The journey from social isolation and abuse to safety and independence has been a long one, made even longer by a legal battle for divorce that cost her dearly. During the days when the system failed her and compassion was sparse, what was instrumental in her survival was the culturally sensitive advocacy and support from an Indian counselor who understood her cultural beliefs and attitudes. In counseling sessions over a period of years, Neerja recalls a series of conversations that proved particularly meaningful. After examining interpretations of scriptures that uphold sexist beliefs and attitudes that condone women’s suffering and submission to men, Neerja understood that the pressure she felt to save her marriage was rooted in sexism and anger replaced the expectation of self sacrifice that was so deeply ingrained in her.
Several years have passed since Neerja’s divorce became final. Her children have grown up. Witnessing their mother’s battle has taken a toll on their lives. Neerja is busy with her prayer group, her writing group and her work as a volunteer with Sahara and other community groups. Neerja has realized that according to the Hindu Philosophy, her husband was supposed to value her as a power behind his strength and honor her for her support to him at all times. She realizes now that Hinduism in its Vedantic form never condoned violence against women and that she can be a devout Hindu and practice her faith without having to sacrifice her pride and dignity. All Hindus worship Goddess of strength, Maa Durga and they have been shown through her example to fight the evil. In Neerja’s case her fight required wit, wisdom and most importantly a solid support system which was absent in an alien culture and an alien country.
It is her hope that through Sahara that support as well as awareness can be created.
First of all, I would like to take this opportunity to give thanks and praise to the Almighty Allah (SWA) and to also send blessings upon our beloved Prophet Muhammad (Peace be Upon Him). I would like to say a few words on how Sahara has changed my life. I hope my journey will inspire and motivate other women experiencing similar challenges to change their lives for better. Sahara gave me the pleasure of working with Neelu, a friend that I am forever bonded with now. She took the blinders off my eyes and helped me to see that the relationship I was in was unhealthy and the way I was being treated was wrong. She exposed the fact that none of this was my fault and I needed to stop blaming myself. It was an honor to be counseled by her, and because of her abilities, she showed me that everyone needs to be treated with respect. I have also come to understand the rights of women in Islam, and that I deserve better. In addition, Sahara also provided with financial support in the most difficult time of my life, after losing my job that I held for twelve years. Although it was the most gut-wrenching and anxiety-driven decision I have ever had to make, Sahara helped me to take that courageous step of change—a change for the better.