Queensland-based Simranjit Kaur Sandhu says she continued to live in a violent and abusive relationship with her husband, “in the hope that he will change” and because she “had no idea that there are shelters for women in Australia, which can provide a roof over the head and food to eat, to women in need.”
Speaking to SBS Punjabi, Ms. Sandhu said, “My husband was abusive and would beat me as well, but I still tried to make it work till the very end."
One day, I was crying hopelessly in a park, when a local Australian woman consoled me. I couldn’t explain my situation to her, but she gave me the phone number for Womens’ Helpline.
“I called them soon after, and explained my situation through an interpreter. They came home the next day and put me up in a shelter straight away.”
“I think the government should tell brides leaving India at the immigration point itself, about what laws are prevalent in Australia, and which facilities exist here for abused women.”
Simranjit Kaur Sandhu was recently featured in ‘Prisoners of Marriage’, on The Feed on SBS, and has now spoken to SBS Punjabi about her experience.
“I was married in India in 2016 after which my husband returned to Australia – he is a citizen here,” she says.
“The demands for money started soon after the wedding. My father-in-law said my parents must be ‘naked’ who didn’t give anything to their family at the time of marriage. He would say we have brought up our son, have sent him to Australia, so there must be compensation.”
“My husband hardly spoke to me from Australia and if I would tell him about these things, either he would stop the conversation or just support what his parents were saying.”
“He told me once that there was a marriage offer from another family who were willing to give him and his family a Range Rover car, along with Rs 2 million (20 lakh rupees or $40,000 AUD) in cash, as part of the wedding gifts.”
Simranjit Kaur Sandhu at the time of her marriage to her Australia-based husband Source: Supplied
Notwithstanding that, Ms. Sandhu’s family prevailed on her husband’s family to let her come to Australia and begin her married life here, in the hope that everything would be okay.
“I came to Australia in April 2017 on a tourist visa, and we filed for permanent residency in 2018 – my father paid every cent for that application.”
But Ms. Sandhu says, that she was subjected to violence soon after coming here, and it wasn’t just verbal, but physical too.
“He would beat me up very often, and put me down even in front of the people that we shared the house with. My husband would say to me, your father should sell his house and raise the money to pay us, or he should transfer the title of his house to my father’s name.”
Simranjit Kaur Sandhu on SBS's The Feed Source: SBS
Ms. Sandhu says things got to a head one day when she left home after receiving a severe beating, and police got involved.
“He asked me not to tell the police anything about the violence but I told them everything. They took photos of me as well, which documented the violence. I couldn’t go to the doctor for help, because my husband always accompanied me. I didn’t have a job or any friend, and couldn’t talk to anyone about this.”
According to Ms. Sandhu, the couple tried staying together again until June 2018, which is when she made contact with the Women’s Helpline and was granted refuge in a shelter.
“My husband withdrew my file for permanent residency and my Uncle spoke to my father in law about it. My father in law said, ‘if you can’t give us Rs 20-25 lakhs, at least give us Rs 10-15 lakh. If not, your daughter will come back to India soon, since her PR file has been withdrawn, and you’ll have to look after her anyway.”
Ms. Sandhu has lodged an appeal with the Department of Home Affairs to intervene in her case and is awaiting the outcome of that.
A recent photo of Simranjit Kaur at a local event Source: Supplied
During the past year, a social worker has helped her in getting a job, and she has now moved to another shelter where she can afford to pay for rent and food.
Drawing on her personal experience, Ms. Sandhu shared these words of advice for any other woman caught up in a violent relationship.
I know some women are living in even worse conditions than what I endured. I want to say to all of them – please leave.
“I only had $20 in my pocket on the day I left my husband. I used to think there is no one here to help me, I’m so far away from home, and if I leave my husband, my only option would be to live on the streets.”
"I didn’t know that I could be taken care of in a shelter; that I’ll get food to eat and a roof over my head. But these facilities are available. So please leave - don’t suffer in silence.”
If you are experiencing domestic violence, you can seek help at 1800 737 732
If you are experiencing stress, call Lifeline at 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue at 1300 22 4636