Forgiveness. And resentment: 5 accounts of parental abuse
This is a series of first-person accounts about family abuse and forgiveness.
Shivani, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, is a 25-year-old journalist, working in Delhi. This is her story.
I was first hit by my father when I was 18 years old. Technically, it doesn't quite count as child abuse; but in many ways I do believe I was still a child. I must have been a child. I believed that the hitting - an act very different from corporal punishment or slapping - was warranted. I deserved it.
A well-meaning grandmother, when informed of the abuse, simply held my hand, and said with immense love and kindness "this is how sansaar works. As a woman, the higher your tolerance, the better." I believed her. So I made an earnest effort to try.
How did I know I was being abused?
I was not hit when numerous cigarette butts were found in my bathroom. Nor was I hit when I returned home too inebriated to carry myself. I was not hit when I flunked a class.
I was hit only when he was in a rage. Sometimes when I was watching television, sometimes when I was collecting the morning newspaper from the doorstep.
I was held by my neck against the wall. I was kicked. Sometimes he would simply inch closer with his teeth baring, not quite willing to inflict physical pain just yet. Sometimes he would snarl. Sometimes he would spit.
There was a certain poetry and design to his violence. There was also a potency. He thrived on fear. At the time, I only viewed it as mildly misplaced anger.
Perhaps I was hit fewer times than my imagination now allows me to believe. Perhaps the nightmares, the smell of his breath, the smell of my own sweat in the middle of a restless night, have each contributed to this feeling of having endured prolific abuse.
The occasions may not in fact be as numerous as they seem to me now. But they thrive so starkly in my subconscious, they may as well have.
I have read enough, and been told enough, that forgiveness is the key to all emotional catharsis. I have been told that forgiving my father is my only means of escape. Let go. Forgive him. Move on. So I have tried.
Here I have encountered two problems. First, his active presence in my life inevitably recalls my worst memories. The more I associate with him, the more I get embroiled in my own sticky, sweaty, foul memories of the abuse.
His calls, his texts, even the pleasantries and the gifts - each bring with it a Pandora's box of fetid thoughts. They bring me back to feeling a desolate helplessness, even though I no longer am desolate or helpless.
The second problem, one equally dire, is this: unacknowledged abuse is almost impossible to forgive.
My father, far from showing any contrition, has remained resolutely in denial. He has called me a liar. He has deemed my accusations, and the accusations of my sibling and mother false. He claims he has never hit me. He claims my accusations have ulterior motives.
He is a good man with a vile and conniving daughter. All this while he continues to abuse and to threaten other members of my family.
Every instance shoves me further and further away from the idea of forgiveness. I am trapped in a cage of his inability to seek absolution.
Yet, there is infinite social pressure to forgive. I will be married soon, and at the wedding I know my father will give me away. The man who I will marry will know the truth about my dad. He will smile politely, as will I. A cursory hug for the camera will possibly ensue. We will dutifully present the facade of a happy family. We will continue to, for many years.
When my father is old and possibly infirm, I will be confronted with the responsibility of looking after him. There again, the pressures to look after an ageing man, even if it entails reliving instances in my life that were best left forgotten, will be immense.
Of course, I will want him to be looked after. But how will I love and care for someone who has tortured, intimidated, kicked, slapped, spat on and hurt me, only because I was too vulnerable to resist?
How will I protect my own ability to be happy when his presence is a constant reminder of my worst memories?
To recommend forgiveness as the end of all trauma is pithy and ignorant. It places the guilt squarely on the shoulders of the victim. Resentment is a valid form of dealing with abuse. And it deserves its rightful and respected place alongside forgiveness.
To forgive is not an act of largesse on behalf of one person, but of two. That fictitious bird, trapped in its fictitious cage of that petty inability to forgive, can fly only with both its wings.
Video shot and edited by Adiba Muzaffar. Stories compiled by Sneha Vakharia.