When Reshma Kanchan was violently murdered by her abusive ex-lover on Tuesday morning, her death once more started conversations about domestic violence in T&T.
Reshma, a divorcee and mother of two, had moved back into her mother’s home and got a job, trying to provide for her young daughters. But despite her efforts, she was not allowed to move on in peace. She was constantly attacked, often physically, at her mother’s home.
But her story is not unique.
Every time a woman is killed by an abusive partner, those who have survived abusive relationships speak out, sharing their stories and advice to save another woman from a death sentence.
Attorney Kandace Bharath-Nahous is one such survivor.
Her calm demeanour and gentle laughter belie the torture she endured at the hands of an abusive boyfriend when the two began dating in 2013.
Bharath-Nahous was a young attorney out with friends when she met a man she had known before. The two hit it off that night and by the next day, she said, the man was professing his love for her.
“He bombed me with love, we limed the night and by the time we met up the next day, he told me he loved me. I didn’t love him but I said it back because I didn’t know what else to say. By the next day we were basically in a relationship,” she said.
She was 27 at the time and the man was seven years her senior.
The man was “self-employed”, she said, which meant he did odd jobs in computer programming. He managed an apartment complex for a relative and lived in one of the apartments. She was renting an apartment in Barataria at the time. Bharath-Nahous later found out that the man drank a lot and would spend most of his days in various bars across the country.
He had no vehicle and the young attorney said she was happy to lend him her car so he could move around while she was at work.
She said he would drop her to work and any other place she needed to be daily. He would also pick her back up.
Within several weeks, she was spending more time at his apartment than at hers. Eager to support him, she purchased a desk and a chair so he could work from home.
‘I felt I could fix him’
Bharath-Nahous said early on in the relationship, there were several red flags with the man’s behaviour but she felt as though she could “fix” him.
“There were small outbursts of aggression within the first six weeks of the relationship, times when he would just go off on me but when it would happen, I would try to figure out what was making him lash out, what was making him angry. I thought if we could resolve those issues, we would be fine.”
But his anger continued to worsen and soon, he would keep her up all night, cursing and berating her. She would often beg him to stop, telling him she was due to attend court the next morning.
“He would tell me that my job meant more to me than our relationship. I would not answer him or say anything back because I was not used to that kind of treatment.”
She would often leave his apartment in the wee hours of the morning and go to her apartment so she could get some sleep before work.
Despite the warning signs and her family’s apprehension about her new relationship, within the first six months the couple decided she should give up her apartment and move in with him.
Up until that point, the abuse was verbal. But that changed one day when the two were at the supermarket together and she met a former high school teacher.
“I said hello and we spoke for a minute, I didn’t introduce him…I felt the introduction was unnecessary. He didn’t say anything in the supermarket but by the time we got to the car, he started screaming curses at me, telling me I was mannerless and rude for not introducing him.”
Her explanation did nothing to calm the situation and by the time the two got back to the man’s apartment, he was enraged, throwing things and cursing, all the while drinking scotch as she prepared sandwiches to take to his relative’s wake.
When she was done, they set off to his cousin’s home, Kandace said, with him driving and continuing his tirade. Just before they arrived, she said she begged him to forget the incident.
“We got there and he was drinking and smoking like nothing was wrong. I was not feeling well and I wanted to leave but I didn’t want to interrupt his conversations, so I sat inside the house while he was talking to a relative. Everyone else had already left and I had court the next day but I was just waiting on him. Around 1 am, I finally asked if he was ready and he said to let him just finish the last drink and we would leave.”
He was drunk, Bharath-Nahous recalled, but still drove her car. Concerned with his reckless driving, she said she asked him to drive more carefully.
“He just pulled the car over, got out, walked over to my side and cuffed me directly in my face.”
With blood streaming down her face, Bharath-Nahous said she got out of her car and tried walking away. He followed her, apologising profusely. She eventually gave in and got back in the car with him.
“When we got to his apartment, I asked him to come out and told him I was going home to my place. He kept apologising and saying he wanted to help me put ice on my face, but he let me leave.”
The next day she reached out to him, concerned about how he was coping with his cousin’s death. They attended the funeral together, but Bharath-Nahous said her mind kept going back to the sudden attack.
“By the weekend I told him I needed some space and he asked, ‘Why? You were the one who lunged at me, I was just defending myself.’ “
After a few days, she went back to him.
“From that point, our fights became much more volatile, he knew he had hit and I had come back, so he did not hold back. He used to slap me across my face, hold me by my shoulders and slam me into walls, doorpost, he was throwing things, breaking things…it was very bad.”
She hid her bruises and the true extent of her abuse from everyone in her life and often made up poor excuses to account for bruises on her face that she couldn’t hide.
The pair broke up at least once a month but each time, she would take him back. Then after about a year and a half of the hellish relationship came the breaking point.
After yet another argument, the man drove her car around the Queen’s Park Savannah while screaming obscenities at her. She said just as he slowed down around a corner, she opened the car door and dashed off into the night, leaving her phone, purse and belongings behind.
“I hid in the Savannah for a long time, then I started to walk, looking for someone I could trust to ask for a phone call.”
By the time she found a group of strangers, Bharath-Nahous spotted her father’s car driving around the Savannah.
“He had called my dad and told him I was acting crazy, I had jumped out of the car after attacking him and they should go find me cause I could be getting raped and killed by someone. That night I told my family everything, all of what was happening to me.”
‘Too much pressure to make relationships work’
With the truth finally out, she never looked back.
She did try to get some of her belongings back from the man but after a two-year run around, all she got was some clothing.
“I had left everything and I wanted to get back the things my parents had gifted me, diamond earrings from my father, things like that. I never got them back.”
She has moved on with her life and is now happily married to a man who is “the complete opposite” of her abusive ex-boyfriend.
Although she escaped with her life, Bharath-Nahous said many other women will die at the hands of their abusers because she believes T&T puts too much pressure on women to make relationships work.
“We need to start speaking out, abuse is not just for the big belly Indian woman, barefoot with five children and nowhere to go, it happens to everyone.”
She shared a snippet of her story on her social media account last week and said she wanted those who are still in abusive relationships to know that there is no shame in speaking out.
“There is no shame in what has happened to you, there is nothing for you to be embarrassed about, you can’t fix men like these, they don’t change, life is too short to not be happy and if you stay, life can be so much shorter because some of these relationships end in death for the woman.”
She said it is important for women and girls to know and recognise the signs of abuse: controlling behaviour, gaslighting, possessiveness. Bharath-Nahous said a man who loves a woman would never abuse her.