A Spirit of Resilience
by Aaron Rajesh, JtoJ volunteer
International Women’s Day represents a celebration of progress but also a reminder that change is always possible, even when it seems difficult. It is a story of spirit and resilience, never to be broken down by the effects of gender inequality.
Many women in my life have represented this story, but today I would like to share the inspiration behind an Indian and Canadian woman named Anita. Though this story is not my story, it is the biggest inspiration for who I am today and who I aim to become; and I am so proud to be her son.
I was born and raised in Chennai, India. I lived with my dad, mum, and two younger sisters. At the time, my biggest concern was doing well in school. Mum’s concern for my education was just as great, if not greater; thus, she would tutor me every evening after school, sometimes even at the dinner table. But when she was not educating me or my younger sisters, she spent her time serving women of Chennai.
Many single mothers were impoverished due to India’s socio-economic atmosphere. Thus, there was a serious struggle to pay for their children’s essentials, such as food, water, clothing, and education. Some also had children as a result of being raped, and thus had a difficult time paying for most necessary expenses.
My mum would provide any essentials she could; she would also help by providing education herself or by financing it. In other instances, some women were so impoverished that they chewed on tobacco just for sustenance. My mum would personally counsel them, pray for them, and make them amazing Indian food. She would also sit and listen to their stories and struggles in order to provide as much emotional support as needed. Her spirit always said, “I’m here for you”, to every child and women who needed help in staying resilient amidst the battle against gender inequality.
One morning, in the spring of 2006, my family’s life was changed forever. I was suddenly awakened by the jarring sound of shattering dishware, a loud crash, and a scream. I immediately leaped out of bed towards the sounds, and saw she was being attacked by my dad. I tried to push him away, but I was hardly any help, since I was a small 9 year old.
My dad eventually said, “pack up your things and leave by tomorrow, or I’ll stab you to death.” So my mom, my two little sisters who were 7 and 1 at the time and I fled the house. However, he was a danger to us even after we left. We needed safety. I thought it wise to notify the police of the situation until I was informed that my dad could easily bribe the police and judges. He had done it before and would have done it again. In that moment, we became refugees.
It took a long time to heal. But my mum’s spirit never broke. She remained resilient. Though we have much less money now, she never stopped serving others with all that she has. She has spoken to thousands of women suffering similar circumstances. Sometimes, she has invited women to our house, given them food and essentials. One time, a woman was so depressed that she did not brush her hair for months. My mum took the time and brushed her hair while listening and providing emotional support.
On another occasion, a woman was suffering from physical and psychological abuse from her husband. She was unable to call the police from her house and was restricted from leaving. She also refused to have police come to the place while she was at the house with her husband. So my mum snuck her out of the house and took her to the police station to register a complaint, even though it resulted in a car chase from the husband.
Much of her time is also spent at elderly homes, where she serves food and has informal chats with anyone. She is often asked by elders, “Why do you come back so often? Hardly anyone does that.” My mum’s response is she enjoys being there. It is her way of serving the community and neighbours.
There are so many stories to tell. But in the end, all her stories add up to demonstrate her strong spirit which does not waiver, even in the face of extreme gender-based violence and discrimination. Though none of this is my story, I hope I at least show how proud I am. She is the inspiration for my life; the reason I want to become a lawyer who advocates for women’s right to substantive equality; and the symbol of who I wish to be.
Happy International Women’s Day!