By Mariam Mehdi
Tasneem’s story is a shocking tale of abuse, survival and a woman’s unwavering will to live. She survived a gruesome attack. Married off at 18 to a first cousin, she bore four children, and stayed with him for ten long years despite constant abuse. She got beaten for every little argument. Her in-laws bore silent witness to the violence she endured and often instigated it. They had concealed his drug addiction prior to their marriage, trapping her in a relationship. She felt her only value to them was as a child-bearer. She stated that the women of the house were the worst lot as they were utterly insensitive.
Life got frightening. She fled from him with her kids to the refuge of her mother’s home where she sought the protective guardianship of her mother and wanted to take her life back. She expressed a will to live for the sake of her kids. She stated that she had been robbed of her youth and her physique, but not of her spirit.
While she lived at her mother’s house for ten months, the spouse occasionally visited the kids and pleaded for her to return. She had, in the meantime, filed for ‘khula’, or divorce. After fleeing her home, she thought that she had escaped abuse. In fact, the most dangerous moment for women leaving abusive partners is the period after they leave. During one of his visits he attacked her. The abuse turned deadly when he went from ranting to grabbing a gun. He shot her in the legs at point blank range. Against the odds she survived.
She had been lying still on a hospital bed for eleven days when I met her. She has been identified by Sania during one of her field visits to the hospital—Sania immediately called and asked that I see her and process her case for assistance. One of her legs had been amputated; she had lost too much blood while being transported to the hospital after the firearm injury and couldn’t be salvaged. The other was to be operated upon. She said that she has survived to tell her story. The mother of Tasneem had the heartbreaking task of sending the kids to the abusive in-laws as there was nobody to take care of them as she herself was Tabinda’s attendant during hospitalization. Tasneem’s only brother was an epileptic and incapable of caring for them. These kids were always terrified. Now they were a witness to the horror of their mother being shot and perhaps being gone forever.
Tasneem’s mother, a widow with a dependent disabled 30-year-old son, was very poor. She was a home-based worker who had set up a ‘tandoor’ (oven) at home and made ‘nan’ (bread) for sale in the village. She and her son had also, often been beaten up by Tasneem's drug-addicted spouse. The family was already being shunned for having given refuge to Tasneem, an act which in conservative societies is considered taboo and tainted them by association.
With the perpetrator still at large, Tasneem still bore the physical and mental pain of the injury and of the separation from her small kids. This man, who should have been faced with attempted murder, weapons’ offences, and child endangerment charges, was free. Tasneem’s story reflects strongly an underlying misogyny which regrettably forms the foundation of the local culture.
Following her treatment, Heartfile provided her with crutches, funded the construction of a toilet and a water connection—basic but ‘precious’ amenities she would always benefit from. Her rehabilitation was monitored, and a monthly stipend provided for some time.
I visited Tabinda after 10 months in her village. She lived with her mother and brother in two rooms, provided by an influential local in the village after Tasneem’s mother’s plea to him. The shelter was basic. Until Heartfile built a bathroom for her, she had to depend on her brother to take her to distant fields—on a bicycle—in the early morning and late evening so that she could relieve herself.
Tasneem was learning to live with disability and needed a prosthetic leg. She expressed her wish to improve her skills to be more independent. With part of the monthly stipend, which Heartfile provided she was able to buy an earthen oven which was being installed on the premises. She hoped that this investment would bring her an additional income as she realized the stipend can’t be forever.
Tasneem’s story is heart breaking. It is a case that teaches one about the true situation of a victim of violence but shows also the true meaning of strength and resolve. Despite greater gender awareness and more gender sensitive laws, violence against women perpetuates itself, and this abuse is often surrounded by a silent, and truly shameful, acceptability.
Tasneem is part of an ‘invisible majority’ – women victims of violence facing the long-term consequences of that violence – stigma, ill-health, poverty and marginalization. Each one of these interplays with and compounds her disability. Violence and injury prevention, and disabilities are an integral part of non-communicable disease.
Excerpt from a detailed story written by Mariam Mehdi, senior volunteer, Heartfile Health Financing