In a recent interview with Humans of Amsterdam, one woman tells her story of escaping an arranged marriage. As told by Amsterdam engineer Haritha Khandabattu, it’s a harrowing account of a loveless, unhappy marriage, and her attempt to get out of it despite intense familial pressure and a number of legal impediments. Thankfully, this story has a happy ending.
In an October 8 post, Khandabattu explained that upon graduating from school in India, she “wanted to focus on [her] career as an engineer.” However, she was facing increasing pressure from her parents to marry. When she refused, life at home became strained, to the point that she and her father stopped speaking. “The tension became unbearable and at some point I couldn’t take it anymore so I gave in,” she said. “I ended up marrying a man that I barely knew and didn’t love.”
The marriage didn’t go well. “From the start we had no connection and it was very obvious that we both weren’t in love,” she recalled. “I kept telling myself that everything would be okay and that it all would work out.” Things only got worse when she and her new husband moved to the other side of the country to live with his family. Her in-laws turned out to be “very controlling,” to the extent that they demanded she turn over her paycheck to them.
“My husband turned out just to be as controlling as his parents,” she said. He became paranoid and overbearing. “He would check my phone regularly and accused me multiple times of cheating on him,” Khandabattu said. “Every day the situation was getting worse. … Whenever I would have to work late my husband would ask me who I was having sex with this time. It was humiliating.”
After a year and a half of trying unsuccessfully to make the marriage work, Khandabattu finally requested that her company transfer her to Amsterdam. It was the right choice for her. “When I arrived at the Amsterdam airport it felt as if I could finally breath again,” she remembered. “Everything about this place made me feel relaxed.” After working for a while in Europe, she made a decision: “[I] called my husband and said, ‘There is nothing you can do to change my mind, I want to get a divorce.’ Never in my life had I been so certain of myself.”
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of it. Actually severing ties with her husband and his family proved to be a major hurdle, and her own family didn’t approve. At the beginning of 2016, she took two weeks off of work to go to India and settle the divorce. “When I arrived, my family was mostly emotional and angry with me for making the decision to get a divorce,” she said.
She and her family went to her in-law’s home to discuss the marriage, and after sleeping there for a night, Khandabattu awoke to find that her passport, credit cards, and phone had been taken. “Slowly I started to realize how serious the situation was,” she said. Getting a new passport in order to go back to Amsterdam wouldn’t be easy: Normally, it takes three months of processing time and requires a signature from a father or husband, neither of which she could provide. “I have never felt so hopeless in my entire life but I wasn’t about to give up,” she said.
Her sister helped her to sneak out to a government building. With persuasion and a bit of luck, Khandabattu was able to get an appointment at the passport office, where she sat and waited for 10 hours. With a bit of white lying, she convinced the passport official to give her a passport without her father or husband’s signature. It took more time and money for her to replace her residency card for the Netherlands, but, when she finally had her papers in order, she booked a flight back to Amsterdam. “During this entire time I was scared. Scared that someone would recognize me and that I would get sent back to my husband’s house,” she recalled.
When she finally made it to her home in Amsterdam, she said, “I felt as if I finally had woken up from a bad dream.” By that time, she’d been gone for a month and a half and had lost her job. Fortunately, she was able to find another job within a few weeks.
Now Khandabattu is safe and happy working as a software engineer in Amsterdam, though she’s still married and, she says, she’s “never going back to India.” “I do talk to my parents,” she admitted, “but I find it really hard to trust them.” Although it must be painful for her to have a strained relationship with her parents, Khandabattu has created her own family in the Netherlands. “Amsterdam is magical, this is where I want to be,” she said. “This is my home and my friends are my family.”
Image: Humans of Amsterdam/Facebook