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Sunday, July 7, 2013
I have not left my husband. My children would be devastated. I have asked them. They are, of course, scarred. Yet living in India without a father is more scarring than having a father, who is outwardly calm, live with you. We have just moved back to India, and it's been a week since I "put my foot down" firmly. The Lawson incident encouraged me to not give up, after I recognised that I was doing what it seems she might have been doing … the pacifying and the justifying.
The process of recognising that my husband was abusive began three years ago. It helped to have encouragement from friends who said I must not let abusive incidents pass without acknowledgment. All around me, women are hit in public, their incomes taken by their husbands, their children witness to their fathers' drunken outrages. Relatively, I am in a better position to fight it. Recognition and a little support from friends will help me to persevere. Of course, I will never receive an apology which a woman in a more liberal culture would think of as important. But I now know to say no. Which, I think, will help this family survive. Most importantly, I have taught my daughter to stand up for herself.
I think abusers need help too. My husband grew up with a father who broke down doors, threatened to kill his mother, and was extremely abusive. He sometimes says his mother is at fault. He actually thinks he treats me way too well.
My biggest advice? Do not keep it a secret. Recognise, report and stay away firmly, without tears (they show you are scared) or self-pity. Include anger management in premarital counselling. And may the media never stop reporting.
The photos of Saatchi grabbing Lawson around the throat reminded me of my first marriage. My ex-husband would give me "playful" French burns in public, a "playful" kick on the shins, or "playfully" twist my arm up behind my back. In private he kicked me down two flights of stairs, threw a teapot full of scalding hot liquid at me, and kicked in the bathroom door and threatened to strangle me in the bath.
My ex moved out in 1977 after I threatened to get a non-molestation injunction and show it to his friends. Even then, I received threats from him for a couple of years. After our split, our friends generally disbelieved my allegations of violence, despite the fact that most of them had seen him bullying me. Even now, some commentators have been too willing to accept Saatchi's explanation, and the failure of anybody at the restaurant to challenge Saatchi was shameful. They need to ask themselves how they'd feel and react if someone started to throttle them during an argument.
I became a lawyer. Women who came to me for domestic violence injunctions would often say they had put up with it because they didn't think they would be believed. That is not an unreasonable fear, even now. I don't think Lawson should resent the media intrusion. It is her husband who humiliated her in public, not the press. I hope that the incident, the press reaction, and the fact that the police took prompt action, will encourage women in a similar position to get help.
I felt shock and anger when I initially saw the photos of Nigella Lawson. At the act itself and the look on her face; at the fact that someone was taking a picture of it but doing nothing; and that no one at all intervened. I grew up with a violent stepfather and utterly despised him. I became very hard and almost had to parent my mother to protect her at a very young age. My stepfather knew not to push me too far, because given enough provocation, I would have at least tried to kill him. And he knew it. I am about to turn 42 and started my first "proper" relationship about 18 months ago (I only had flings with people I didn't care about before), because of my fear of becoming a victim like my mum.
I actually think that printing the photos is a pretty revolting thing to do, and pretty much as intrusive as it gets. I still can't get over the fact that someone would rather have photographed it than helped her. Mind-blowing.
This week I felt a familiar terror. The discussion prompted by photos of Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi brought back memories of the pain and humiliation of being repeatedly beaten and raped by my ex-husband a decade ago. The wounds healed but the feelings of despair and worthlessness have stayed with me.
I moved here after I married the Englishman I fell in love with on holiday. I didn't know then how ready he was with his fists and it was years before I plucked up the courage to leave. At first I denied even to myself that it was happening, then I began to believe I deserved it. But as I overcame my isolation in this new country, I regained the courage to strike out on my own. An educated professional from a liberal Indian family, I hadn't been brought up to be servile with men, and eventually, this innate self-belief returned. In the end, I served him the divorce papers personally and watched fearlessly as he exploded with fury.
Leaving your abuser will save your life, but it's a long hard road to normality, since you never escape unscathed. It's a journey I have started in one sense only this week, by finally enlisting the help of a counsellor. Not because of Lawson, though that did help, but because a very close friend bailed out after enduring months of my neuroses. Driven by dread that the legacy of self-doubt, suspicion and self-destructive compulsion from my first marriage would cause psychological scarring, or break up my beautiful little family, I have dusted out the issues I swept under the carpet a decade ago and am ready to deal with them.