Skip to content

‘What I Am Today, I Won’t Remain Tomorrow’: A Celebration of Resilience and Post-traumatic Personal Growth of Abuse Survivors

By Shreya Chakrabarty

A few Days More, My Dear!

( Chand roz aur, meri jaan!)

On our body is the fetter, on our feelings are chains,

Our thoughts are captive, on our speech are censorings;

It is our courage that even then we go on living.

Is life some beggar’s gown, on which

Every hour patches of pain are fixed?

But now the days of the span of tyranny are few;

Patience one moment, for the days of complaining are few.

                                   (Naqsh-e-Faryadi, Faiz Ahmed Faiz)

A compendium of tales of self discovery of eight phenomenal women, What I Am Today, I Won’t Remain Tomorrow, is a feminist telling of the heart wrenching experience of women who have survived domestic abuse, and yet have chosen resilience over victimhood. Through an immersive, and at times intensely personal narrative, the author Nighat M. Gandhi has focused on the traditionally unexpected fact that despite years of suffering many abuse survivors can and do live enhanced lives and experience personal growth.

In the introduction of the text, Nighat clarifies with candid frankness that the reason behind the birth of this book was her long-felt unease with her assigned roles as a woman which fed to her inner compulsion “to give voice to some of this town’s (Allahabad’s) invisible women.” “In writing this book,” she continues, “I am writing my own pain, as well as paying tribute to those eight courageous women.” Her deeply cathartic narration of the lived experience of these eight women who became the voice of the doubly marginalized women of the lowest socio-economic strata of India, confirms that the abuse these women were subjected to in their families is both the cause and result of women’s second class status in Indian society. The eight women Nighat interviewed belonged principally to Hindu, Christian, and Muslim communities. Their low socio-economic status and poverty appeared to compound the effects of gender-based inequalities, and this compounding effect was prevalent independent of the participant’s religious affiliation. Contrary to the popular belief in India, it’s quite a shocking revelation that none of the participants expressed their belonging to a particular religious community as a source of protection from the ill-treatment they suffered.

As Nighat weaves the thread of narration around the tales of these women, she deliberately shifts from the obvious trauma and distress of the abuse survivors to the unexpected and not-talked-about gains from adversity, “the rarely-revealed secret that even abuse survivors often feel guilty about—that despite years of suffering, many can and do live enhanced lives and experience personal growth.” Nighat’s investigation reveals that inner strength and emotional growth is possible in many frameworks, despite material constraints of poverty, and traditional gender-role restrictions, and for the interviewed women this growth occurred at an accelerated rate after “they removed themselves from the traditional institutions of marriage and family.”

Chapter by chapter Nighat introduces us to these living, breathing women, women whom we come across regularly in our everyday lives, women we appoint for our domestic chores, women we haggle with at the fruit shop or at a roadside eatery, women who are nothing but bodies meant to be subjected to hard labour for us. Every time Nighat pauses to transcribe the records, she introspects how academic elitism segregates her version of feminism and resistance movements from those of the everyday tales of endurance these women are embodying. A close reading of the book makes us wonder whether we are witnessing the lived experience of the eight interviewed participants or that of nine; the interviewer and the interviewed get entwined as their realities converge more than they diverge.

As Nighat points out in the introduction of the book, recent research on Indian women has emphasized the dynamic nature of the resistance strategies women employ in coping with violence. This reformulation of women’s status from passive victimhood to agentive subjects has begun to challenge the prevalent perception of Indian women as silent and uncomplaining. In Margaret Abraham’s study of South Asian women living in the United States, she found that women’s coping strategies fell into three broad categories: personal strategies, informal sources of help, and formal sources of help. While the personal strategies consist of initial stages of individual protests like that of placating the abuser or avoiding them, the informal sources of help usually consist of seeking help from family members or neighbours. In most of the cases it is seen that if the personal strategies fail, the informal sources of help are hardly of any assistance. It is often seen that the family members of the abused often try to hush up the matter in the name of preserving family honour and instances aren’t rare where the abused is blamed with the charge of indecency and the family members passively support the abuser. In India, seeking formal help through NGOs and government organizations is still rare and many studies show that due to the lack of information and awareness regarding the availability of formal sources of help, the abused fail to reach out.

In this text the reader witnesses through Nighat’s transcription of the interviews that once the abuse survivors could find out the sources of help which enabled them to leave abusive situations, there were significant changes in the women’s thoughts, beliefs, and behaviours with respect to gender based violence. Women expressed solidarity with other women who were abuse survivors, and experienced a sense of sisterhood with them. The social support availed through the women’s shelter staff and other women survivors are mostly instrumental and instilling hope and fortitude to these women. Social support, more than legal aid and reformations, during and after the crisis aids the survivors to identify the pattern of abuse, preventing self-blame, and implement strategies to end the cycle of abuse. Social support serves as a catalyst that catapults women into action.

Associated with NGOs like Sahyog Legal Aid Cell and Stree Adhikar Sangathan, which work on the rehabilitation of abuse survivors, and being a counsellor of survivors’ mental health, Nighat brings it out through this book the importance of increasing the number of women-centered organizations and psychological counselling services to provide women-friendly interventions and services for women. Along with these, re-educative programmes challenging the deeply held belief of Indian men of the legitimacy of their power, dominion, and control over women can be an effective vehicle for transforming patriarchal mindsets.

The findings of Nighat in this text are encouraging to an extent. The post-traumatic growth in the participants has encouraged them to form their alternative living arrangements out of the reach of the patriarchal order of marital institution and forced them to find their economic independence, which is undeniably one of the decisive factors in determining one’s self-worth. From Sadhana to Pushpa, the interviewed survivors of inexpressible sexual and domestic abuse, have established a humble yet much needed room of their own, created their own identity and snatched their own space from the jaws of this ever devouring patriarchal social order. Their struggle for existence and victory in establishing their own alternative space is indeed inspiring. The stereotype of Indian women as ever suffering, passive victims of abuse is challenged and shattered as their agency and drive for a better life (with or without men) propels them forward.

Etel Adnan, a Lebanese writer musing about women and feminism as she travelled through Europe, writes in her book, Of Cities and Women: “Inner liberty doesn’t wait for institutions. Under the most oppressive regimes, a man, a woman, can keep and experience their freedom: freedom is a state of mind. It is born (and often dies)in the mind. It’s often called dignity, refusal, rebellion.” Here, in this book, Nighat celebrates freedom. Freedom from patriarchy. Freedom from stagnation. Freedom from indignity. Freedom from abuse. Through documenting the personal growth of these eight survivors, she ushers in the feminist utopia of women’s solidarity as she boldly declares, “Change is happening; slow, imperceptible change, but it’s happening all the same.”


Adnan, E. Of Cities & Women (Letters to Fawaz). USA: The Post-Apollo Press.

Gandhi, N. What I Am Today, I Won’t Remain Tomorrow. New Delhi: Yoda Press.

Ghadially, R.(ed.) Women in Indian Society. New Delhi: Sage Publications.

Shreya Chakrabarty
is an Assistant Professor of English Literature, currently posted at Rampurhat College, Birbhum, West Bengal. The areas of her interest are graphic art, genocide studies, philosophy and gender studies. She has authored multiple research articles and book chapters till now. A firm believer in the omnipotence of art and Literature, she wishes to do her share in making the world a better place.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: