Finding freedom through abuse

Kamal Dhillon was beaten so badly, so often, her jaw has been rebuilt nine times. The first blow came just days after her wedding. Her husband broke her nose after Dhillon told him she was worried about his drinking and driving.

Kamal Dhillon was beaten so badly, so often, her jaw has been rebuilt nine times.

The first blow came just days after her wedding.

Her husband broke her nose after Dhillon told him she was worried about his drinking and driving.

Dhillon was 18 years old and weighed less than 90 pounds.

For the next 12 years, the Indo-Canadian remained trapped in an arranged marriage.

“The house rules were, ‘Whatever happens in your home, stays in your home,’” she said.

In Dhillon’s case, that included rape, sodomy, torture, electrocution and forced suicide attempts.

“I have survived so many attempted murders,” said Dhillon.

Two years into the marriage, her husband started begging Dhillon to kill herself.

“He’d taken out a big life insurance policy on me,” she said.

“And now I understood why.”

One night, he held her head back and started to pour Lysol down her throat.

Dhillon felt a severe burning, then lost consciousness.

The next thing she remembers is her husband explaining to the paramedics that his wife had tried to kill herself.

Rendered mute by severe chemical burns down her throat, Dhillon’s husband got sole custody of their children.

Then, following an abusive outburst, her husband was kicked out of the hospital, prompting an astute psychologist to start asking questions.

Dhillon took refuge with family for a few days.

Then, “out of fear,” she returned home to her husband.

“He said if I left him or charged him, he would kill my family,” she said.

The torture continued.

“I was doused in gasoline and handed matches,” she said.

“I was covered in cigarette burns.

“And he tried to remove my eye by beating it repeatedly.”

Today, Dhillon has serious vision loss in that eye.

Several years into the marriage, Dhillon’s husband and inlaws moved back to India and took her with them.

When she was six months pregnant with their third child, her husband kicked her repeatedly in the back.

“I bled for four days,” she said.

The baby was premature and only weighed two pounds.

It was still in an incubator in the hospital when Dhillon’s husband and family sent her off in an ambulance to “a retreat” for rest.

When she got there, Dhillon realized it was a mental institution.

She was scheduled for electric shock therapy the next day.

Dhillon managed to convince a guard to leave her door open, and in the wee hours of the morning she scaled the fence.

Torn up and bleeding from the barbwire at the top, she ran until she came to a main road where she hailed a cab.

“They thought I was a prostitute,” she said.

Still, the driver took her to family, where she hid for two days, until her husband hunted her down.

“I was found again and had to go back,” she said.

“If I didn’t have children I would have said, ‘Just kill me.’”

Soon after, he tried to do just that.

In the middle of the night he took Dhillon to an abandoned dock and tried to drown her.

She didn’t know how to swim.

“The children were in the car watching,” she said.

“I couldn’t stand it, the look on their faces.”

Screaming and holding onto the dock, Dhillon thought this was the end.

“He stomped on my knuckles and broke them,” she said.

Then a man showed up.

Her husband threatened him, and the man disappeared, but it was enough.

Dhillon was dragged out of the water and back to the car.

The next day, Dhillon begged her father-in-law for a ticket home.

“I wanted to leave with the children,” she said.

He gave in, but when the envelope arrived, there was only one ticket.

She could go, but the children would stay, he said.

Dhillon refused.

That night, her husband raped and sodomized her in front of the children, leaving her tied up in a corner.

The next day, she agreed to leave the children and return to Canada alone.

It was a difficult process because her husband had burned her passport.

She was still in India dealing with the embassy when he pursued her to Canada.

He arrived before her.

So, when she landed he was waiting at the airport.

The abuse continued.

“Every part of my body had lost its respect,” she said.

“I would just numb myself and create a fantasy of having a loving husband.

“I would think of this while he raped, tortured and sodomized me.”

Eventually, Dhillon managed to convince her husband to bring two of their four children home.

But it would be more than two years before she saw her two youngest, who remained in India with her inlaws.

One morning, after another night of being stripped, tied up, raped and urinated on, Dhillon told her children to pack their favourite toys in their school bags.

Her oldest said, “Aren’t we going to school?”

Her husband overheard and jumped out of bed.

“And I just started running,” she said.

“He followed me to the mall, and I called the police.”

The police put her husband in jail.

For the next year, Dhillon and her two children floated from shelter to shelter.

“Two-and-a-half years later, I went back to India and kidnapped my other two children,” she said.

A couple years after that, she went back to India one more time – to attend her husband’s funeral.

At first, when she saw the body, she thought she’d been had.

“It didn’t look like him,” she said.

“His eyes were gone, his nose was smashed ….”

She was told her husband had drowned.

“But certain members of his family wanted him dead.”

Her husband “drowned” in the exact same spot he had tried to drown her so many years before.

Today, Dhillon lives in constant pain.

She can’t eat most foods, because of her artificial jaw, and she can’t sleep on her sides.

She is also ashamed of her face, which has been rebuilt.

But that hasn’t stopped Dhillon from sharing her story.

“This isn’t a cultural issue,” she said.

Domestic violence and abuse cuts across race, class and age.

Abused women often feel ashamed, she said.

“But this is not a private matter and we should not be ashamed.”

Dhillon wrote about her experience in her book, Black and Blue Sari.

“I thought I’d print 1,000 copies and they’d sit in my garage,” she said.

Instead, the book has sold thousands of copies, and Dhillon has been recognized internationally for her bravery.

Next week, Dhillon is coming to Whitehorse to host a three-day domestic violence awareness workshop.

“It’s mostly geared to give people hope, so they don’t think they’re alone,” she said.

“I want to give people escape routes, tell them how to hide their keys.

“Or make an appointment with the doctor, and get them to document some of the abuse, even a dentist….”

Most of all, “Don’t believe the lies (your abuser) has told you,” said Dhillon.

“Know you are loved and appreciated.”

Just before Dhillon’s father died, he held her hand and asked her to forgive him.

She never shared all the horrors she experienced with her parents.

“A lot of it was sexual, and how do you tell them that?” she said.

“But in the end they knew.”

None of Dhillon’s children are “normal,” she said.

“But after years of counselling, they are doing awesome.”

Dhillon is a grandmother now.

But she doesn’t plan on slowing down any time soon.

After Whitehorse, she is headed to Toronto and then to the UK to continue sharing her story.

“I want to give people freedom,” she said.

The domestic violence workshops in Whitehorse run from April 14 through 17.

For more information contact 668-4877, 335-5818, or 668-3518.

Contact Genesee Keevil at

gkeevil@yukon-news.com