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Bottom Line: Men escalate domestic violence and women bear the brunt of it. By Shobha Shukla

Mobina was married in 2009, at the age of 22, to a driver. Being the youngest of 8 siblings (4 brothers and 4 sisters), her vegetable-seller father (who died in 2010) and her brothers spent beyond their means in her wedding. But this could not satiate the greed of the sister of Mobina’s husband. She was harassed to bring more dowry. The daily dose of domestic violence forced Mobina to return to her parental home after just one year of her marriage.

Mobina lived in a joint family--consisting of her parents-in-law, her husband and his three brothers and one of his two married sisters-- in village Karwi of Chitrakoot, Uttar Pradesh, India.

This sister was indeed a terror for the entire household. Even Mobina’s mother-in-law did not have the courage to go against her daughter. "Give INR 50,000 and a car, else leave the house." Such was the mandate of Mobina’s sister-in-law, right after Mobina’s wedding.

Mobina was mortally scared of her sister-in-law because, “My husband was hands in glove with his sister and encouraged her in her misdeeds. She always complained that they had been cheated in this marriage and not got any dowry. She would instigate my husband to start a fight and to beat me. My personal belongings, like jewellery and clothes, were kept under her custody. I was not allowed to receive my brothers’ phone calls or talk to my parents, even when my father was on his deathbed. She would ration the food cooked in the house, with the result that I was often starved, and often threatened to kill me. One year of constant emotional, verbal, and physical assaults and abuses totally sapped my energy. I was miserable and did not know how to get out of this situation.”

Courage in danger is half the battle won!

Mobina’s brother put in an application in Vanangana (a rural community based women's rights collective working in Banda and Chitrakoot districts of Uttar Pradesh, India) on her behalf. Vanangana sent their female volunteers to her in-laws’ house, and they somehow managed to rescue her from the clutches of her husband and sister-in-law and bring her back with them. Her husband then spread the rumour that Mobina had run away.

Mobina’s case was registered with Vanangana in 2013. On being summoned by them, Mobina’s husband said that he did not want to keep her as she was unable to produce a child. Just 1 year of marriage without conceiving was enough to nail her down. Vanangana advised Mobina to take legal action, and so a dowry harassment case under Section 498, was filed in 2010 and a Domestic Incident Report (DIR) was filed in 2014.

But her husband never receives the summons and never attends the court hearings. So the hearings are getting postponed and the case is dragging on.

The moral support she got from Vanangana helped Mobina to come out of a precarious situation and stand upon her own feet. The organization restored her self-confidence and helped her file the court case on her own. Earlier she would feel scared and shy of going to the court, so much so that sometimes, when her name would be called for the hearing, she would run home, and her brothers would have to forcibly bring her back to court.

Struggles of the past became her source of strength today!

But all this is past now. Today Mobina is not only fighting her legal battle all by herself (through 3 court cases), but is also helping other women in need. She has become self-dependent too. She now works as a cook in the catering unit of Vanangana. They also gave her INR 10000 to open a grocery shop.

Her struggle of past years has given her inner strength to fight for the change she wishes to see in the world. Confident Mobina told Citizen News Service (CNS): “I do face some problems in running the shop due to my lack of education. But I have no problem in managing the accounts to keep a check on sales and profits. I am able to earn INR 200-250 per day from this shop. I have also taken a loan of INR 20,000 from a self-help group, (which some of us women have formed), and pay a weekly instalment of INR 250. I have a bank account in which I put my savings”.

Her hard work and determination, coupled with help from Vanagana, have made her financially strong, so much so that she is able to fend for herself, and also pay her sister’s children’s fees from her earnings. Education can help in transforming lives, she believes. Even though her brothers take good care of her, and do not want her to work, Mobina is determined to be an earning hand and not be an economic burden on anyone.

How unjust is it when wheels of justice grind too slowly?

But she is very unhappy with the court’s slow pace of working. “It has been 6 years since I started fighting the case and I have no clue when it will be decided. I want the case to end soon and get back from my in-laws all that my parents had given me in my marriage- utensils, almirah, cooler, fridge, jewelry and clothes - in one go. I do not know if, and when, I will get compensation. The law has not helped me till now.”

Being the beacon of light in other women’s darkness

Her economic independence has worked wonders for Mobina. She feels like a free bird, ready to soar the skies. She supports many women in similar situations and takes an active part in all activities of the organization - cultural as well as social.

Mobina is glad that she does not have any children, as she feels that they might have been used as an emotional shield by her husband, deterring her from taking the bold decision of saying no to domestic violence and leaving her husband’s home.

But she agrees that, “It is a no-win situation for women. Men are the perpetrators of domestic and gender violence. And it is the women who bear the brunt of it - they suffer not only physical abuse but also emotional trauma. Men marry again and move on in life. They are hardly ever convicted for their misdeeds. If courts give quick and correct verdicts and have stringent punishment for the guilty, then men will be scared to misbehave with women.” She feels indebted to Vanangana and Oxfam India for supporting her to put her life back on track.

Her message to women is simple and clear: Fight for your rights with courage; have faith in yourself and be economically independent.

Keep the promise

Let us not forget that governments of over 190 countries, including India, have promised to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, one of which is to achieve gender equality and end allforms of discrimination and violence against all women and girls. If we are to deliver on these promises of sustainable development and gender justice, lot more action is needed on the ground.

The upcoming 3rd Asia Pacific Feminist Forum (APFF 2017) to be held in Chiang Mai, Thailand, would hopefully provide a platform to mobilize stronger action for dismantling economic, social and political systems that produce obscene levels of inequality and fuel violations of women’s human rights.

(Shobha Shukla is the Managing Editor of CNS (Citizen News Service) and has written extensively on health and gender justice over decades. Follow her on Twitter @Shobha1Shukla or visit CNS: www.citizen-news.org)