‘Hope and grit will get you out of abusive relationship’

- June 7, 2023
| By : Tahir Bhat |

Kanchan Bhaskar shares details from her memoir on discovering her inner strength and finding the courage to escape a violent marriage

Kanchan Bhaskar

Indian-American debut author Kanchan Bhaskar, who was born and raised in Delhi, recently unveiled her memoir “Leaving: How I Set Myself Free from an Abusive Marriage“. Kanchan earned her undergraduate degree from Lady Irwin College and a master’s in social work (MSW) in 1978 from the Delhi School of Social Work, Delhi University. The book recounts the major events in her life, highlighting her journey towards breaking free from an abusive marriage. The book was launched on April 11, 2023, in the United States. Patriot caught up with her to learn more about her life, book, and her journey from Delhi to Chicago.

What inspired you to write your memoir, “Leaving: How I Set Myself Free from an Abusive Marriage”?

I was never a writer, nor did I consider myself to be a good storyteller. My children tried to persuade me several times to write about my tumultuous journey from the trap of domestic violence to the land of freedom. I never gave it serious thought until the day I visited my therapist Leslie, who convinced me to put my thoughts to paper.

Writing my memoir and reaching out to individuals experiencing domestic abuse or adversity has become my calling, mission and way of giving back to the community. The prospect of helping those who feel trapped is incredibly motivating.

Could you share a bit about your journey and the challenges you faced in your abusive marriage?

I grew up in Delhi in a loving and nurturing environment. My parents instilled in me the values of respect, trust and strength. As a young girl, I dreamt of finding my prince charming and living a fairy tale life. I was fascinated by people and their stories, which led me to pursue a career in social work.

After completing my studies, I entered into an arranged marriage with a seemingly wonderful man. However, it soon became clear that he was an angry, alcoholic and abusive person. He physically assaulted me within three weeks of our marriage, turning my life upside down. I found myself trapped in a cycle of control, manipulation, and violence.

I was lost, numb, and depressed. I was a mother of three children and felt helpless with the law offering little protection and society shaming me.

I knew I had to find a way out. I began by building my physical, mental, and emotional strength. I knew I needed to become financially independent and work towards that goal. It was a slow and steady process, with setbacks along the way. However, I didn’t let those setbacks discourage me. I had to protect my children and provide them a safe and secure future.

How did you find the courage and strength to break free from your abusive marriage and protect your children?

The first step was to create a roadmap for my journey and set milestones. The initial and most important milestone was regaining my physical and mental strength. It required a lot of effort and self-care, but it was crucial for my overall well-being.

During this process, I adopted and cultivated three powerful beliefs that became my tools for repairing my broken self. The first belief was in my own self, which helped me reclaim my identity and dignity. The second belief was in the universe, which allowed me to trust that I was not alone. It brought me mentors who guided me along the way, providing me with the direction and support I needed. The third belief was in spirituality, which allowed me to let go of the deep-rooted hurt and chaos within me. Connecting with my spirituality provided me with inner peace and resilience, giving me the strength to face the challenges ahead.

What message or lessons do you hope readers will take away from your memoir?

The message I hope readers take away from my memoir is simple: hope, desire, grit, resilience, empowerment, and transformation. I want them to know that if I can overcome challenges and achieve personal growth, they can too.

What advice would you give to individuals who find themselves in abusive relationships and are considering leaving?

Recognise that you’re being victimised and that your life is valuable.

Don’t be ashamed to share your experience with others. It is the abuser, not you, who should feel ashamed.

Imagine the freedom you’ll have outside of the abusive relationship.

Make a commitment to yourself to pursue that freedom.

Plan a safe exit strategy, but keep it secret from your abuser.

Stay strong and don’t fall for the manipulations of your abuser once you’ve made the decision to leave.

Take action to remove yourself from the abusive situation.

Seek support from professionals like mental health experts or therapists to help maintain your mental well-being.

What was the most challenging part of writing your memoir, and how did you overcome it?

The most challenging part of writing my memoir was reliving the painful experiences and emotional trauma that I had endured. Going back into my past and reopening those wounds was a difficult and treacherous journey. While I believed that I had moved on and healed, I soon realized that the pain was still with me, lingering in archived files of emotions within me. I even went through a period of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

However, despite the challenges, my core purpose of writing my story and reaching out to others who had experienced domestic violence remained unwavering. The determination to share my experiences and provide support to those in similar situations kept me going. I remained focused and wrote chapter after chapter, relentlessly pursuing my mission.

What role did your support system play in your journey?

In my journey, I didn’t have a strong support system. I felt alone and had to face the challenges and make choices on my own. While I had some emotional support from my parents, their involvement was limited. In the early years, my father had suggested divorce and even offered to adopt my daughter, but my fear of remarriage and losing my daughter held me back from leaving the abusive relationship. As time passed, my parents continued to support me, but I was hesitant to burden them. I also recognised that this journey and battle were mine alone, and I took it upon myself to find a way out of the abusive marriage.

Were there any instances when your in-laws witnessed the abuse but chose to ignore it or take no action?

They were fully aware of their son’s habits and behaviour, yet they deliberately avoided any discussion. Their passive stance had a profound impact on my situation, leaving me to deal with the problem entirely on my own as if their son’s actions were solely my responsibility.

What factors do you think contribute to domestic violence?

One significant factor contributing to domestic violence is the deeply ingrained belief system surrounding gender roles within patriarchal societies like ours. The belief that men are inherently powerful and meant to exert control, while women are meant to serve, perpetuates this cycle of violence. It is crucial to challenge and change this belief system in order to address domestic violence effectively.

To begin with, a redefinition and better understanding of equal partnership should be integrated into educational curricula at the foundational levels. Parents also play a crucial role in shaping these attitudes within the home. They must take responsibility and actively work towards eliminating gender discrimination. While this change may take time, initiating the process and taking the first step towards creating a more equal society is important.

Did you have any concerns or fears about the potential impact of your book on your personal life or relationships?

At this stage, I have no worries or regrets. My main goal has been to safeguard my children’s well-being. To handle any potential effects on my personal life, I sought legal advice before publishing the book.

What are your future plans or aspirations as an author and advocate for survivors of domestic violence?

As an author and advocate for survivors of domestic violence, my plans revolve around addressing the epidemic at both individual and societal levels. Changing our beliefs is crucial in preventing abuse and creating safer communities. I aim to break the silence, empower survivors to speak up and create a supportive environment. By challenging preconceived beliefs, we can help survivors regain confidence and fight for their freedom. Together, survivors and society can drive significant change, ensuring the safety and well-being of all affected individuals.

How has the experience of domestic violence affected your children’s emotional well-being and development?

The foundational years for my children were extremely challenging and traumatic due to the presence of domestic violence. Despite my best efforts to protect them, they were exposed to the distressing sight of their mother enduring abuse. To safeguard them from further emotional harm, I made the difficult decision to send them to boarding school, separating them from the toxic environment at home.

Indian-American debut author Kanchan Bhaskar

While the experience has undoubtedly had a significant impact on their lives, it is important to note that my children have shown remarkable resilience and growth. They have emerged as compassionate, wise, and humble individuals. One has become a father and has been an exemplary role model by actively nurturing a healthy partnership with his wife.

How have your children responded to your book and your decision to share your story with the public?

Certainly, my children have responded to my book and my decision to share my story with the public in an enthusiastic and passionate manner.

How do you talk to your children about domestic violence and educate them about healthy relationships?

I believe in creating an open and supportive environment to discuss domestic violence and healthy relationships with my children. Throughout their upbringing, I made it a ritual to prepare PowerPoint presentations and have serious discussions about values, perceptions, societal norms, creativity development, and learning. These presentations occurred when they would come home from boarding school during vacations.

My children are grateful for these presentations. We often laughed about my enthusiasm to impart these lessons until they went to business schools. I emphasised respect for women, love, trust, equal partnership, compassion, humility, and giving back to society.

I highlighted that small gestures from both men and women could go a long way in building and strengthening relationships, serving as an example for our children who represent the future of our nation. By creating a platform for open dialogue, I aim to educate my children about healthy relationships and provide them with the knowledge and tools to recognize and address domestic violence.

What advice would you give to people whose children suffer domestic violence?

If your children are affected by domestic violence, protect them no matter what. If the abuser refuses to get help, it’s best to leave. Life is precious, and it’s not worth enduring violence. We deserve to live freely and enjoy our rights.