Haritha Khandabattu had no interest in getting married straight after graduating college.
As she explained in an incredibly empowering post for Humans of Amsterdam, she had "always been a very ambitious student," and once she’d graduated, all she wanted was to spend some time focusing on her career. But her parents had other plans for her, and were constantly pressuring her to let them find her a suitable husband instead. Eventually, things got so tense, that her father was barely even speaking to her - so finally, Haritha relented.
"I ended up marrying a man that I barely knew and didn’t love," she said. "Honestly I can’t remember my wedding day... From the start we had no connection and it was very obvious that we both weren’t in love."
Haritha was still determined to make it work - but once she moved in with her husband and in-laws, she quickly realized the situation was much worse than she’d anticipated.
"I kept telling myself that everything would be okay and that it all would work out," she said. "My in-laws were very controlling and I was forced to give my salary to them. They demanded I would contact my father and ask him for a dowry. My husband turned out just to be as controlling as his parents. He would check my phone regularly and accused me multiple times of cheating on him. Every day the situation was getting worse. At the time I was working as a software engineer for Nike and my job became my ultimate passion. Whenever I would have to work late my husband would ask me who I was having sex with this time. It was humiliating."
For the next year and a half, however, she kept trying. She planned romantic trips for the two of them in hopes that showing her husband a world of other cultures might teach him to be more compassionate. But unfortunately, nothing seemed to work - and after a particularly big fight, she asked her manager if it would be possible for her to get transferred to an office in another country. When he offered her a job in Amsterdam, she immediately accepted.
"When I arrived at the Amsterdam airport it felt as if I could finally breath again," she said. "Everything about this place made me feel relaxed. I felt at the right place at the right time. I started my new job and I made a lot of friends."
"One day I visited a storytelling event with women from all over the world who talked about their experiences with physical and emotional abuse," she continued. "All these women came out of situations way worse than mine and it made me feel strong. When I got home I picked up the phone and 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."
While she would have preferred to never go back to India again, she was forced to return in order to finalize her divorce - and once she arrived, her family immediately let her know that they were furious with her decision.
"For hours my family and his family were trying to convince me to not go through with the divorce," she said. "This went on for hours and hours and at some point I was so exhausted I had to go to sleep. That night I slept in his house. Just being there reminded me of all those terrible months. I woke up the next day and I noticed that my bag with my passport, phone and credit cards was missing. I panicked and confronted my in-laws. They said that they had nothing to do with my missing bag and that someone must have broken in and stole it."
"Slowly I started to realize how serious the situation was," she continued.
As she went on to explain, getting a new passport in India "takes at least three months," and would require her to get a signature from either her father or her husband - neither of whom were willing to give it. So she enlisted the help of her sister, and they snuck into a government building and lied that she’d lost her passport at the mall. By a stroke of luck, the woman was able to get her an appointment the next day, and after a few white lies, she was approved. She then had to get her residency card replaced, but unlike with her passport, she was completely honest about her terrifying situation. The Embassy of Netherlands in Amsterdam was extremely understanding, and she was able to get her residency card the next day.
’’When the airplane took off I could finally breath again," she said. "When I landed in Amsterdam I took the train from the airport to my house. I didn’t cry, I couldn’t believe all that had really happened. I felt as if I finally had woken up from a bad dream."
"Amsterdam is magical, this is where I want to be," she continued. "This is my home and my friends are my family."
Since being posted, Haritha’s story has been shared thousands of times, with many commending her for her incredible strength and resilience.
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