Single by Divorce | Women Uninterrupted podcast - Season 4, Episode 4

The long road to separation.

Published - October 12, 2023 05:07 pm IST

The story of the end of a marriage - on Women Uninterrupted, a podcast by The Hindu.

(For the podcast transcript, scroll down after the e-interview with author Shasvathi Siva). 

Women Uninterrupted brings you difficult, different and uninterrupted conversations about being a woman. 

Host: Anna Thomas 

Guest: Hannah 

Title music: Maya Dwarka

Production: Anna Thomas, The Scribbling Pad


Women Uninterrupted talked to Shasvathi Siva, who says the silence on divorce and divorcees must stop to pave the way for women to walk out of abusive marriages. She wrote her book, Divorce is Normal, to destigmatise divorce and share her learnings from getting a divorce.

Women Uninterrupted: Tell us about your book. It’s your first, if I am not mistaken, and going from what you have been saying all along publicly, would you say that the book also demonstrates how to change the vocabulary around divorce? How important is that to you and what are the key changes we can make to beat the “wretched stigma” of wanting a divorce and the stigma attached to, in particular, women post-divorce?

Shasvathi Siva

Shasvathi Siva

Shasvathi Siva:I absolutely intend to change the vocabulary around divorce, as well as the way it is perceived. For example, I make a strong point against the use of the word “divorcee” - I think it’s redundant and unnecessary. I don’t want to be tagged as one, and it’s a tag meant to shame. 

The changes we need to make in our conversation first stems from not judging someone for choosing to end a marriage. To not make jokes at the expense of someone’s divorce, to not run commentary on a celebrity’s divorce, etc. It’s important to show sensitivity to the situation and also remember that what goes on in a divorce is strictly between the couple choosing to opt out, and not for general consumption.

Women have it way tougher in general. The judgement we face from society can be really harsh. It’s important to provide the right kind of support and backing to those wanting to make this difficult decision. 

Could you briefly trace the evolution of the book? What made you first say the now-famous hashtag #divorceisnormal?  

I started talking about divorce online right after my divorce, mainly because there were some who told me never to mention my divorced status in public, should it affect any future prospects. Talking about divorce initially was me rebelling against that. Eventually, when I realised that many others were going through similar situations, I realised just how deep the stigma is and how desperately we need to be collectively working together to do away with it. With time, it just grew into a bigger and better conversation.

For women going through difficult divorces, can you recommend one important resource? How can they access your support group and where can they buy your book? 

I would highly recommend choosing a good therapist based on the requirement. That’s the first and main resource point a woman should look for. The support group, Divorce is Normal, is on Telegram and my book of the same name is now available on Amazon. 

Audio Transcript

This is the Women Uninterrupted podcast brought to you by The Hindu. This podcast is a space where we host difficult, different and uninterrupted conversations between women.

Anna Thomas: Hello, I’m your host, Anna Thomas, on Women Uninterrupted. And this episode is part of a five-part series on women and singlehood. Today on this episode, I have with me across the table, Hannah, a voice trainer. Welcome, Hannah. Let’s hear your voice!

Hannah: Hi, I’m Hannah:-)

Anna: Hannah is here to tell us her story. Her story, related to this podcast, began two years ago, when she made a decision which a lot of Indian women find very hard to make: the decision to apply for divorce. Tell us your story, Hannah. How did it start? When did you make a decision? Who helped you and what part of your story can help other women?

Hannah: When did I make my decision? The final straw was when he got violent and I saw my children shuddering under the table. But there were many, many instances before when I thought this was not worth being part of.

Anna: You have been fighting this battle, of getting the settlement and a divorce, for two and a half years now. And you told me that the first legal step you took was filing a CSR for violence, without telling your husband, because you were afraid of him, but you still wanted it on record. Later, you moved out of your marital home, filed a POCSO case on your daughter’s behalf, and then a divorce case on the grounds of adultery and cruelty. 

I think one of the big reasons why many women don’t go through all these processes is because of the stigma and the shame involved in telling your story, having to repeat it over and over again, especially to your natal family - your birth family. How did you describe what had happened to you, to your parents? Did you tell them when you filed that first CSR?

Hannah: They were very supportive about it. It was very difficult to describe it to them because - and I know this happens to a lot of women - they’re too ashamed to talk about what they had done with their husbands - and probably their husbands would say, “No, if you go, I will tell them what you did.” 

I was in a similar situation. 12 years into my marriage, my husband said, “Let’s, you know, we’ve been faithful to each other. So, let’s open up our marriage.” Before that, he had sent me a lot of articles on how men are not meant to be monogamous and things like that. Over time, it progressed into…I realised that he wanted me to, you know, he had a fantasy of me being with other people. This was not something I was very interested in. But good girls don’t say no. It started off with very, very small requests. Once I was comfortable with that, it grew into something else. Although I’d said No quite a few times, it finally happened. He took a video of that. The day after, he told me that he had been cheating on me…he’d been having an affair. 

The whole reason we had this deal was because I thought we were faithful to each other. I went to therapy thinking, I think I’m the problem. Maybe if somebody gives me a third person’s perspective on how I should not feel bad about being cheated on…And then I realised there were so many things that were going on where I was manipulated into thinking that I was the problem. He would keep me up nights. I was verbally, mentally, emotionally abused. People…my therapist asked me, “What do you want to do?” I said I wanted to leave, but I’m too scared. 

Anna: Did he know that you were going to therapy? 

Hannah: Yes. He even brought it up later saying, “I let you do whatever you want.” He thought he was being very liberal in letting me go for therapy.

Anna: So you were the only one in therapy? Or was it couple therapy?

Hannah: No, because I was the problem, right. 

And when he found out that I had cried for the third time about his affair, he said, “You’re emotionally draining me.” So, I thought I really was the problem. It was a constant back and forth. 

I had to start recording my feelings. It’s because it was mental and emotional abuse. There are no scars left. You don’t remember your emotions. You don’t remember the feelings he’s left you with. So, I had to start writing it down because I really felt like I was losing my mind, because abuse isn’t all the time. He’s not bad all the time. He does these very sweet things, where he makes tea for you. He makes us breakfast, especially for you. He buys you your favourite dish. He knows your love languages; he does those things for you. But he also berates you; he makes you feel like scum. And you don’t even realise these are abusive things. Coming to that point of deciding I wanted to divorce him took about a year minimum.

Anna: After how many years of marriage?

Hannah: 14 years of marriage.

Anna: And two children. 

Hannah: And two children, now aged 15 and 12.

Anna: Could you describe that moment when you decided that you would be leaving the marriage - you may have thought about it earlier - but going through the legal process of leaving him: who helped you decide?

Hannah: I used to go for dance classes and I had made some girlfriends there. So, they did not say: Hannah, you’re being abused. I told them what I’m going through. I said I want to leave, but I’m scared. 

So, they said, Hannah, you’re stronger than you know. You can do this. 

But how will I provide for my children? 

Hannah, you have the ability to provide for your children. We believe in you. 

And not one of them told me to leave. It was completely my decision. I stress that because an abuser will always tell you you’re leaving because of your friends - your friends are influencing you, or your family’s influencing you. At that point, I was thinking maybe I’m imagining the abuse. It’s not him. He can’t be this bad. I love him so much.

Anna: And when did that change? At what point did you start thinking of divorce as an option?

Hannah: By the end of 2019, I knew this is not something that is going to work. I had seen a side of him that was - although I had loved him - I saw a part of him that wanted to break me. By Jan/Feb, the whole talk of the pandemic had started. And I couldn’t leave. It got really bad because now he’s sitting at home. He’s not getting alcohol; he’s not going out. So all of his aggression was towards us. 

By May 2020, I had even found a house. I used And he got wind of it. But now that he knew I had the strength to find a house, he said let’s go for counselling together. And so, we did. I was actually a little irritated. I’d found such a nice house. Now I had to give that up - okay, but he’s trying to work this marriage out. 

From May till July end, his behaviour was perfect. By then, I’d understood his pattern.  August 2020: he unravelled really, really badly and it became a massively violent episode. I was feeling bruised and battered. My friends told me…they said go to the cops and complain. I was like, how do I do that; just too tired. One of them found the all-women’s police station for the jurisdiction where we were staying. She sent me the location and she said, go there today. Within 24 hours, you have to make a complaint, because this will help you later on, she said. And if it wasn’t for that - her just giving me the directions - I would not have gone. I would not have found the strength to do it. 

So, I urge all the friends out there: if you’re seeing somebody suffer, do this for them. You can’t say: just make a complaint. They don’t have the strength. The least you can do is drop the location for them to go. 

And that’s when I filed the CSR: August 2020. I had to do that very discreetly. I told the people around me I’m just going to buy groceries. So, I stepped out. I was in Chennai at that time. So there’s an all-women’s and children’s police station in Thousand Lights. They’ve made it look like a little play area. The cops are not in their uniform so that the children don’t feel afraid - and very friendly, and they will talk to you like a friend. Heads up: Lots of waiting!

Anna: You filed a CSR and they registered it as a family quarrel.

Hannah:  Yes. So, I thought every time you go to the police station, it’s always an FIR. I didn’t even know something called a CSR existed. 

Anna: A community service register.

Hannah: Yes. I asked them: what is CSR? They said: yes, yes, for family quarrel. I said no, this is abuse. This is domestic violence. And they said no, we don’t have that in our dropbox. And after that, the police said they would call him for counselling. Now I was petrified. because anything sends him into a rage. I don’t know - sometimes, I can do the most stupid things and it won’t send him into a rage. God knows what word will send…this probably will. And I said, please don’t question him; it’ll only get worse. I just wanted on record that he’s done this to me. They said, write on another paper that you don’t want us to do anything, but the next time that you make a complaint, you will allow us to take action. So, I had to make that statement. 

Little did I know I would have to walk into that station again for my daughter, when I had to, this time, file a FIR.  I didn’t even know POCSO existed.. 

Anna: Hannah, you are now in a space where you are able to speak about this without discomfort. But back during the pandemic lockdown, you said that you felt unsafe a few times. And you also said that you were afraid to leave openly. I think that kind of fear would not be present in a relationship that is safe, that is healthy and that is non abusive. What did you decide to do about it? 

Hannah: I left. I had to plan my escape. I took my gold, stayed with my mom in Bangalore. I couldn’t eat. My weight had gone down to 51 kg. I’m five feet eight tall; dropped down to 51. I was so scared of the future. That’s when I said: Okay, I’ll do this. So, I messaged him and I said it’s not working; we’re done. And I came back to Chennai. I did not tell him the day I will be coming to take my things because I don’t know what…because he had already hidden my diploma certificate. It has been one journey since then! 

And it was only after I left that my daughter told me that he had touched her inappropriately. He had come to me before that, saying that she came lay down next to me and you know, I thought it was you and I almost touched, and he said to me, I knew it wasn’t you, so I immediately took my hand away. This was months, months before she told me anything. My daughter could not tell me what had happened that day, because that day when he told it to me - when she tried to approach me - I said yes, daddy already told me he is sorry about what happened. 

18 days after I left, and she was feeling safe, she finally told me exactly what happened. It was completely different from what he had told me. 

I left thinking okay, maybe we just need some time apart. But this was it; I wasn’t taking my kids back…that is when I decided I will divorce.

Anna: So who did you ask for help? Did you find a lawyer at once?

Hannah: I had talked to about three lawyers before that. This fourth lawyer that I had spoken to - he told me how to write the letter. He told me what words to avoid so that it would not come down on me later. Abusers are always backed up by their family - enabling family. So I was asking my lawyer, can I tell them, can I say like, this is what he’s done to his daughter? And he said no, they will rip you apart later. 

Abusers have the most fantastic ability of taking a thread of truth and making it into a tapestry of lies and you can’t even recognise it. And you’ll find yourself having to pick the threads out for each person that comes asking you for the truth. So, I talked to one lawyer who told me: specifically give the details; keep it matter-of-fact; give it to the police station. But there are lots of people who said: don’t do it, because it is a time-consuming process. Even though the papers say that it is supposed to be done in six months, I’ve been waiting about two-and-a-half years for the case to be done. We’re nowhere close, and if you talk to lawyers that have been doing this for a while, they say it takes a minimum of three years for the trial to be done.

Only after they questioned him…yes, it was scary…when they questioned him, I was scared of the repercussions. Although I had left, I didn’t know what he was going to do. They questioned him, and on November 30, they called me in to sign the FIR. 

According to law, he is supposed to be arrested immediately, but he wasn’t. I had to call an NGO for help. 

Anna: Which NGO was that?

Hannah: This is called Helping Hands. I had to contact Pranita Timothy, who helped me the most, and every step of the way, she asked me if I am comfortable with whoever is involved. She said I’m planning to involve so-and-so; is that okay with you? First thing, of course, she asked me for a copy of the FIR. I asked: he’s not yet arrested - is that normal? She said, No, it’s not normal. She called the police station on January 6th, I think, and they arrested him on the eighth. It was only when I called for outside help, did anything move forward. 

Anna: Hannah, at this point, can I do a little recap of your story so far: when you first recognised that you were in an abusive relationship, you filed a CSR in secret, and that was filed by the cops as a family quarrel. Later, after a particularly bad incident, you left your marital home, and after you left, you filed a POCSO case on your daughter’s behalf based on information that she gave you. Soon after that, you filed for divorce.

Hannah: It was pretty much soon after he came out. It’s not like I went straight to the cops…it was the only thing I could do: because my daughter also was saying, “Sorry, Ma, I did not tell you everything earlier. It was difficult for me to form the words.”

I was in love with him for 17 years. And we dated for three years before I had married him. 

Anna: So, when you filed for divorce, how did you decide upon your lawyer? Was it someone you knew?

Hannah: This was somebody I knew. Because, once he got arrested…and this was also by chance; it was not somebody I researched…after he got arrested, and he came out - he was arrested, by the way, not immediately. They arrested him only one and a half months after I filed the FIR. And I remember crying, saying I don’t have anybody; I’m alone. 

And my mom’s friend was a lawyer. She was one of the lawyers I consulted about filing the POCSO case (and she was one of those people who said no to that). 

So, she just happened to call that day and ask: how did it go? I broke down and I said, Aunty, he’s out of  jail. 

Now, when you file an FIR, they’re remanded to judicial custody for a maximum of 90 days. Once the charge sheet is filed, if he has a family that loves him, they will immediately bail him out, and the bond is about 10,000 rupees. Once he was out, it looked like he was innocent. I was shocked. I told aunty: I don’t know what to do. They blackmailed me with a whole lot of photos, saying that I’m addicted to drugs, LSD and weed and alcohol and sex and pornography; that I bring strangers into the house. They really painted me as somebody horribly different. 

And she said: Okay, maa, you come to the office…So this was my mother’s friend, my mother’s classmate from school, who happened to call that day - and she just took me in. 

Once he got out of jail, he sent me a legal notice saying that I have to pay him 10 lakhs for mental trauma. So, she could take care of that. But she does not fight the case for me - not the POCSO case - because that is taken care of by a public prosecutor. Your private lawyer will simply assist in the proceedings. She was able to, you know, rebut those statements. So, I didn’t have to spend 10 lakhs for his mental trauma.

Anna: You go to the lawyer - to the divorce lawyer…what does she ask you to bring?

Hannah: She asked me for the marriage certificate. Given the time that I was married, they didn’t have a proper certificate. So, I had to go to the church and ask them for the register and I had to take a photo of that. A marriage photo of both of us together, the marriage invitation, birth certificates of both the children: because of the custody. And since I was asking for a settlement - a maintenance, interim maintenance - I had to put in all the bills, the children’s fees, and tuition; all the bills - the electricity bill, the rental agreement, everything.

Anna: This has been now two-and-a-half years. 

Hannah: Yes, two-and-a-half years since I filed the POCSO case; a little more than two years since I filed for divorce. 

Anna: So, it takes up a lot of your time.

Hannah: Yes, it does becauseI am saying that he was abusive, and he did all of these things. Yeah, of course, he would say he didn’t do it. Both of us are contesting each other’s word in court. I’m not asking for maintenance, because that’s a whole dance after that, and not a pleasant one. I thought I’ll ask him for a settlement which he’s refusing.

Anna: How long do you spend at court on a typical day? 

Hannah: Half a day, because I’m a businesswoman and I can move things around.

Anna: It must have been the first time you went to court…

Hannah: The first time, yes, and you have to put your photo, and in family court, you have to be there. You have to go to the High Court in Chennai. There’s a family court in there. So, it’s a huge…there’s so many courts in that compound! Right in that building itself is the POCSO court. In the family court, there are so many -  like, you think it’s a huge hall but it’s actually three/four little courts. You can have, you know, the first additional court or the primary court. The lawyer will take you to a place in the court, but not to the judge. They will assign a court for you only once you file it. It’s not presented to a judge right away.

Anna: Every time you go to court, do you go alone or d’you go with a friend or family?

Hannah: You’re not allowed to bring friend or family since the pandemic. There’s so much clamour in the halls because there are so many people, but you will find a friend. So many of us are in the same boat.

Anna: India has one of the lowest divorce rates in the world. It’s less than 2% of all divorces globally.

Hannah: It’s terribly long. And half the time I’m presenting myself, he’s not there. So, we just have to wait. It’s not…well, I have to sometimes come all the way from Bangalore to Chennai, just to see he hasn’t come. 

But again, if you’re coming out of an abusive - mentally and emotionally abusive - relationship, be forewarned, he will make it difficult. This is the last straw of control he has over you. So he will try to prolong it as much as possible. You have to be cold-hearted; as much as you love him, you cannot afford the empathy.

Anna: Thank you. I think we have to end on that note because that is a very important point - that you have to be focussed on your goal. Would it be okay if I tell our listeners that they can, maybe, write in to you if they want to share some of their experiences?

Hannah: Absolutely, which is why I always speak about my experiences. I know how scary it is. I know the shame. Please, yes.

Anna: If you’re a listener and would like to know more about Hannah’s journey, you can write to the with the subject line Women Uninterrupted. Thank you, Hannah, thank you for being here.

Hannah: Thank you for having me here, Anna. 

Anna: Signing off on this episode ofWomen Uninterrupted, the podcast for women, by women, brought to you by The Hindu.

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