By Atikaa Ahluwalia
I was attacked by a man I was in a significant relationship with. Pushed, called names, thrown on the ground, kicked, held in a chokehold, different things on different days. In all my life before that, I never imagined myself as someone who could be physically abused. I mean, I’m educated, outspoken and independent. I travel the world and read Vogue magazine. Stuff like this just couldn’t happen to me. Right?
Wrong. And how. It started with the shouting and the pushing. Then came the things (including the breakfast I’d just made) that would be sent flying across the room. My cell phone would be taken away. Messages from my family erased before I could see them. A couple of months into the relationship, I found myself on the floor one day, my tail bone hurting because I had just been kicked. In that one moment on the floor I remember thinking – I’ve read about this kind of thing in Agony Aunt columns. Is this what they call physical abuse? No, no, no. This can’t be that. Even though I had an ominous feeling that something was incredibly wrong, I told myself it’s going to be okay tomorrow.
It never really did. One day, I decided that I had had enough. I was leaving. That’s when I was held in a chokehold against the wall and told to ‘try and leave now’. The funny thing is, I still didn’t. I stayed another 90 days. After all, I ‘loved’ him. And believed that he ‘loved’ me in his own twisted way too.
Until the day I left, I had no physical evidence of this abuse at all. I never spoke about what was happening to anyone. I felt shame in the fact that someone I had chosen for myself was doing this to me. That I was failing miserably at this ‘milestone relationship’ in my life.
Contrary to popular belief, not all bouts of physical violence lead to marks, bruises or any tell-tale signs. I did let slip to my sister during a phone conversation one day that I was coughing violently during one of the fights but I never went on to explain to her that it was after he released his chokehold on me.
I did reach out to my abuser’s family several times being at loss about what to do about this unfamiliar, hellish situation I found myself in. I got the age-old “he is like this only” and “you must have somehow triggered him” in various permutations and combinations. Mostly I got silence.
So after eight months, I did what I could do. I left. And I took him to court.
I decided to use the truth and nothing but the truth to present my case, even if it meant the legal process took four years. I had evidence and he knew I did. I still do.
The legal environment is unpleasant to say the least: court dates are months apart, judges do not turn up, and the routine line of defense against a woman is character assassination. Photo copies of articles featuring me in Vogue magazine as a brand/business owner were presented in court to argue that I was of loose character because I worked in ‘feshun’. This one makes me laugh till date.
I was also advised to tie my then long, wavy hair up and not to wear my spectacles to court because they made me look ‘too smart’ which would hinder my case as an abuse survivor. I’m guessing common perception dictates that it could only have happened to you if you came across as a meek, cowering personality with a shaky voice, shivering hands and a general demeanor of defeat. I am far from any of those things and yet this happened to me. It’s an uncomfortable truth but I implore you to open your eyes to the possibility of the truth that abuse is ingrained in our species.
Our intent behind the case was to seek help from the system to ensure some form of justice. If people like me who have the means to use the system don’t, we have no right to expect change in society. Most people advised that I cut my losses, salvaged what’s left of my life and walk away. But letting him get away scot free without any consequence whatsoever would make me a part of the problem, and that didn’t sit well with me. It would encourage him to abuse the next girl, and the next one, and even though most people would say that’s not my problem, it is.
This has been one of the best decisions of our lives and I stand here today, empowered and not silenced.
I want to share my experience with others so it could serve a greater purpose than my individual understanding of it. I waited years to feel ready. But the unabashed, consistent sense of entitlement in the men accused in the #MeToo accounts and sheer number of horror stories out there made me realise the compounding cost of our collective silence. I felt a compelling urge to SAY SOMETHING. And I couldn’t waste a second longer.
It’s been many years since all of this, and my life has long moved on to a very beautiful phase. This is not my ‘coming out’ story – it’s simply something I felt the need to share for YOU at this time in the world. It is time for ALL of us to question what we say, how we act, and who we are in every sphere of our lives, starting from our homes.
Atikaa Ahluwalia, 35, is brand head and partner at Eina Ahluwalia. She shuttles between Bangalore and Kolkata, enjoys sky gazing, travel and deep house music and is set to launch an online space for inspiring real-life stories and survival tools at Totemhope.com soon.
First published in the Winter 2018 issue of eShe magazine.