All of a sudden, a girl in red saree entered into my office in Kalkaji, Child Survival India, with 2 kids. I was expecting my office help, Nandi Aunty to inform me. After a few minutes, I noticed Nandi Aunty was offering water to them and asking the girl “बहुत मारा पति ने? (Has your husband been hitting you a lot)?”
I left my lunch in between and went out to know the whole incident. She was not a mere girl. Kanchan is a 25 yo mother of four- 3 boys and 1 girl. She comes from the district of Darbhanga in Bihar. Her husband, Ashok also from same district, was working in Rajasthan due to the compassionate appointment after his father’s demise. Three years ago, he lost the job when failed to show up in the office even after receiving three notices.
Kanchan unbuttoned the hooks of her blouse and showed me the scars near her ribs from the time when her husband tried to stab her with a pair of scissors. She also talked about how Ashok tried to hurt her private parts, due to his rage from a suspicion. She proceeded to tell us of the physical assaults by her drunk husband along with his sister who lives nearby. She confesses that he once broke her legs and hung one of the kids upside down by his hands. She works through the day to earn bread for her family but had not eaten anything from last two days and doesn’t have a single penny as Ashok had thrown her and the children out of the house. When I tried to give her some money, she refused to accept it. When I coaxed her to take it, telling her to feed the children now and pay me later, she reluctantly accepted and asked the elder son to buy food for the children, without wanting anything for herself.
Floundering for words and thinking of ways of helping, I finally asked her what she had in mind. The woman was battered but her will was strong. She said to me,
“अब क्या करेंगे दीदी, सास-ससुर पहले ही मर गये, पति मायके वालों से कभी बात नहीं करने देता। वैसे भी माॅ-बाप बूढ़े हैं और भाई-बहन बहुत छोटे हैं। अब पति से अलग कमरा लेकर रहेंगे और बच्चों को भी सरकारी स्कूल में पढ़ने भेजेंगे।” Kanchan will stay with her aunt and look for a room in Govindpuri in South Delhi. Kanchan had already filed a domestic violence complaint with the police in Madanpur but the police arrested him and released him within an hour.
It took me half an hour to ask her if I could make a video of her, talking about the injustice done to her, in the hope that her issue will be taken up. She agreed because she also wants to punish him for his wrong-doings, hurting her children and herself. I could not go into the details as she was in immense pain. I wanted to call 181 but she kept on insisting that she has been complaining about it for a long time but nothing really happens and I decided to wait for her to calm down as she told me she will come back tomorrow.
On one hand, I was extremely depressed and disturbed but on the other hand, I felt the courage she has, will give her a much better life now. Kanchan is not only the face of brutal reality but a woman of hope and courage to me.
I had this feeling a few days back but when she came back to my office and informed that she is not ready to leave her abusive husband, my hope got completely shattered. But is she guilty? Please ask yourself- what is the general perception for a woman living separately from her husband? I guess, not an easy picture to be painted. I could easily tell her to leave Ashok behind and start a fresh but that is for sure, one of the most difficult things to do, that too for a mother like Kanchan who has no fixed income to be fallen upon. All she has been assuring is Ashok will change for good and she will be alright.
According to BBC News, “about once every five minutes an incident of domestic violence is reported in India”. In ten years from 2003 to 2013, there is an increase of 134% reported cases from 50, 703 in 2003 to 118,866 cases in 2013 and many social campaigners for the cause say that it is because of increased awareness and more reporting. Even the law was made more rigorous with Section 498A of Indian Penal Code (enacted in 1983). Through the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 (PWDVA), a woman can seek help against dowry harassment by approaching a domestic violence protection officer.
But after all the support why women like Kanchan live in silence? Lawyer Monika Joshi once stated that the domestic violence is the upshot of patriarchy as women are treated as inferior to men and the abuse against them is widely justified. Many people including women don’t even consider it as a problem. In one of the surveys done by the government, more than 54% of men and 51% of women are okay in certain situations like when woman disrespects her in-laws, overlooks the home or children, is suspected of being unfaithful, or for the minor issue of not being able to put the right amount of salt in the food, leading to domestic violence.
Another aspect is even after the amendment in Hindu Succession Act 1956; married daughters have equal rights over parental property unless her father leaves a different will. And a study by UN Women and Landesa found that 44% of the women believed their parents would not agree to give the share in the land to them and 53% were afraid of brothers’ opposition to this decision. Making a law does not ensure the society to be heavenly because women for whom this law has been made, is not aware of it and even if she does then find the legal system quite complicated. Therefore, we do need the better legal literacy programs and mass media campaigns on such laws to make it more effective on the ground.
But, in the present scenario, women are being forced to live in some time, the bitter world called husband’s home with such physical and psychological abuses due to numerous reasons like cultural acceptance towards the matter, financial dependency, parents’ non-supportive behavior, even societal stigma of being divorced and/or separated and children’s responsibility.