What would you do?

Kirthi Jayakumar
Posted May 27, 2020 from India

It is common knowledge that gender-based violence is not confined to a particular region, arena, or domain, and can happen anywhere, at any time, and the perpetrator can be anyone – ranging from the state to family. Intersectionality helps us see that the experience of violence can look different for different people, whose multiple identities and contexts can present unique experiences of oppression and violence. Of those that are especially vulnerable, are women migrant workers.

When women migrate – oftentimes seeking work or after marriage – they are vulnerable to what is known as “double discrimination.” They may face violence not only at home, but also outside, because her gender and ethnic/racial/national/regional/caste/linguistic/class identity can expose her to systemic violence. Left unaddressed, this can lead to sexual violence, exploitation, marginalization, and exclusion.

I do not share survivor stories, and do not believe that I have any business speaking for anyone else. I make an exception today through this post because the young woman in question herself asked me to make this story known. A young migrant worker reached out to me recently, on the phone, after making a thirty hour journey back to her village, from my city, where she had moved along with her husband. In the time that she lived here, she worked as a domestic help in four houses, drawing a meagre salary of Rs. 6,000 in all, each month. She had four children, the youngest of whom she delivered only last December. Her husband, she tells me, is possessive, abusive, and violent. He had lost his job in October last year, and tried his hand at random work every now and then, making small amounts of money. Her house ran entirely on her salary in the time since then, until the lockdown was enforced. When things grew from bad to worse – rent was unaffordable, food was not accessible, and the threat of an illness affecting the world loomed large – they decided to go home. This meant a long train journey – one that came after several days of waiting, worried about arranging the money to pay for tickets if it came to that, and unsure of what would happen next.

She told me that she held onto my number from a time when I had visited her oldest son’s school to teach them about safe and unsafe touch and how one may report instances of child sexual abuse, although she hoped there would never be any need to reach out to me. In the time since the lockdown began, she faced aggressive degrees of violence at the hands of her husband. She didn’t have the freedom to leave home – even if it only meant to go to work – and those six hours of being away from him were no longer possible. course of the arduous thirty hour journey, her husband slapped her, snatched the limited food and water they were given by the government and some social workers, and distributed all of it to other men in their compartment. When their children slept, he forced himself on her in the toilet. She told me she reached out only to speak to someone who she believed would understand, and just listen to her. She didn’t want to go to a shelter because it was impossible for her to leave her children, with no money, and no faith in the system that had let her down. She just wanted to speak to someone.

I listened to her cry, my heart breaking steadily into several, tiny pieces.

She opened a door to a truth that most of us have not addressed: or perhaps we want to, but do not know how. We scramble to be there for survivors, we scramble to make tools accessible, routes for help available – and yet so many, so so so many fall through the cracks. How does a system rise to respond to these realities? Why is empathy so absent in policy? What does a survivor do if the idea of “home” is shattered – but existing solutions only speak to the privileged idea of home? Where does she go?

My mind is full of questions as I write this. And voice is caught in my throat.

This story was submitted in response to Dispatches from the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Comments 7

Log in or register to post comments
Tamarack Verrall
May 27
May 27

My heart breaks with yours, dear Kirthi, that with all you have done, and all that so many have done to create safe paths out of violence inflicted by husbands, violence that is clearly torture, it is shattering to know that women are still not able to escape. How telling that this woman held onto your number all this time from that chance encounter from your school visit. This is the horrid tyranny of governments not wanting to free women. Why is there not police intervention and a safe house guaranteed? Why are men not held accountable EVERY TIME they are violent? Why are boys not taught different? Stories are pouring in from World Pulse sisters and from women working against this violence everywhere. Shelters are not properly funded. The path of escape is riddled with unsurmountable walls. All I can offer, dear sister is my commitment to continue to make this my reason for existence - to end all of this violence against women.
Deep love,

Hello, Kirthi,

Oh my! Is there a way to imprison her husband? This is too much. So heartbreaking especially when we know she is not safe at this moment.

Why do women have to suffer so horribly from their violent husbands?

So many questions to answer. Hugs, dear. Thank you for listening to her.

Jill Langhus
May 27
May 27

Hello Kirthi Love,

Wow! This poor woman really trusted you for you to be the only one she could reach out to. I'm not sure I would want to be in your shoes, though:-( All that I can say is there is hope for the future generations. Hope that women are rising, more than we even know, and that we are past the tipping point, whether we can see it or not. The progress may be slower than we would like, but it's happening, so poor women like her won't have to endure this any longer. More women, and empathetic men, will be creating more and more policies. It's all we can hope for, unless we're the few, fortunate ones enough in positions of political power to make change. I'm not saying the rest of us are powerless, but we do need more women in positions of legal/political power to make a real, long lasting difference. I keep thinking that poor women needs to take her children and run, but alas I know it isn't the best solution. I just keep thinking of her body, mind and soul be slowly and utterly diminished.

Know that you made a profound impact in her life, dear, and that you are doing the best you can! XX

Anita Shrestha
May 30
May 30

Thank you for sharing

Jun 07
Jun 07

Thank you for sharing.
Dont stop smiling.
Much love.

Sinyuy Geraldine
Jun 09
Jun 09

Dear Kirthi, in the first place I want to tell you that you are a great writer, and I hope that you are writing shirt stories if not novels. You got the power of the pen and the words flow so freely. The story for have shared is so pathetic, I feel for this young woman who has seemingly lost hold of what gave her daily food besides the fact that she is now more exposed to more abuse from her husband. There are thousands her likes outside there whose stories we will never know. I can only pray for them.

Ivonne Abreu
Jun 12
Jun 12

Hello Kirthi, This is such a sad story. My heart goes out to the women that have to live under violent conditions. I was once living in a pretty abusive home with my ex-husband and I remember the horror I would feel every single time I would walk in the house. I lived in a perpetual state of fear. The one thing I can say is that this poor woman reached out to you and you listened to her. Sometimes just talking about it helps with the heaviness of it all. Although we cannot physically go in a remove her and her kids from her home (I wish we could!) we can make her feel like she is not alone. You gave her a voice by listening to her and by writing her story. I admire you for that. Thank you for sharing this story with us. My heart breaks whenever I hear this stuff and that is why I want to be a voice for those that can't. I am thankful to be here on World Pulse with all the wonderful and empowered women making a difference for a better life for all of us. Thank you and much love and peace to all.