Blog, stories and articles on personal issues and challenges faced by South Asians and Non Resident Indians (NRIs)

Rani's story - Part I of a South Asian Divorce

Wednesday November 21 2007 [Continued from Part I)
By SUNIL RAO

The face of an abused South Asian woman is generally that of a simple village girl: needy, poorly educated, unexposed to international sophistry. Or at least, that is what most people think.

But this is the story of Rani (name changed to protect identity): not an innocent village girl, but an educated woman brought up in Hong Kong, and aware of the ways of the world. And if it happened-- and continues to happen-- to a Rani, it can pretty much happen to anyone.

This is the second part of Rani's story, in her own words:

I was talked into aborting my second child, but (Wahe Guru) had a different plan for me; within a few months I became pregnant with my third child.

This time I stood my ground fearlessly and continued my pregnancy, delivering my third child, a baby girl.

I was alone through the birthing process and held my daughter in a warm embrace, knowing there were lots of storms waiting for us outside that hospital. But I held to my faith (Wahe Guru), and was as ready as one could be to face what was coming my way.

And come my way it sure did. Four months after my daughter was born I got a knock on my door-- and to my amazement it was Children's Aid again! This time I was accused of harming my little daughter, with a question against a mark on her leg. I knew I'd been set up again, and after a gruelling interrogation that even raised questions about what kind of mother I was to my kids, I was again cleared.

But this was a very low point in our relationship-- I was thoroughly insulted by the fact that he'd called in Children's Aid on me-- and decided to take a break from this insanity.

I checked myself into a hotel for two days-- and when I returned to my house, to my surprise he this time called the police on me. And there I was, having to explain to the police that I was not physically abusing him.

I was told I should leave my house and go away for two days to sort out the logistics at home. I had to leave my children, leave my house, and go stay in a hotel again, apparently as a cooling-off period. And upon my return this time, to my amazement I found he'd moved, and gone to stay with his family.

I was now left all alone in an empty house with my kids. That night holds a special meaning for me: I didn't know whether to be happy or sad-- in fact, I didn't know how to feel anymore.

I was now told by my ex that he no longer wanted to live with me, and that he was filing for a divorce. And there I was, a mother of two, being given the sentence of a single mother-- and all this sentence means to a South Asian woman.

He was a lawyer and I'm not legally savvy, I knew I could do with all the help I could get. But I was now in the hands of the Canadian system, and was convinced women were treated fairly in this country.

But this hope too was to be shattered.

I was referred to a women's centre in Brampton, which in turn referred me to a certain Caucasian male lawyer (although I'd requested a female-- that game of business referrals again!). I was also asked to attend various community centre meetings, and here I realized all that these NGOs were doing were to offer us a free breakfast, and a $10 food stamp for grocery. The attitude was: okay, you're not the only one, toe the line, or get out.

It was demeaning, to say the least.

There was no attempt at empathy. It was-- and is-- nauseating to see these centres working essentially to protect their funding from the powers that be, and providing minimal guidance for the benefit of women.

Meanwhile the Caucasian male lawyer who'd come highly referred from the centre was now revealing all of my personal information on the government forms, to enable me get legal assistance. Upon reviewing my case, he told me he couldn't-- or wouldn't-- do anything until he'd got the money approved for him. Further, the day I told him my ex was a lawyer, his entire attitude towards me changed. I was no longer the victim; the tone I now faced was that I was making waves with his kind of people (ie lawyers).

After handling my case for 15 months, he could not even get to see the financials of what my husband was making. All he was trying to tell me was that I should let the sale of the house go through and move somewhere else, as my share in a matrimonial home would help me financially.

To my amazement, he also explained to me that the judge had ordered the house I was living in had to be sold to the first available offer.

Meanwhile, of course, (Wahe Guru) had another tsunami in mind for me. My in-laws in Punjab, India, were assaulted and hurt in their home, and-- why was I not surprised?-- the police case registered had my name as the person who'd orchestrated the assault from Canada. And someone also tried to use these fabricated charges in Canada by trying to have my kids taken away from me, on the grounds I was deemed a criminal somewhere else.

Interestingly, the medical examiner's report for my in-laws was made by a hospital 200 km away from where the assault took place. Even more interestingly, the examiner happened to be my father-in-law's best friend's son. Hmm!

On yet another level, I also started receiving intimidatory calls: give up your fight for the sake of your children, get up, move away, get away from here.

I'd been through a lot, and such scare tactics no more dent my spirit... but I did feel saddened at the unsavoury moves being employed. It also made my resolve to get justice stronger, and when I reported this latest tactic to the local law enforcement authorities, I was able to obtain a restraining order to safeguard myself against this person.

But meanwhile I found my name being splashed nationwide as the daughter-in-law who'd attacked her in-laws in India-- and suddenly I was the hottest conversation topic in Brampton, in Mississauga-- even in Vancouver.

The biggest irony was my in-laws, who'd been struggling to get a visa to Canada, were now fast-tracked on the basis of a security-- or terrorist-- threat to them.

In yet another twist my dad-- in an effort to show his concern-- showed up at Vancouver as a tourist, and (Wahe Guru) suffered a heart attack at the airport. I was held responsible for the $11,000 charge, as per immigration regulations. Of course I paid the hospital in Vancouver with my credit card, with borrowed money. My father recovered, and returned to Hong Kong. Months went by, and I didn't hear anything from him. But I was deeply hurt when I eventually found my father had been discouraging even other family members from visiting me, indicating what befell him could well befall them.

I'd become my own family's shame. Truly, this can happen to a woman only in the South Asian community.

Returning to the legal fiasco on the sale of my house, the attendant circumstances permitted my ex to have it sold to his own friend's relative, with the entire process expedited so I could be thrown to the curb. And while I was looking for help, my ex had the audacity to come and pick up his furniture-- along with my little girl's crib as well.

I was now forced to find a one-bedroom basement apartment to move into, as this was the only option for me. I was now begging my ex to give some of the money that was my share of the house sale-- but my legal aid lawyer could not even bring a motion to put the matrimonial proceeds to be distributed. So much for the Canadian justice system.

I had had enough and fired my lawyer. The new lawyer I approached, a South Asian female from a reputable firm, told me she could represent me in court for $5,000, but could get at most $5,000 from the held matrimonial account. Wow!

I went searching for another firm and started working with another Caucasian lawyer-- but was again victimized, due to the Old Boys' Club.

I fired my second lawyer, and complained to the Canadian Law Society about how my case had been mishandled. Both lawyers are being investigated as we speak, and I hope to have the society's decision soon.

I was finally introduced to a prominent lawyer-- my fourth-- in a reputable firm, and they are fighting my case diligently (fingers crossed on this one!). They have been able to get sole custody for my children, and to have my support increased.

I can now breathe a little easier.

My fight is not over-- not by a long shot-- but I know with the help of some friends, and my resolve, I will come through this ordeal.

I will gain justice, and prove-- despite the bias in our community-- that Woman, who can bear life, can also become a force to reckon with. And that every person who goes through the sanctified union of marriage must account for what that institution holds, and respect and abide by it.

Ultimately, I will survive! And be strengthened by successfully coming through this test (Wahe Guru)!

Concluded

Story published in Canada's South Asian Focus

-- We wish 'Rani' is a fictional character. Unfortunately she isn't. This article raises several disturbing issues in our society: about the way women are perceived and treated, the way social service organizations might be operating, even the way the public funding model is structured. Mail us your comments at haveyoursay@southasianfocus.com

On yet another level, I also started receiving intimidatory calls: give up your fight for the sake of your children, get up, move away, get away from here.

I'd been through a lot, and such scare tactics no more dent my spirit... but I did feel saddened at the unsavoury moves being employed. It also made my resolve to get justice stronger

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