Everyone I interview is important. They are real people who take time out of their lives to be vulnerable with me and to expose personal parts of their lives. They do this with the hope that their story might touch someone else’s; that it might make a difference. In this case, maybe even save a life.
For this interview, I will elevate Roseleen (Rosy) Batalia slightly as she is not only baring her own soul and revealing sacred parts of her own life, but she is also illuminating some of the contributing factors to her sister’s death. Her sister’s murder. Thank you Rosy. I truly appreciate it.
Rosy’s 24th Birthday with her sister Maple – her last birthday they spent together.
Here is Rosy’s story:
MOVE FROM INDIA TO CANADA
“In grade eight I was picked on a lot. I was overweight and and I had acne. On top of it all, we were immigrants. We came to Canada from India when I was five years old (September of 1992) and we were a poor family. My mom made a lot of my clothes, which also set me apart. Add to that my braided hair, uni-brow, and often smelling like curry — life was not fun for me.
I also experienced a lot of deaths as soon as I entered Canada:
- My first funeral was at age five (Oct. 1992) – my mom’s brother (whom we were living with).
- My first cousin – one year later. My mom’s oldest sister’s son. Only 19 – motorcycle accident.
- My uncle’s daughter – bone marrow cancer. Five years later.
Rough childhood from the beginning 🙁
In grade eight I was a good student with straight A’s, but I was running home from school every day. I didn’t want to go back. I was crying every day. In grade ten my mom finally gave in to my pleadings, and I transferred to Queen Elizabeth Secondary from Enver Creek. The bullying at Enver was so terrible at that time that a fellow classmate, Hamed Nastoh, took his own life. It was then that my mom realized how bad things were.
Queen Elizabeth was great. I had cousins there and mutual friends. This gave me a fresh start. By now I had better fashion (a necessary part of high school!) and I did well academically.
However, I was always living a secret life as well. For South Asian women there are rules. Similar to being a Christian, as an example, who also have rules. But are they what is really in the bible, or the way people interpret/use them?? This is what it was like to be in our culture. As another example, I knew baptized Sikhs who would wear cool clothing and make-up at school. Then before they left school, they would wash it off before going home. On top of that, the worst part: the same rules don’t apply to guys. I was not allowed to have friends who were boys. NOPE. Even classmates who I might have needed to study with. Might look bad. What will others think?! That was the mentality.
In grade ten I got my first job. I was a cashier at Safeway. I worked 20-30 hours per week. FREEDOM! I bought clothing, things that I wanted, I got my L . . . life was good.
I believe that my new found freedom opened a gateway for Maple, kind of paved the way. She got more freedoms than I did and I encouraged her to model. I had done a bit myself, but was self conscious of my weight. Maple was better suited for it. She attended John Robert Powers downtown in Vancouver for Acting and Modelling. My parents actually let her go.
I didn’t know what was happening to me. I began suffering from depression and anxiety. I would lock myself in my room and sleep a lot. Sometimes I would be fine, and sometimes not. I was eventually diagnosed with Bipolar in my second year of college.
At first, I refused to believe it. Our culture doesn’t embrace psychiatric disorders or medications. Eventually, I found an Indian Psychiatrist who was able to explain to my parents my disorder. This really helped them understand my condition better. However, they still thought it was just “me” and that I should get over it.
Today there is still a stigma with my mental illness, and it is a really hard condition to live with. I can only sleep with medication, and if I don’t sleep, I am a mess! Not like ‘normal’ people who can be okay without a night’s sleep. Everything is a bit harder or takes a lot longer. I graduated high school in 2004, and it took me until 2012 to complete my Bachelor’s degree.
MY SISTER’S DEATH
2011 was the hardest year of my life. That was the year my sister was killed. On September 27th we exchanged cars. She was happy and all was good. Then we got a call at 1:00 am: “someone hurt Maple”, the caller said, “Come to Royal Columbian Hospital”. We went. She was no more.
Life came crashing down.
Through the court I learned that there were hundreds of texts, hundreds of phone calls. Gary (Maple’s ex-boyfriend and killer) was abusive, selling drugs… All of this going on and she never told us. She was possibly afraid that she had failed? She really always was the perfect child. Self blame? Ashamed? All possibilities.
Maple helped her boyfriend graduate. She gave him money to start his own business so he wouldn’t make money illegally. When he bought her an $800 dog (Bubbles), she bought him equivalent in clothing — Gucci belt, etc. That was her way of keeping things even. ‘If we break up, the dog is mine!’ would be her reasoning. She never accepted anything from anyone. She was a giver.
He was an Indian boy, but born and raised in Canada. Abuse is more normal in our culture. If we spank our kids, if a wife talks back and her husband hits her … those are both discipline, not abuse.
Was this an honour killing? No. This term is reserved for family or for cultural reasons where shaming the family is involved. This was not that. It was a personal vendetta. More like ‘femicide‘. She can’t be anyone else’s. Maple had broke up with him approximately one month before her murder. This is culture affecting tragedy. There is not the same set of rules for guys as for girls. Women are your property.
FIVE YEARS LATER . . .
We can’t change the past; we need to make the best of tomorrow.
I am now getting my Master’s Degree in Human Resources. I have a full time job, I have family, and I am married.
Advice to parents:
- Treat your sons and daughters the same. Encourage your daughters to be more open, more honest.
Advice to girls:
- If you know someone who is being abused, you have to tell someone (parents). Even if you think your friend will be mad at you for doing it, SPEAK UP. Most of the time, the person can’t do it themselves.
We still lose so many women in our community. A lot of times it is not reported — the victim is scared.
I have now dedicated my life to awareness of this cause:
- I have spoken at many community events.
- We have held fundraising events.
- We promote scholarships at SFU (Health Sciences) and Emily Carr (Arts are not embraced in our culture). So many great people have benefitted and have been grateful to us.
- Candle light vigils have been held.
- One revolutionary thing I did which I am very proud of was create a RIP Maple Batalia page at the time of her death.We pioneered the idea of including a tragedy on social media. We now have 10,000 people following. We would update people about the case and about the court stuff. I would receive messages from women; messages from women who had left abusive relationships. Raising awareness helps others.
March 4, 2017 would have been Maple’s 25th birthday.
We want to bring awareness about violence and ending it.
We couldn’t save her, so we now try our best to save anyone else from going through what we have.”
Thank you for listening to Rosy’s story -Dr. Jen