Trigger warning: This story contains mentions of abuse, violence
At the age of 17, Sultana was married off to a man 15 years older than her. Not only did she face physical abuse, but also immense emotional trauma.
Things were so bad that when she was pregnant, her husband cut off her nose and lips. It has been 24 years since, and Sultana says she has come very far in life.
In 1999, she found the courage to live on because of the support extended by Jameela Nishat – founder of Hyderabad’s Shaheen, which works to empower victims of domestic violence.
67-year-old Jameela also grew up seeing her elder sisters be “submissive” and adhere to the expectations of what women “should” be like.
“In the ‘70s, I saw cousins my age being married off to older Arabs. This troubled me. None of them said anything against this practice,” she recalls.
“In fact, there was a proposal that came for me when I was just in class 9 from a banker from Saudi Arabia. My father was very keen on the alliance but my mother resisted it at all costs,” she adds.
Jameela says her mother stopped eating for almost 15 days in protest and refused to speak to her father if he decided to go ahead with the wedding.
It was because of her mother that she was able to fight the proposal. “It is her blood that runs through me even now,” she smiles.
But the inability to fight and save her own cousins from marriages of convenience irked Jameela. “It bothered me that I could not do anything for them,” she says.
“Therefore, when I got the chance to work for women who were distressed and from weaker sections of society, I jumped at it,” she says.
Started in the late 90s, her collective has provided legal, financial, and emotional support to over 6,500 domestic violence survivors and stopped over 950 child marriages.
Once caged and broken, each of these women today is soaring high.