CW: Domestic Violence

Independence days are celebrated around the world by countries marking the moment they broke away from their colonial conquerors and started to create their own identity. Though Canada may celebrate their independence on July 1st, for me, independence day has always been January 11th.

January 11th—the day my mother left my father.

Gaining our independence was something we had dreamed about for years. We were in a living hell every single day in a house riddled with domestic violence and abuse. My father was struggling with a severe substance use problem back in the early 2000s, and there weren’t many supports available to help people through their alcoholism —let alone those from minority communities.

The decision by my mother to leave wasn’t taken lightly. 

I watched her struggle internally for years. I’d overhear her crying night after night, and as I tried to console her, she would tell me about how she wished for better. She immigrated to Canada after her wedding with no family to support or protect her. There was a fear of not being able to provide for her three children and a fear of the potential consequences that would come from taking such a big step. 

Especially within the South Asian community, there is a culture of secrecy where it may be known that someone is experiencing domestic violence, but the advice is to grin and endure it—even sometimes at the cost of their life.

In many cultures, there is an uneven distribution of power within a marriage. The men take on the role of providers and are raised to believe they are able to do whatever they like as the only role a woman has is that of a nurturer and caretaker. This power dynamic can quickly turn into abuse and it’s a cycle we’ve seen perpetuated far too often. 

No matter how many times this cycle turns deadly, as seen in the case of Mandeep Kaur, a large proportion of our community still sides with abusers and encourages women to stay silent. According to Rumneek Johal, son preference in the South Asian community contributes to the cycle of abuse and violence, stating that “when brown men behave in dishonourable ways, it is still women who bear the brunt”.

The societal pressure and the burden of traditions passed down through generations of women who were made to feel inferior,kept my own mother silent for years. 

When my mom wanted to reach out to her parents or siblings for support, her in-laws silenced her. 

When my father took control of her finances and drained her accounts, she felt like there was nothing she could do.

She took every hit without uttering a word, but could no longer bear it when it came to her children.

This is a day, our very own Independence Day, that I’ll remember vividly for as long as I live. 

I’ll remember the cold January air on my face as my 11-year-old self helped my mother load up the car with any belongings we could fit. I’ll always remember pulling up to Motel 6, shaking with fear as my mother used the last of our money to pay for three nights of safety. I’ll remember the overwhelming thoughts of not knowing where we would end up next—thoughts that someone my age couldn’t begin to process. 

However, most of all, I’ll remember the sense of relief I had, knowing that I’d never have to wake up wondering if I’d live or die, ever again.

I am so thankful for the strength my mother showed that day and has continued to exemplify each day after.

I know many women fear for their children and how they will turn out if they choose to move on from an abusive relationship—and rightly so. But as a child of a single mother who chose herself and her children over traditional norms and cultural expectations, I promise you, there is power in your decision. 

Leaving a bad situation will never be simple or easy, however, a step like this will, at the very least, break a cycle that has already gone on for far too many generations. We don’t have to accept violence and abuse as our norm. 

That day my mother left taught me a life lesson that was all too important. If you’re in a situation that is unsafe and it takes a toll on your mental well-being, no matter what anyone else says, it is okay to leave.

I applied this advice to every friendship, relationship, job and project that has come my way, and I strongly believe that January 11th is the exact reason that I have been able to build myself into the strong, independent woman I am today.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with domestic violence, please know there are people who care for you and support your journey to safety. You can find more resources here.

About the author

Jessie Brar

Jessie Brar (she/her) is a writer, public speaker, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion professional and Mental Health Activist. She graduated from Queen's University with a degree in Psychology and has worked with several notable organisations worldwide to help raise awareness around important social justice topics and advocate for change. She is deeply passionate about her intersectional identities and is committed to being a life-long learner through her work. Check her out on Instagram - @jessieebrar.

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