"One day, when my first child was barely 6 months old, my husband kicked away the water and food I had served him. On asking him the reason, he started pulling my hair and thrashing me. I was stunned at his sudden violent behaviour. But this was just the start of a never-ending saga of domestic violence that continues till today", said 30 years old Lakshmina. She hails from a Dalit community in Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh, India. The only sister of four brothers, Lakshmina is illiterate. She did start her schooling, but one day, while going to school, she met with an accident and hurt herself. Her doting mother immediately stopped sending her to school, saying that she did not want to risk her daughter’s life.
At the age of 18, Lakshmina was married to a labourer. Her marital problems began soon after one year of married bliss. Her husband would come home drunk and start beating her for no apparent reason. The first time she was hit, Lakshmina went to her parent’s home. When she returned after two months, her husband pushed her in his room, held her by the neck and started thrashing her. She was saved through the intervention of her in-laws and neighbours. But the beatings continued- even after the birth of two more children. After every bout of violence, he would apologize and promise never to hit her again, only to forget it just too soon.
No excuse for abuse
He began spending more and more of his earnings on liquor. To make both ends meet, Lakshmina started working in the fields. But thinking that this would make her independent, he forbade her from stepping out of the house. When she resented, she was beaten black and blue. When she was seriously injured, her parents came and took her from one hospital to another, till she got well.
Lakshmina’s brothers wanted her to leave her husband for good and marry someone else. But she knew that no one would accept her with her three children (two sons and a daughter) in tow. She decided to stay in her husband’s home and continue to fight for justice, even though he wanted her to leave his house.
She was clear in her mind that, “Being his wife and the mother of his children, I have equal rights in his house and property. I too contribute in running the household. I am ready to be reprimanded if I do something wrong. But to be beaten without any reason, is something I will not tolerate. I will fight for my rights by staying here. Men must realize that anger and blatant show of power is not their prerogative. Marriage is all about having equal partnership.”
Some neighbours, told her to contact Hina Desai, Director of Sri Ramanand Saraswati Pustakalaya (SRSP)--an organisation that works to combat caste and gender biases in rural India. The support provided by Oxfam India has helped SRSP in advancing the fight against gender discrimination and motivating women to stand up against domestic violence.
SRSP helped Lakshmina file a police complaint, as well as a case of domestic violence against her husband. Under police duress, he promised never to misbehave with his wife again. But he did not keep his words.
He has no love even for his three children. Lakshmina recalls an incident that occurred 3 years ago: "Once, he literally snatched the food from their hands, saying that he will eat first. When my elder son (who was 12 years old at that time and was studying in Class 7 then) resented his behaviour, he hit him in the stomach. After this incident, my son refused to stay in the house. He left his studies and home and went to Chennai to make a living to help me financially. I feel very sad for him. His is an age to study and not to work. He sends money for me and for his siblings. But my husband accuses me of having earned this money by selling my body."
Earlier Lakshmina would beg for mercy from her husband when ill-treated. She would also run to SRSP for help. They would scold her husband and the police too would threaten to send him to prison if he did not mend his ways. He would say sorry and remain calm for 3-4 months, only to start his brutal behaviour all over again.
Change your mind, change your life
But long years of sufferings have made her strong and determined. She is no longer scared of her husband and does not tolerate his beatings anymore. Now if he hits her, she hits him back. She has learnt it the hard way that women should not live in fear, but act with courage. Fear is a sign of weakness. Women need to be strong from within and fight their own battles. No amount of outside interventions can alone help. The more one fears the more one is suppressed.
Belief triggers the power to do
God gave her courage and Hina Desai restored her self- confidence, feels Lakshmina. SRSP gave her INR 2000 and helped her open a bank account. She used that money to start her own business. Lakshmina shared with Citizen News Service (CNS): “We have formed a group of ten women to make and sell pickles, potato chips, ‘papads’, etc. Today I am earning myself. I am no longer financially dependent on my husband and so I am under no obligation to suffer his indignities. I will continue to fight my battle while staying in his house. I will not let him succeed in throwing me out.”
Lakshmina wants her children to marry only after they complete their education and start earning. She has also told her sons that if they ever misbehave with their wives (as their father did with her), she would stand by her daughters-in-law and would not hesitate to seek punishment for them if need be.
Lakshmina fights for the rights of other women too. She strongly believes that, “Women must raise their voices against injustice, and not take it lying low. It is human to err, but it is inhuman to become violent. Solutions to problems can be found through dialogues and discussions only. Men should be taught to respect their wives.”
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. 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)