Despite enduring years of abuse and sadistic torture at the hands of her husband, there’s a simple reason why Kamal Dhillon doesn’t like to call herself a victim.
She’s become so much more than that.
“Not the battered woman. Not the abused wife, but I have a name,” said Dhillon.
The Surrey resident says she grew up “kind of nameless and really faceless as well” and that continued into her abusive marriage, during which time she was called “anything but (her) name.”
She said that’s why she named her second book I Am Kamal: Survivor to Thriver.
“I got rid of my old labels and replaced them with new ones. Today, I am Kamal Dhillon, I am ‘ma’, I am ‘grandma’, I’m someone that somebody would call at two in the morning and say, ‘I don’t want to live’ or someone will say, ‘He kicked me out.’”
She said the book, which was released on Sept. 12, more extensively details the abuse she endured from her husband in the ‘80s to the mid-’90s, but it also discusses how her community failed her.
“I write a bit more about the two or three scenes that I described (in the first book),” she said. “One was actually under the Pattullo Bridge. Around the mid-’80s, there wasn’t really much developed under the Pattullo Bridge, so he found that space really suitable to take me. He took me and beat me. I may have touched on it in the first book, but here (in I Am Kamal), I’m giving you a man who, if you saw him, you would say, ‘What a nice man.’ But I’m telling you who this ‘nice man’ is behind that mask – so what he does to me.
“He had ropes, he had a few tools with him that he would show me and then put it in the trunk. Under that bridge, the way he beat me – and I was pregnant with my third child. I give you a picture of domestic violence in its severity.”
For 15 years, Dhillon said her husband harassed her and their four children, stalked them and threatened to kill them. She said he tried to gouge her eye out, doused her with kerosene, hung her, raped her and starved her.
She said she survived torture and many attempted murders from him until his death. Dhillon said his body was found near where he had previously tried to drown her.
The second half of the book, she said, touches on how the community failed her, how the justice system failed her and how elders in the South Asian community failed her.
“How we try to say, ‘Well, it’s not that bad if you just do what he says. Think of your sister, think of your family, think of our name, pride, the honour.’”
In this book, Dhillon said she challenges the victims and asks them to look at the alternative of staying with their abuser. She said at the end of I Am Kamal also includes questions similar to a workbook.
“What does an abuser look like? (Or what) if I came to you know with no bruises, no cuts, nothing that you can see, and say, ‘I’m a victim of spousal abuse,’” said Dhillon, adding that people generally look for signs of trauma first.
“But that’s our natural reaction when we say, what does a victim look like? Well, a lot of people would say broken, beaten, bruised, cut, hair messy,” she said. “What I write in my book is to explain to you that most of us hide our black and blues. I hid it for years and I hid it very well with makeup.”
Dhillon has actually had 10 surgeries on her jaw – and it’s still not corrected.
“If you look at me, you don’t see anything wrong with my face, but half of my face is metal. It’s artificial… I just hide it well.”
While she used to be embarrassed of her scars, Dhillon said she now wears them proudly.
“I hope I can be that voice for every parent, every victim and also for the abuser to say it’s not OK.”
Dhillon, who gives talks about her history with domestic violence and training on how to address people who have been abused, said she didn’t have a plan to write a second book.
“But as I go around speaking and training, I realized that I can’t be in every city, in every home, in every occupation. But I wrote this book with the intent that if somebody did not hear me speak, did not have the opportunity to ask me questions, they would get it from this book.”
I Am Kamal, Dhillon said, is a “no-shame” book.
“It’s tell all… My first book I was very scared, so I wrote in a way that wouldn’t offend anybody in a way that was just minimal. But this book, if you never met me and read this book, you could relate it even with something you had stuffed away 20 years ago.
“It would surface up, and that’s the whole point of it.”
To find out more about Dhillon, or to purchase her book, visit www.kamaldhillon.com.