Editor’s Note: This month, that is October 2020, FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth is Childhood and Relationship With Parents and Family,where we invite various articles to highlight the different experiences that we all have experienced in some form or the other in our birth or chosen families and have been negotiating with them everyday. If you’d like to share your article, email us at email@example.com.
TW: Emotional, physical abuse
One hot afternoon in August 2014, the sickening feeling that had been festering inside of my heart for years finally tumbled out in words.
“Why does my mother hate me so much?,” I typed with shaking fingers into the Google search box. The rows upon rows of search results that came up set me off on a journey that was as painful as it was insightful. I cried tears of pain, helplessness, and relief as I read through the accounts of netizens–some of them living thousands of miles away from me in far off continents–relating their experiences of being mistreated, neglected, betrayed, and abused by their mothers in ways that were eerily similar to mine. “Oh,” I thought, “I am not alone.” And thus, I, a grown, educated, financially independent woman, finally realised that I had been abused by my mother for as long as I could remember.
One of my earliest memories is of my little brother and me clinging to each other, cowering in fear in the corner of a room, chanting, “No, mother! Please, no!” as our mother is walking towards us with a big stick in her hand. Father has already left for office and now it is just the three of us in the house. Our pleas are ignored as our mother proceeds to hit us both with the stick. Repeatedly. We scream in pain. This is our childhood. This is the only life we know.
Growing up in a small town in Uttar Pradesh in the 1990s, I had a childhood that was as “normal” as any other girl’s in those times. We were your typical middle-class family–a father with an office job, a mother who was a “housewife,” and two children. My father left for his office in the morning and returned late in the evening. Even when he was home, he hardly spoke to us, and when he did, it wasn’t pleasant. I remember growing up fearing my father, a sentiment mirrored by most of my friends. But my father was better than the fathers of my friends: even though he shouted often, he never hit me like Vivek’s and Kanchan’s fathers hit them.
Looking back as an adult, I shudder to think of the negligence and abuse my brother and I had to suffer at the hands of my parents. But way back, there was nothing about my family that was out of the ordinary. All the kids in my neighborhood were shouted at, beaten up, and neglected by their parents. Parents shouting at each other while the children sobbed in fear wasn’t a big deal. Men beating their wives was common. Girls and women being discriminated against, ostracised, and abused for being born female was the norm. We were just another “normal” family in a “normal” society.
For years, I internalised the hatred my mother spewed on me. That’s the way every girl’s mother treated her, that is the way girls were supposed to be treated. My bua’s (paternal aunt) daughter faced much verbal abuse from members of the extended family for being “dark-skinned and ugly.” My mama and mami (maternal uncle and aunt) openly lamented about having “only girls and no boys” in front of their three young daughters. Being born a girl was a curse, that is what the young girls in my family were conditioned to think. I believed it when my nani (maternal grandmother) told me I ruined my mother’s life by being born a girl. I shed tears of shame when my mother cried that I was the cause of all the sadness in her life. In addition to “being a girl,” I was also “fat and ugly,” how would my poor mother ever find a boy to marry me? She was stuck with me forever. I was a “useless burden.” I deserved to be beaten and abused.
I remember the day my mother slapped me for the last time. I was 13. However, when the beatings stopped, the emotional abuse intensified. It seemed my mother’s apparent dislike for me increased with time. As a naive young girl, I held myself responsible for my mother’s behavior and tried my best to please her but to no avail. However, I was yet to recognise her behavior to be “abuse.”
Since my mother always called me a “burden,” I thought maybe she would be happy if I moved out. After college, I moved to another city and found a job there. I was no longer a “burden” on my mother, I was an independent woman now, or so I thought. However, my independence brought no positive change in my mother’s behavior. If anything, she only seemed to loathe my new-found freedom. She tried to get me forcibly married to a man of her choice but failed because I was no longer the timid young girl who had been conditioned to “obey her elders without question.” No, I was changing. I was beginning to question the “normalcy” of the family I grew up in, question the “love” of my mother that always seemed to be expressed in slaps and bitter words. I was learning to stand up for myself. I had figured out there was something terribly wrong about the way my mother had always treated me and finally typed in those words in the Google search bar that fateful day, paving my path to awareness and healing.
I know there are lakhs of women like me in India who have been conditioned to put up with abusive elders from a young age, often internalising the hatred and many times passing it on to other more vulnerable parties. It’s not easy to heal from years of childhood abuse. It’s a long and painful journey, but I hold on to hope. The first step to healing is awareness. Many of us grew up being abused without even realising it. As an adult, have you ever looked back and wondered how “normal” your childhood was?
Featured Image Source: Psychological Healing Center