The life of a woman in India is still shaped by customs that are centuries old and even though, things have gotten better, strong patriarchal traditions continue to persist in many different ways in our society. Being pushed into a marriage, and having her dreams dissolved into nothingness is still a norm and it is, to be honest, demeaning and pathetic.
But recently, Humans of Amsterdam — a Facebook page run by Debra Barraud — featured a story of an Indian woman, Haritha, (in 2 parts) that throws light on the real strength of Indian women and makes for a truly empowering and inspirational one. She comes across as a ray of hope for all those women who haven’t yet found their strength to fight the fight.
“My parents kept talking about finding a suitable husband for me but I kept refusing. I have always been a very ambitious student and after I graduated l wanted to focus on my career as an engineer. My parents kept pushing me and slowly the atmosphere at home was changing and my father barely spoke to me anymore. The tension became unbearable and at some point I couldn’t take it anymore so I gave in. I ended up marrying a man that I barely knew and didn’t love. Honestly I can’t remember my wedding day. Whenever I look at photo’s I don’t recognize myself. After the wedding we went on our honeymoon. From the start we had no connection and it was very obvious that we both weren’t in love. I kept telling myself that everything would be okay and that it all would work out. When we got back I moved in with his family on the other side of India. My in-laws were very controlling and I was forced to give my salary to them. They demanded I would contact my father and ask him for a dowry. My husband turned out just to be as controlling as his parents. He would check my phone regularly and accused me multiple times of cheating on him. Every day the situation was getting worse. At the time I was working as a software engineer for Nike and my job became my ultimate passion. Whenever I would have to work late my husband would ask me who I was having sex with this time. It was humiliating.”
But then she did not give up on her relationship, and tried everything in her power, to make it last.
”For one and half years I kept trying to work on our relationship. I would buy plane tickets with my own money to take him on trips around the world. I hoped that if he would see other cultures he would become a more compassionate person. Unfortunately, nothing changed. One day, after a huge fight I could no longer take it. I talked to my manager at work and I asked him if I could get transferred to another country. He told me I could work in Amsterdam. I didn’t need to think about it and I accepted his offer. When I arrived at the Amsterdam airport it felt as if I could finally breath again. Everything about this place made me feel relaxed. I felt at the right place at the right time. I started my new job and I made a lot of friends. One day I visited a storytelling event with women from all over the world who talked about their experiences with physical and emotional abuse. All these women came out of situations way worse than mine and it made me feel strong. When I got home I picked up the phone and called my husband and said: ‘There is nothing you can do to change my mind, I want to get a divorce.’ Never in my life had I been so certain of myself.”
Her story wasn’t over yet. What she reveals in the second post is probably the most heart warming thing we have read in a while.
”When my father found out I wanted to divorce my husband he was really upset. He suggested I would travel to India so we could talk things through. I wasn’t planning on changing my mind but in order to get my divorce settled I would have to go to India. My manager at Nike gave me two weeks off and I flew back home. When I arrived, my family was mostly emotional and angry with me for making the decision to get a divorce. Later that week we traveled to the other side of the country to my husband’s house to discuss the situation. I remember sitting in a circle in his living room and everyone was looking at me. For hours my family and his family were trying to convince me to not go through with the divorce. This went on for hours and hours and at some point I was so exhausted I had to go to sleep. That night I slept in his house. Just being there reminded me of all those terrible months. I woke up the next day and I noticed that my bag with my passport, phone and credit cards was missing. I panicked and confronted my in-laws. They said that they had nothing to do with my missing bag and that someone must have broken in and stole it. Slowly I started to realize how serious the situation was. My two weeks off were almost finished and I had to get to my job in Amsterdam. To get a new passport in India it takes at least 3 months and a signature of your father or husband. I have never felt so hopeless in my entire life but I wasn’t about to give up. I emailed my boss and I told him I was in a serious emergency and that I needed 2 more weeks to fix it, luckily he agreed. The image of my life back in Amsterdam was what kept me going. Meanwhile I was trying to figure out how to get my documents back. With the help of my sister I sneaked out of the house and went to a government building. I was neatly dressed and somehow I managed to enter the building. The security must have thought that I was a government official. I walked into the building and a young female officer approached me and asked if she could help me. I noticed that she trusted me and I told her I had lost my bag in a mall and I had to get back to Amsterdam. I wanted to be honest but I couldn’t tell her the truth. She immediately called her friend who was working at the passport office and made an appointment for for me the next day. She gave me a letter of recommendation and the next day I went to the passport office. I sat there for 10 hours and when it was my turn they told me that in order to get a new passport I would need a signature of my father or husband. Again, I lied and said they were out of the country. I ended up convincing her and she gave me an approval. If I had been honest I would have never gotten it. 5 days later I could pick up my passport at the post office. Now I had my passport but I still didn’t have my residency card for The Netherlands. I called up the Embassy of Netherlands in Amsterdam and explained my situation. They were very helpful and emailed me a recommendation letter. They told me I had to fly to New Delhi which is on the other side of the country. I was running out of money but somehow there was a sale going on and I managed to find a cheap ticket to New Delhi. I got my residency card the next day and I immediately booked a flight to Amsterdam, it was a miracle. During this entire time I was scared. Scared that someone would recognize me and that I would get send back to my husband’s house.”
Her ordeal was still not over, but she was determined to live her life on her own terms.
”When the airplane took off I could finally breath again. When I landed in Amsterdam I took the train from the airport to my house. I didn’t cry, I couldn’t believe all that had really happened. I felt as if I finally had woken up from a bad dream. I had been gone for 45 days in total. The next day I found out that I had lost my job at Nike. I could have hired a lawyer and fight it but I needed peace. They didn’t know what I had gone through so couldn’t be mad at them. I said goodbye to my colleagues and I now had 3 months left to find a new job. I wasn’t scared or sad, I had never felt so strong in my entire life. After all I had been through I knew I could handle any kind of situation. I took a deep breath and I started to apply for jobs. It took me 17 days to find work. All of this happened in the beginning of this year. Unfortunately, I am still not divorced but I’m never going back to India. I do talk to my parents but I find it really hard to trust them. I work as a software engineer at a highly reputed company and I’m happy. Amsterdam is magical, this is where I want to be. This is my home and my friends are my family.”