Jyoti was born into a Brahmin class family in Western Maharashtra, India. Brahmins are the highest caste in the country, usually wealthy and educated. Her father worked in a bank, and her mother raised Jyoti and her brother. The family lived with her grandmother, who added conflict to an already troubled household.
“When I was a small girl, there were lots of fights in our house; there was a lot of problems and no one paid any attention towards me,” Jyoti says. “Because of that, I was very lonely. My brother had a lot of problems and that’s why my parents were more attentive to him.”
Hungry for attention, Jyoti became zealous about her family’s traditional religion, memorizing its holy scriptures and performing good deeds to earn praise and love from her family and others.
It didn’t work.
When she started college as a lonely 18-year-old, a young man eight years her senior began paying attention to her. In a culture where parents usually arrange marriages between young people, the two saw one another in secret.
Gradually Jyoti learned that Imran was a member of a different religion and a different caste. When her parents discovered the truth, they beat her and forbid her to see him again.
Believing she was in love with Imran, she agreed to marry him and move in together immediately.
“Since I was very insecure at home, what I liked was someone loves me and that’s what made me love him,” she says.
A rude awakening
Jyoti converted to her husband’s religion. But when they married, she realized Imran had no place to live, and in fact he was still engaged to someone else. Imran made Jyoti call his fiancée to break off his engagement.
The two moved from hotel to hotel until almost all their money was gone. Then they moved into a tiny hut in a slum where they slept on the ground. Jyoti had just one dress, which she washed each day before wearing again. It was a huge change from her parents’ comfortable home.
Soon, her husband lost his job and Jyoti became pregnant. There was little to eat and she became weak and sick. A family member saw her on the street one day and, noticing her gauntness, took her to her parents, who got her a medical checkup and helped her regain her strength until her child was born. She named the little girl Sayli.
From that point, Jyoti’s and Imran’s marriage became troubled. He would fight with her parents over religion, and beat her because she was trying to find work. At one point, she thought he was going to kill her. Several times she ran away to her parents, who would just send her back to Imran. Her family blamed her for disgracing their reputation.
“In all this I was praying to … god… and there was no effect,” she says.
Jyoti became pregnant twice more, and both times she secretly got abortions.
The next time Jyoti fled to her parents with her bruises, her mother decided it was better to let her divorce Imran and return home than to let her die. Even so, they still blamed her for her situation.
Miserable in her family’s home, Jyoti wanted to escape them, and again, marriage seemed the only way. But this time, she went about it the traditional way by letting her parents collect marriage proposals.
A man named Harish made the first proposal. He was 12 years older than Jyoti, and infertile.
“I was very happy about that, because we already had a child. I thought I had made many wrong decisions which I had taken through immaturity, so I thought if I had a husband who is mature, he will help me make good decisions.”
Like Jyoti, Harish was divorced. After they were married, Jyoti discovered her husband was still in love with his former wife, who had left him after five years of marriage. When the first wife left Harish, she said, “When you get married again, I will tell you the reason.”
So Harish took Jyoti to meet his ex-wife.
“He told me, ‘Become her friend and ask her why she left me.’ Again I started feeling very insecure, the same insecurity which I had in my parents’ place. Then he also started beating me; we were not getting along right.”
Once she told him, “If you beat me again, I will also beat you.” After that, whenever he hit her, she hit back.
The marriage seemed ruined, and Harish told Jyoti ’s parents to take her back.
Unwanted by everyone in her life, Jyoti decided that death was the only true escape. One day, she took Sayli with her on a motorcycle. She drove fast at a speed breaker on the road.
“I wanted to get myself an accident and I should die.”
Both were thrown from the motorcycle, but Jyoti was barely injured. Sayli, however, sustained a serious head injury requiring a skin graft behind her ear and a long recovery.
Harish cared for both of them, especially Sayli, who grew close to him.
Drowning the pain
Suicide hadn’t worked; another attempt to return to her parents failed; and Harish didn’t love her any more than before. So she went to parties, stayed out late and drank. Soon she was addicted to alcohol. And the couple were still beating each other.
“I became more cruel,” she says. “I had a lot of anger in my heart for him. I was very upset because I had thought my second marriage will work out. I had told him when we got married that I am totally forgetting my first husband, I don’t want to hear his name again. I wanted to start a new life. But I didn’t get what I wanted, so I was very upset and angry with him.”
Jyoti returned to worshipping many gods and going to the temple, seeking out advice from recognized spiritual leaders, meditating, reading the religion’s holy book.
“I wanted to see god. I wanted to ask him why all this happened in my life,” she says. “Even though I was trying to follow so many people who used to lead to different gods, yet I didn’t experience anything supernatural or I didn’t have peace in my heart.
“I started thinking that we follow this god idol, and suppose if this idol falls from my hand? That idol is not able to save himself. How will he save me? Even all the dust which are there on the idols, you have to clean that. They cannot even clean their own dust. How can they clean me?
“I was moving towards a decision that these idols are not gods. I wanted to come out of my addictions, but how much ever I tried, I was getting more involved.”
A new start
Jyoti was still addicted to alcohol, and engaging in adultery and other self-destructive behaviors. Her relationship with Sayli was bad. Yet she was doing everything she knew to clean herself. Among them, she was working out at a gym where she met a Christian man. He told her that idols are not the true God, and he explained to her about Jesus Christ. Although the part about Jesus didn’t yet make sense to her, that very day she gave up anything to do with the idols.
The man introduced her to a Nazarene family and she began attending their church in 2011. Inspired by the preaching, she tried to give up her sins. Jyoti would do well on Monday and Tuesday, but it would grow harder and by the end of the week her behavior was worse than before, not better.
She confided in the pastor’s wife, Jyotsna Gaikwad. Gaikwad told Jyoti, “What you have done is kept Jesus outside of your life. You try to obey Him, but you cannot. But if you take Jesus intoyour life, then He’ll help you to obey. His Holy Spirit comes and abides in you and He helps you to obey.”
They prayed together and she accepted Christ into her life.
Finding true love
The day of her baptism, something changed dramatically inside of her.
“I came to know He’s the greatest doctor in the world, because I was addicted for four to five years, and all this was over within one day.”
However she was still not getting along with Harish. They had no more hope for their relationship, so they agreed to divorce.
The next day, the Nazarene church held a marriage seminar; the speaker planned to speak about the husband’s role. Harish attended with Jyoti. But the speaker switched topics, instead addressing the wife’s role.
The message told Jyoti what she needed to hear: It was time to treat her husband with humility and respect, which she had not been doing.
“That day, I said sorry to my husband. I realized I was wrong. That day I realized I needed to be a good mother and pay attention to Sayli. I need to be a good wife. And even though I didn’t get a good father, good mother, a good husband, I got a good God, who was everything for me.”
While the Spirit broke the grip of most of her addictions early on, there was one thing she still battled: Lust. The family was continuing to hold parties and she couldn’t resist flirting with the men.
“I needed to read the Bible, grow up spiritually and I needed more to give time in prayer,” she says. “I started going to the prayer meetings and woman’s meeting and God did talk to me and the messages which came over spoke to me, and whenever I took the Bible to me, God spoke to me through that. It was a miracle that that lustful feeling disappeared from my mind and I started looking at people in a pure way.”
God removed the lust, replacing it with complete fulfillment in her marriage for the very first time.
“Now I realize that my husband is really very good,” she says. “He is special for me. He actually accepted all my stupidity.”
When asked if she would say that they now love each other, Jyoti gives an almost surprised smile, saying, “Yes.”
A living testimony
Although Harish has not yet become a believer, he has also given up worshipping idols and attended his wife’s baptism service.
Twelve-year-old Sayli attends church with Jyoti, and she has also accepted Christ. She knows as well as anyone how her mother has been transformed by the love of Jesus.
“First she used to lie. Now she doesn’t. She used to scold me. But now she is very different: She’s loving,” Sayli says.
They are praying for Jyoti’s parents, who are ashamed of their daughter’s new faith in Christ, believing it will damage their reputation in society. Jyoti is prayerfully waiting on the right opportunity to share Christ with them.
Jyoti feels compelled to share about God’s love with anyone she can. She asked the Gaikwads to join her in visiting slums to talk to people about Jesus and start Bible studies. She is also involved in the church’s ministry to an orphanage where she leads singing and tells Bible stories to the children. She is a Sunday school teacher, and a member of the church’s local chapter of Nazarene Youth International.
“I lost all my old friends in all this, when they came to know about Christianity, that I have become a Christian. But God is my whole soul; He is my friend.”
*All names have been changed to protect privacy and security.