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Words are not enough to describe my sadness at the news. And yet, I know that your pain must be so much more excruciating than what I feel right now. This letter is not to provide any excuses for whatever has happened to you. On the contrary, this letter is to tell you my own story and let you know that you do not need to suffer any further. The time has come for you to Rise and I’ll be there beside you and for you in any way that you need me.
Mili, do you remember how I kept questioning your decision to marry my brother and how I even indirectly tried dissuading you? It was a love marriage and you hardly knew me. I do not blame you for misunderstanding me that day and thinking what a jealous sister I was! After all, who would you believe more, a man you loved for almost a year and were about to get married to, or his sister who you had met just a couple of times? Given the fact that our mother too never believed me when I told her about the way he treated me, how could I expect you to understand?
This is a strange story of domestic violence, Mili. Because this was not in the hands of husband or even a father. This is a story about a violent brother whose acts were always justified by observers under the pretext of sibling rivalry.
It all started since I could remember. I was just a couple of years elder to my brother, Joy. Ever since my childhood, I’d been tolerating his beatings. Sometimes, he’d pull my hair till I gave him my favourite doll and sometimes, he’d punch me in my face or in my stomach just to get my share of the chocolate. Of course, when I was young and still thought I could win against his strength, I fought back. In the whirlwind of scratches, punches, kicks and slaps, our mother would come and give us both equal punishment. I felt that was unfair, you know? Because I never started any fight. If anything, I’d avoid him to the best of my ability or give in to his demands for the fear of being beaten up and yet, I couldn’t fathom the slightest trigger that would cause an explosion of his temper.
As I grew up, I started realizing that I was being bullied by my younger brother but who would believe me? My mother was a single parent and her excuse was that ‘Men are generally a bit short-tempered’. She’d give in to his unfair demands just to make up for the lost time of leaving him alone and going to work since he was ten months old (after our father passed away). She never questioned the fact that although I was just a little older, how come I never behaved in that manner? She never questioned her son’s behaviour.
And with time this rage which was a tiny sapling started taking the shape of a gigantic and monstrous tree. He’d devise newer ways to torture me. Like, one day he tore a hardbound Harry Potter book I’d borrowed from a friend into two halves because he was mad at me. Another day he broke my favourite CDs, and yet another time he threw my favorite teddy bear into the sewer tank. Also, as he started growing stronger his beatings got more ruthless, too. I didn’t stand a chance against his brutal strength. Like, the day he kicked me out of the bed and dragged me by my hair from one room to the other, or the day when he almost choked me to death. And you know, we were not even children anymore by then. Both of us were in our twenties and yet my mother called it sibling rivalry!
Mili, I did not know why he hated me so much and trust me, I tried understanding him and acting in a way that would’t enrage him. I was not matured enough to understand that I was just a punching bag and once I was gone, he’d channelize his anger on someone else.
I never understood the reasons behind his anger.
Was it the fact that our father passed away when we were so young? But where was my fault in that?
Did he hate me because people kept comparing us both and telling him, how his sister was a class topper while he hardly managed to pass his classes? Again, what could I do about insensitive elders?
Or, was it just that he needed a target for venting out his futile rage towards the world where he felt like a ‘victim’ of circumstances?
I’d never know. All I knew was that I wanted to get the hell out of that house because his anger terrified me. It is not like he always behaved in this way and that’s why my friends and relatives would never believe me. Instead, they would tell me, ‘You’re just too biased, your brother is such a sweetheart!’
You see, to the outside world he could be a perfect gentleman. I’m sure that’s how you too felt before you married him. Also, as you must know by now, his outbursts were so sudden and random that you might sometimes even be fooled into thinking that he had changed for the better.
Living with him was like walking on eggshells. I’d have to be on the alert for the slightest of triggers. As we grew into adults, the nature of his abuses also evolved. He’d slut shame me in front of family and friends, he’d make me feel like I was worth nothing with his humiliating and insulting remarks. He’d find a weird kind of satisfaction when hot tears rolled down my cheeks in front of friends or relatives. And the kind of things he’d tell me started gnawing at my heart to the extent that I too started doubting myself at a point in time.
Was I really this selfish, unlovable, and charcterless woman whom everybody felt disgusted with?
Do I really deserve to die to make this world a better place?
And yet, at other times, I’d be convinced of my self-worth and wished that I did not have to suffer his shadow upon my life.
You know how difficult it is for a sister to express such things about her own brother? To say, that she hardly ever mentions him in front of people, to the extent that they are utterly surprised when they come to know that she is not an only child?
But, I’ll tell you this. Our society is responsible to a great extent for creating such violent men.
Don’t you think my mother should have taken him to a psychiatrist or for some counselling when I constantly told her there was something seriously wrong with him?
Don’t you think family and friends should take violence more seriously rather than labelling it as a ‘man thing’ or saying stupid things like ‘Men will be men’?
Don’t you think as he grew even more rebellious with age, there was a certain responsibility on my mother’s part to address the issue sternly instead of pushing it underneath the carpet?
Don’t you think that day when my husband twisted his arms when he tried to slap me, my mother should have supported my husband instead of asking him not to interfere in our ‘family matters’?
But no. No one did anything and his rage grew like cancerous cells.
And so, when I started hearing complaints from my mother that he was slapping you or ill-treating you, I could only burst out in frustration because I knew this was inevitable. This streak of violence and rage was within him since his childhood but no one bothered to address it.
Mom also told me how you tried doing things according to his wishes so as not to upset him and I was reminded of my own life with him.
Mili, do not, even for a single moment, think that you were responsible for how he treated you or for his uncontrollable rage. Because you weren’t. Neither of us were. If anyone is to blame, it is our society that discounts toxic masculinity as a ‘manly’ trait and chooses to conveniently ignore it.
I cannot imagine how you must have felt when you had that miscarriage because of his kicks and punches. I thought I was devastated when he tore my Harry Potter book but now I feel how insignificant my pain was. You lost your unborn child because of my monster of a brother. I do not know how to console you, Mili. I feel like smashing his face like he smashed ours, I feel like hurting him like he hurt us, but I know that my violence against him wouldn’t change him. And so, I will tell you this. Just let me know if you want to involve the cops and I will support your statements. If you file a case against him and take him to the court, I’ll give statements against my own brother. I write this with tears in my eyes, Mili but finally, as his sister I think I should take steps to stop this vicious cycle of violence as my mother should have done years ago.
Forgive me for everything, Mili. I was trying to prevent the marriage only because I feared about this day. I didn’t want another woman to suffer in his hands.
But today, we can stop this. Both you and me together can stand against this toxic breed of masculinity that society has allowed my brother to adopt without any fear of repurcussions. Let us do something about it before he finds yet another victim.
Take care and be strong.
I’m with you.
(Author’s Note: Though this is a piece of fiction, it is inspired by several real life incidents of friends and family members. The point of this article is to raise awareness about certain kinds of abuse that go unnoticed under the pretext of innocuous terms such as ‘sibling rivalry’. I wrote this also to make parents aware how men are sometimes encouraged to be violent and angry even from a tender age, just because of their gender and how this might lead to severe consequences later on. We need to be aware of the red flags from early on in order to prevent a bigger disaster later on in life.)
I’d love to read Meena Kandasamy’s new book, When I Hit You because domestic violence is one of those uncomfortable truths that needs more awareness and discussion in our society. The time has come to address such issues openly instead of hiding them underneath the carpet of ‘social decorum’. This is an unusual book because unlike a fictional narrative, this book talks about how Meena herself faced domestic violence in the hands of her husband and how she managed to free herself from it. From the excerpts that I’d read and from Meena’s interviews, I realized how abuse can take several unusual forms such as keeping a tab on someone’s social media account or not allowing the other person any personal space or taking away her agency. While reading those excerpts, I realized to my dismay that I’d witnessed such abuse around me, as well. I think we all need to speak up for one another. This book might give us the voice to do so. Not only for our own cases, but also for our fellow sisters. I wish to read the book and tell everyone about it. Last but not the least, Meena Kandasamy’s language flows effortlessly and it has a certain poetic grace to it. Even while talking about a traumatizing period of her life, the grace and beauty of her narrative is not lost. The author has molded her pain into a beautiful piece of art and as a bibliophile a book like this definitely piques my interest.
You can buy Meena Kandasamy’s When I Hit You from the link given below: