Point of View

Montrealers making their mark: 'Tamara'

On the anniversary of the Polytechnique shooting, the discussion surrounding violence against women, and how far we've come in 25 years, is again growing.

Domestic abuse survivor helps Montrealers find a path out of violence

Tamara escaped an abusive relationship and now tries to help other women in Montreal live free of violence. She writes poetry about her experience in her native Tamil. (Sudha Krishnan/CBC)

Once a month, CBC journalist Sudha Krishnan brings you the stories of Montrealers making a difference. They not only have something to say about what's happening in their communities, they take action. They are Montrealers making their mark.

On the anniversary of the Polytechnique shooting, the discussion surrounding violence against women, and how far we've come in 25 years, is again growing.

For many in Canada, the shooting was a wake up call —  a reminder of just how vulnerable we all can be. 

"Tamara," who was a little girl running running from shelter to shelter in war-torn SriLanka in 1989, never needed such a reminder. 

Today, she has fled a war zone and an abusive marriage, and is now helping other Sri Lankan women do the same in Montreal.

“I am so much happier,” the 35-year-old said in Tamil, with the help of a translator.

We agreed to protect her identity because Tamara, as she chooses to call herself, is still being harassed by her ex-husband.

Years of Suffering

In 2004, she landed in Montreal, five-months pregnant and shocked to see her groom greet her at the airport with two boys.

“I was never told he was divorced,” she said.

Tamara recalls her husband dragging her to their basement, and putting a loaf of bread through a grinder.

“He threatened to cut me into pieces if I ever spoke up,” she said.

Tamara says the suffering went on for years. Her husband threw microwave-boiled milk at her face. He pulled down her skirt in front of other family members.

Tamara’s friends told her to call police but could never pick up the phone.

“I was married with children,” she said. “I was worried what would happen to me.”

Tamara only spoke Tamil and depended on her husband, hoping he would change.  She felt a duty to keep the family peace.

I can relate to Tamara, having heard the same thing in India. If there are problems, the wives should “adjust”  because married women are more respected.

Trusting police

Recent headlines have galvanized movements to denounce gender-based violence, from the online conversation surrounding #Beenrapedneverreported to a controversial Youtube video from Southern India that shows villagers, frustrated with police inaction, beating drivers who tried to rape a woman.

Tamara’s faith in our justice system was based on her SriLankan experience, where she believed an abusive husband might face only a petty fine.

Translator and community worker JananiSuntharalingam says SriLankan authorities would torment civilians during the war and that’s why trusting police here can be an issue.

“When I first saw police cars and sirens here, I would start shivering," said Suntharalingam.

Helping herself and others

Tamara left the marriage in 2010, finally realizing nothing would change.

The South Asian Women’s Community Centre helped her with shelter, counselling and language skills.

Today, the single mother is a CLSC home care worker.  She has brought at least 50 people to SAWCC, five of whom were abused women. Tamara has encouraged many to call police.

Tamara shares her stories through Tamil poetry.

Twenty-five years after a gunman stormed into a Montreal university and killed 14 women, there’s still work to be done to arm abuse victims with knowledge.

Tamara’s doing her part.  

“I tell our women to be strong and brave," she says.

About the Author

Sudha Krishnan

CBC Montreal journalist Sudha Krishnan works on CBC News Late Night and fills in on the anchor desk.