Surrey woman survives domestic violence, forgives abuser

By Susan Lazaruk

April 29, 2012

Kamal Dhillon’s home in a Surrey subdivision is neat, orderly and comfortably decorated, complete with an attention-seeking Golden Retriever named P.J., framed photos of a smiling family that includes two young grandchildren and a porch swing and tree in full pink blossom out front.

It’s been a long journey to quiet suburbia for Dhillon, this year’s recipient of the Courage to Come Back Award in the social adversity category.

It includes horrific abuse at the hands of her husband and ends with peace and serenity and a message of hope for others, an ending she said was possible for her by finally forgiving her abuser.

“It’s a hard story to listen to but it is a story that may save someone’s life,” said Dhillon.

She was 18 when she entered into an arranged marriage that’s customary in her Sikh-Hindu culture.

“Initially it started as a fairy tale in my mind,” she said.

She was soon instructed by her new mother-in-law to worship her husband as a god and she realized her husband drank excessively.

“Within weeks of the marriage, he had hit me so hard, he broke my nose,” she said. That was the start of years of “mental, verbal, physical” abuse, including rape, torture and a forced stay in a mental hospital outside of Canada.

Dhillon said the abuse included an attempt at electrocuting her with an arc welder, forcing her to drink poison, dousing her with kerosene and almost daily beatings that were so severe that she now lives with an artificial jaw.

She lived under the threat of death that scared her so much she wouldn’t dare phone anyone when he went to work, fearing he would be able to tell and beat her even more.

“And he told me if I left and went to my parents, he would come there and shoot each one of them and then shoot me,” she said.

She never called police but her husband was charged with assault and uttering death threats after someone witnessed a beating in a parking lot. To avoid trial, he moved her and their two young children abroad. The abuse continued, even in his parents’ house.

They had another two children and one dark night, he drove them all to a deserted part of the ocean, dragging her to the pier and beating her as she clung on to the railing. She said she would have been drowned if it weren’t for a passerby.

“I believe now that person was a godsend,” she said.

She eventually was able to return to Vancouver but he followed. She finally left him by fleeing in the middle of the night with her children.

“In the first year, we were running from shelter to shelter,” said Dhillon.

They eventually divorced and her husband later died, his body found in the ocean near the spot he had taken her earlier. His jaw was broken but there was never an investigation. He was 39.

Dhillon gives talks and workshops about domestic violence to police and others involved with battered women, including recently to an event in Washington, D.C., put on by the World Bank.

She also counsels battered women, encouraging them to act, even if they fear for their financial future.

“If you stay there (in an abusive situation), you’re enabling the abuser, you’re empowering the abuser. The abuser gets the message that you either like the abuse or you deserve it,” she said. “You’re sucked into that victim mentality and he starts to believe he’s the victor.”

“I used to say, abuser, abuser, abuser,” she said. “But now I’m saying but the onus is on you, too, (to change your situation),” she said. “I say to women, ‘Look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself, “Do you deserve this?”’”

Dhillon, now a Christian, said she has found peace and serenity through forgiveness, which she has written about in her book, Black and Blue Sari, because her lingering anger and bitterness toward her husband was dominating her.

“Through forgiveness, I no longer walk around in hatred with my head down as a victim,” she said.

But that doesn’t mean excusing abusers’ bad behaviour, returning to them or passing on the chance to have their actions punished by the courts.

“I learned once I forgave him, I didn’t have to go and embrace him,” she said.

She also accepts her painful journey was part of a plan for her to help others.

“I never asked for it,” she said. “But when I showed some women the scars for my artificial jaw, they said, ‘What’s holding us back?’”