India #HerChoice: ‘I sterilised myself and didn’t tell my husband’

The BBC's Indian language services have produced a series, #HerChoice, that pulls together real life stories of 12 women in the country who have defied patriarchal norms and assumptions. Here are three of their stories:

'My big secret'

I had lied to my husband before but the stakes were higher this time. By the age of 20, I had already given birth to four children. I worked as a domestic helper while my husband spent my earnings on alcohol, beat me routinely and forced himself upon me in bed.

My mother told me I couldn't leave my husband and that this was normal. So despite the pain and the misery, I bore it all.

One day, my employer asked me what I would like to change in my life, and I told her that I was constantly afraid of getting pregnant again.

She suggested I get sterilised, and explained how this operation could help me. The more I mulled over this idea, the more necessary it seemed.

But what if my husband found out? It would only lead to more alcohol, more abuse and more pain.

I was uncertain but hopeful that after sterilisation, at least one part of my life would be under my control.

I finally gathered the courage and got my operation done without telling my husband or my children.

It has been 10 years now, and my sterilisation is still my big secret - but it is one that I'm proud of.

As told to the BBC's Divya Arya.

'Born again'

It was my wedding night. I was a 35-year-old virgin and as I entered our bedroom, I expected my husband to embrace me tightly and smother me with kisses. Instead, he had fallen asleep.

When I asked about it the next morning, he said he wasn't well. But nothing changed. Our second, third and several nights after were the same.

Sex was not the only reason for my unease. He hardly spoke to me. He had never even touched me.

I eventually found out that my husband was impotent. He and his parents had known all along, but had tricked me into marrying him by keeping me in the dark.

Everyone around me tried to convince me to pretend like nothing had changed - to just accept this as my reality.

But I couldn't continue validating this fake relationship and so I decided to leave my husband.

My parents didn't accept my decision to divorce him, and wouldn't let me stay with them.

With the help of some friends, I joined a women's hostel and found a job. And then I filed for divorce.

My husband's family accused me of adultery in order to hide his impotency. It took three years for me to get a divorce from him.

It felt like I was born again.

Many people judge me for what I have done, but I hope they understand that women have feelings and desires as well.

As told to BBC Tamil's Aishwarya Ravishanker.

'Everything will be all right'

When Mustafa and I fell in love, I didn't care about the fact that we were not from the same country, religion or caste.

I am a Christian from a small town in north-east India and Mustafa was a Muslim of African origin. Planning a future together seemed irrelevant because of our starkly different family backgrounds and the stigma associated with such marriages in India.

But at the age of 21, a month after our live-in relationship ended, I was pregnant with his child.

I told my friends that I wanted to keep the baby, but they thought that I was out of my mind. And when I told Mustafa about the pregnancy, he refused to believe it was his child and pointed out multiple reasons to abort the baby.

My parents were furious, especially because I was going to give birth to a black child who was not of their religion and caste.

I was scared and didn't have anyone to fall back on; I didn't even have a stable job.

One of my friends helped me during this tough phase. She would loan me her vehicle so that I could go to my medical appointments. On the day of my delivery, she took me to the hospital.

I gave birth to my son and once I saw him, I felt that everything was going to be all right.

Now I'm 29 years old and my son is six. I have lived through a difficult time but these last few years have made me stronger and more content.

As told to BBC Hindi's Sindhuvasini Tripathi.

Series produced by Divya Arya. Illustrations by Gopal Shunya. All identities have either been changed or kept anonymous.

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