Topic: Domestic Violence
My mother raised four children on her own, without any support from my father. She had to protect us from my father, who was abusive to us all. Although my mother tried not to show how difficult it was being a single parent, it was hard for her children to see the struggles she faced, as she had no education to fall back on. This made me realise, from a very young age, that I wanted to work hard in my education and become a successful working professional. I dreamt of having a job where I wasn’t dependent on anything or anyone.
Education has always been very important in my life. I watched my mother struggle to fund me through university; I was the only child in the household at the time to go to university so it meant everything to her. My mother has always been an inspiration to me, even though she wasn’t educated. I am so proud of her; of the way she has coped with tough life experiences. I know I get my strong willpower from my mother.
Alcoholism and Domestic Violence
When my parents were together my father would drink alcohol like it was tap water, and he only worked when he felt like it. He also had a gambling problem, and if he had a bad run on the cards he would come home and take it out on my mother by beating her black and blue. Each time he beat her, we would escape to the house of my mother’s sister, Jaskarnjit Masi ji, until she recovered and was well enough to face my father again. Traveling between my Masi ji’s house and the home was normal for us; it helped that we lived on the same road. My father never contributed towards the running of the house or supported my mother with the upbringing of his kids. We never really saw him unless he was home drunk, beating Mother or shouting at us. Drunkenly throwing his weight around and abusing us became the norm with my dad. He was the king lion of the house.
As Mother didn’t really write or speak much English, we had no one to check that our homework was correct, and even though my father was educated in the UK and could have helped, he dismissed his fatherly duties altogether. There were times when Mother would suffer heavy depression and migraines, and be unable to get out of bed. The stress of having to pay the mortgage, run a home and bring up four kids was difficult for a working couple, never mind a single parent; my father never contributed financially or emotionally towards the house while he lived there. He was hardly going to do so after he left, let alone after the divorce. We just got on with it and never really complained about anything.
We all pulled together to prevent outsiders coming into our lives. We lived a double life: no one outside our house – not even our friends and family – knew what was going on within the Johal household. Every time my father was absent from a family function we’d lie and say he was working. Everyone thought he was such a hard-working man, providing for his family, while in reality the man made no time or effort for his family. A double life of lies.
The Final Beating
My mother’s final, brutal beating was in 1991. Our father came home in a bad mood in the early hours of the morning, knocked the bedroom door down, grabbed Mother by the hair and started using her face and body like a punching bag. Meanwhile, we kids hid in our rooms, petrified. Then, somehow, whilst my younger sister slept through the whole ordeal, my twin sister, brother and I built up the courage to approach our parents. Working together, we started to push him away from Mother, tried to form a barricade between them. He threw us off, one after the other, desperate to finish his futile fight. He pushed Mother down the stairs, from the top step all the way to the bottom. Thirteen steps.
Unlike in the western world, thirteen was normally a lucky number for Punjabis, considered to be auspicious amongst the Sikh community as a word that immediately reminds them of God: “Mere muj main kish nahin jo kish hai so Tera”; “Nothing in me is mine, whatever there is, is yours.” Tera – lucky thirteen – but not this time. As a child I used to count each step up and down. Thirteen. Mother hit every one of those thirteen steps on the way down. After that, I never counted the steps again.
Mother landed heavily and seriously damaged her back, an injury that still troubles her to this day. When she first landed at the bottom of the stairs she feared she could not walk – until she knew she had no option but to run for the front door while my twin and I held our father back so he couldn’t get to her. We held onto his shirt as he tried to run down the stairs to stop Mother leaving the house. Jasleen and I were 11 years old. There was no way we could contain the rage of this man, this stranger, our father. We were left holding the tatters of his sweat-laden shirt, which reeked of Bacardi. It seemed nothing was going to stop him, his madness.
Thankfully, Mother escaped to a neighbour’s house and they called the police when they saw how badly beaten she was. My father threatened us kids, told us not to say a word or he’d deal with us the same way. We all sat on the stairs crying before Jasleen and I started to clear away the evidence of the fight. It was normal for us to clear away the crap, but this time was different. This was the first time we had to wipe our mother’s blood off the banister, off the rail, and off the wall. The first – and thankfully the last.
Have you sought any sort of medical help, therapy etc?
Any particular resources that you recommend or have used to help you recover?
I’ve learnt to express my though’s through writing, poetry and art.
About Kalbir Bains
My name is Kalbir Bains; I am born and bred in Birmingham. I am currently employed as marketing manager for menswear fashion brand. I have written a book titled NOT Our Daughter: The True Story of Daughter-In-Law. This book is about trials and tribulation from having an arranged marriage through to becoming a divorcee.
My aspiration is for people to pick up my book and feel like they can relate to the characters. I have openly talked about domestic violence, the difference between forced marriage and arranged marriage, dowry, abortion and many more real issues that go on behind closed doors. I also want to show that a person can go through a great deal of mental and physical hardship and still come out on the positive side of life. Not every bad situation has to have a bad end.
There needs to be a change in the Asian culture and there is a real need for more women to be willing to speak out about sensitive topics and be open about situations that we have been traditionally told to not talk about. I want a chance to transform other people’s lives through my life experiences which I have written about in this book. I write to empower and inspire other people.