"Every day of my marriage was a punishment," says domestic abuse survivor and Bollywood stuntwoman Geeta Tandon
Read her amazing survival story and how she became Bollywood's leading stuntwoman.
She's one of Bollywood's leading stuntwomen, but while she looks tough on the outside, not many know that Geeta Tandon is a single mum and a domestic abuse survivor.
Geeta got married at the age of 15 and suffered domestic abuse every single day of her married life.
"He always used to say to me, 'If you leave me, you'll just end up doing sex work and dancing in strip clubs,'" Geeta Tandon remembers as she spoke to the BBC.
"I made up my mind I would never do that," says Geeta and so she ran away from her violent husband with her two kids one day, when she thought that enough was enough.
But surviving in the city of Mumbai can be tough and it became all the more difficult for Geeta as she was a single mother. However, life changed for her when one woman just randomly asked her, "You seem like a bit of a tomboy, can you do stunts?" she answered, "Yes!"
So, there she was all wired up to jump from a building and perform the first stunt of her life. But she was scared like hell!
"I was really, really scared, but I desperately needed the work. The opportunity was so important for me," she says. And much to her surprise she did it like a pro!
"Every day of my marriage was a punishment"
In a way it was the first thing that she did right in many years. Life was always hard for her especially after her mother died at the tender age of 9. Her father had to take care of her and her three sisters. There was no money for school and Geeta would spend time playing cricket with her neighbourhood kids.
"My sister used to get upset and say, 'Be like a girl, stop wearing boys clothes - dress like a woman!' But I never used to listen to her."
As all middle-class dads her father was worried for her future and safety, so he got her married at the age of 15. While she was surely thrilled to begin a new life, she was also a little apprehensive about consummating her marriage at such a tender age.
However, her husband didn't pay heed and went ahead. This marked a beginning of a period of domestic abuse for Geeta.
"He beat me every day," she says. "He beat me so hard I suffered from vertigo."
Such was her state that she even attempted suicide twice by drinking poison, but failed. Like any woman she thought that being a parent would change her husband's heart, but it didn't.
"Every day of my marriage was a punishment," she says. Finally one day she decided enough was enough and ran with her kids to a temple. However, the hard life ahead was staring at her face as she knew she had to do something to survive and make ends meet.
"I didn't want to be a beggar," she says. "I knew I had to find work elsewhere, so I left the temple."
Being a single parent in Mumbai
"People in my culture are very suspicious of single women. If you tell them you are unmarried, nobody will give you a room," says Geeta.
Geeta did odd jobs to survive and moved from one place to another. One day she met a finely dressed group of women and she asked them for work. "They told me they worked in a massage parlour."
Continue reading on the next page to know why Geeta said no to work in a sex parlour!
She agreed and to her horror found herself in a sex massage parlour. "I didn't know much about the world then, I had no idea what a massage parlour was, or that the women there were sex workers.The women laughed at me. They said: 'You have two children to feed and you're not educated, what other work will you be able to do?," she says.
However, Geeta was undeterred. She wanted to do something with integrity and not feel guilty about it. An uncle of hers put her in touch with someone for a Bollywood dance sequence and it was there that she got her big break in life.
"On my second shoot I was on set performing a stunt with fire and the wind blew the flames in my face. I had severe burns all over my lips, face and eyebrows and I was on medication for two months," she says.
Second time she fell off from a building and fractured her spine.
"I was rushed to hospital in and bedridden for two months," but she couldn't rest and had to get back to work against the doctor's advice as she had "bills to pay".
It's been six years now and Geeta has work like never before. She's one of Bollywood's highest stunt performers and also the most skilled. And she has no regrets in life.
"When I was married at 15, then society didn't help or support me," she says, "so why should I care what society thinks of me?
— Geeta Tandon (@TandonGeeta) December 23, 2015
However, Geeta gets disturbs today as well when she hears from other women that they are still trapped in an abusive marriage.
"They can't leave because of the way they will be treated by Indian society," Tandon says. "Women deserve more respect."
What to do if you are a victim of domestic abuse
If you are one of these women, you shouldn't stay quiet and fight back. Domestic violence is currently defined in India by the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act of 2005. It states that any act, omission or commission or conduct of the respondent shall constitute domestic violence in case it:
- harms or injures or endangers the health, safety, life, limb or well-being, whether mental or physical, of the aggrieved person or tends to do so and includes causing physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal and emotional abuse and economic abuse; or
- harasses, harms, injures or endangers the aggrieved person with a view to coerce her or any other person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any dowry or other property or valuable security; or
- has the effect of threatening the aggrieved person or any person related to her by any conduct mentioned in above,
- otherwise injures or causes harm, whether physical or mental, to the aggrieved person.
In case you are facing any of the above, we advice you to get in touch with a trusted family member or friend who can help you come out of it and seek help. The National commission for women in India also has designated helplines to help women in distress. You can find out more about them here.
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