on the norms that are expected from us. She was married into my dad’s family at the age of 19 or so, and had me when she was 21. Crazy to think that while I write this blog, my mum at my age was breastfeeding me. She left her country of Bangladesh while she was 8 months pregnant with me, and came to England to stay with my dad. In an unknown country, with a man who she’s only known a few years, giving birth to a child is a brave feat. She very soon found out that this huge extended family were only trouble. If you ask her to give you stories of injustices that has happened towards her and my dad, you’ll have your ears full for a lifetime. However, when you ask her, “so what did you do about?”, the pin drop silence will fill you with a sadness you’ve never known. Injustices happen, and we just let them. That is the way. A women takes the torture, keeps quiet and lets the men continue and do as they will for the sake of their relationships.
There have been cases where men and sometimes women have stood up for what’s right, but in most cases they are shamed down to reality by the victims they were trying to protect. For example, an aunt of mine is a victim of domestic violence. When my dad found out, he tried to help her and ultimately save her. She instead turned around and accused him of destroying her family and her married life. Of course, my aunt was scared because she does not know any English, doesn’t drive and is completely reliant on her husband. With little kids, she not only worried about their financial security but also what will society say? Who will marry her kids and so on. So it’s a tough situation. Nevertheless, the women are expected to take the biggest bite of compromise to keep the relationship strong.
I am giving examples from my family, but I suspect this is very common all throughout my culture and perhaps other cultures. The TV serials I grew up with for example, were in Hindi and based in India, yet almost every single one had a moral off: the women are always in pain for being truthful and attempting to keep all relations strong. They bear this pain with a smile and that is why they are noble. Example are: Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki and Kyunki Saas Bhi Khabi Bahu Thi.
Things are of course slowly changing on television; these days, though some are still stuck in a traditional world, others have explored taboo issues in society such as career women. There have also been specific programs dedicated to crimes such as rape, kidnapping, suicide, child infanticide and so on. However, I think it’s too soon to say if these shows have had an effect on our society yet or not. Perhaps the messages from these shows will become evident in a few decades time.
However, this post is not about the analysis of the tv shows I’ve watched, but how I have been taught what relationships are; what they mean, how to maintain them and what they will feel like.
So part of this “nobleness” we women think we have for bearing this pain, would surely mean that there would be a strong sisterhood among us. False. Oddly, where you would expect we would support each other, it seems as though our words are spent hurting each other, or finding our faults. In some cases, womanhood falters not alone because of their slippery tongue, but because of the duty to maintain the patriarchy. For example, I cried in the warmth and safety of my mother’s bosoms before I left for Uni as I confessed to her that this was abuse over years, not just one incident; I admitted to her that it still hurts me and is as fresh as day one. She hugged me tight, and told me she was too a victim of such abuse by her brother and if she could lead a normal life, then so could I. A few years later, I discovered some unwanted truths, among which was the truth that my mother lied to me. Fortunately for her, she had never been a victim of abuse. She lied to me to continue to protect the status quo.
Furthermore, my mum had told me that my dad was to never know about my abuse. I kept quiet and died many uncountable deaths to protect my dad from this pain. At the age of 20, when – due to many things – I finally burst and told my dad, I didn’t find the relief I was looking for. Instead I was shocked. Shocked to hear the words “I know” from his mouth. Followed by, “I knew then”. The world around me had disappeared and all of a sudden I was a floating mass in empty space. My dad knew? My mum told him? My mum lied to me? My dad didn’t fight for me? My dad, despite knowing, allowed that man back into my house? My dad didn’t protect me? My dad didn’t kill him? What then is my worth?
The relationship between a parent and a child in considered sacred and pure. The relationship between a mother and her child is one that cannot be compared or competed against. We know that this relationship does not judge, and only loves and protects without any conditions. We hear stories of mothers lifting up cars to save their babies; of parents fighting the world for their child. My most pure relationship broke the beliefs entrenched in my soul. Womanhood faltered to maintain the patriarchy that they wrongly believe is the system that feed them and their children. Womanhood faltered and taught me that if a relationship hurts, then it is right.
Today, while I am in a much better place than I was mentally previously, I still fall victim to the beliefs instilled in me from my past life. I struggle debating between the new found person within and the old me who has experience of many years. The new me argues that I deserve better (talking about my personal relationships); I deserve to have a relationship where it does not hurt; where I do not feel alone; where I do not feel like just an option (and a crappy one too); where I feel like family; where I am loved beyond my pains. However, ultimately, I cannot pretend to be worthy of something I’ve never seen exist. And thus, I find myself complacent in my pain, calling it a ‘relationship’.
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