Belia (45 years), comes from a poor Dalit (marginalised community) family of Uchiyapur village in Chitrakoot, India. Daughter of a farm labourer and the only sister of 4 brothers, Belia was married at the tender age of 15 to a school teacher. From day one, her husband misbehaved with her and abused her physically, more so because Belia was illiterate and too timid to protest.
Deadly concoction: patriarchal hunger for son, violence and suffering
Life kept on dragging for Belia. She reminisced: “I had a tough time in my in-laws’ house. As I am illiterate and not beautiful, my husband never cared for me. My mother-in-law would falsely accuse me of immoral behaviour and instigate my husband against me. He would believe her lies and, even though he did not drink, he would thrash me every day on false accusations. My problems increased after the birth of my three daughters in a row. I was deemed unfit as I could not produce a son. But how was I responsible for begetting a girl child? My husband would not even pay for his daughters’ treatment in case of sickness. Two of them died eventually for want of proper care and treatment.”
Once, when Belia had come to her parents’ house for a few days, her husband sent her a notice for divorce. This was a bolt from the blue for Belia and her father. All efforts to placate her husband were in vain. The police did not help her either.
When some media persons highlighted her case, Belia’s father could file a case of dowry harassment against her husband. On the date of the case, her husband pleaded with her to withdraw the case, and promised to take her back and behave properly with her. A naive Bella believed him. Without telling her parents, she went back to her husband’s house. But there she came to know that he had already married again and brought home his second wife. Belia was stunned. She did not know what to do and where to go. She had no face to go back to her parents’ house. She was once again at the receiving end. Domestic violence continued unabated.
“If I resented his behaviour, he would tie me to a tree and then beat me. And then one day he threw me out of the house along with my daughter. I returned to my parental home” shared Belia.
Believe you can and you are half the way
Somebody told Belia about Vanangana (a rural community based women's rights collective working in Banda and Chitrakoot districts of Uttar Pradesh, India). With their help, she filed a Direct Information Report (DIR) under Section 125 in 2008. After a long drawn out battle the court gave its decision in Belia’s favour, and ordered her husband to pay INR 50,000 for his daughter’s marriage and an additional INR 1500 per month for the living expenses of his wife and daughter.
“He gave the money for two months and then asked me to come and live in his house. But I did not believe him. Earlier also he had gone back on his words, and I felt it was not safe for me and my daughter to stay in his house. Moreover, his second wife was also living there. Then he appealed in the High Court saying that he was too poor to pay INR 1500. The court reduced my monthly allowance to INR 750. This amount also he paid for two months and then stopped. Despite court’s orders, I have got only INR 4500 from him till date. He has not given me a single penny for the last five years, and the case is still in the court” said Belia to CNS (Citizen News Service). Delay in justice is perhaps one of the deadliest forms of denial.
Rising above the storm she found her sunshine
Belia is now living in her maternal grandparents’ house with her parents, and her 18 years old daughter Phoola. Vanangana helped Belia to open a grocery shop to make a living. But her maternal uncles and brothers did not allow her to continue with it and so the shop had to be closed after 6 months. Vanangana also got her daughter admitted in a private school, trained her in tailoring and provided her with sewing machine. Mother and daughter also take part in the organization’s various training/ orientation programmes for women empowerment. Today, both of them are earning, as well as fighting their legal battle. She feels indebted to Vanangana and Oxfam India for supporting her to put her life back on track.
Belia reflected: “After having suffered for a decade and a half, I am finally free. Now I have no worries. I do not have to suffer any more beatings and can go wherever I want to, without any restrictions. After the closure of the shop, I have started working as a farm labourer. I work hard to earn my own money. I have my own bank account and can pay for my daughter’s computer classes. Despite being poor, my parents have been a constant source of support for me.”
Belia believes that ensuring every girl child receives proper education and gets employed is not only the winds beneath her wings but also prepares her to fly high and live her life fully. We need to challenge the old deeply entrenched stereotypes and challenge those who want to marry their daughters early on.
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 all forms of discrimination and violence against all women and girls. The governments will be reviewing the progress made on these SDGs at the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) in United Nations (UN) later this month. 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)