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“… good families do not talk about sex and you are saying our daughter is being raped by her husband. Husbands never rape, it is their right on a wife’s body.”
Here is the second winner of our June 2017 Muse of the Month contest, Pooja Sharma Rao.
The cue for this month was from the movie Dirty Picture, in which Vidya Balan tells the male lead that society’s sense of honour is skewed and unbelievable – where they can have sex and watch sex, but not talk about sex!
Madhu was trying to evade the TV cameras outside the court. They were calling the verdict in her case as a milestone and hailing her as the new flag bearer of Indian feminism. Madhu didn’t want any of the limelight, she had achieved what she wanted, justice for Shalini – her daughter.
Madhu was married off quite young to Sudhakar, even before she could complete her graduation. Her idealistic dreams of being a teacher never materialised. They had Shalini soon and all her young years were consumed by parenting. The fact that neither Sudhakar nor his family forgave her for not bearing a son, made her even more determined to raise Shalini as a strong and independent girl. As soon as she was 18 the family started suggesting eligible matches. The quiet and demure Madhu insisted and pressed upon Sudhakar to let their girl complete her graduation first.
She could not persist any longer though. Soon after her graduation Shalini was married off like all ‘good girls’ are, to a groom of their own caste and community, chosen by the family. Madhu didn’t want this but didn’t know any better.
Sudhakar had an advertising agency and she knew was surrounded by the so called liberals most of the time. Men who spoke feminism, women who were bold and liberated but at home he remained the traditional man, who would not even allow his wife to wear sleeveless blouses or his daughter to get her hair cut short. His simple logic – “I know how men outside look at women, only and only as sex objects. We sell sex appeal all the time. Sex sells all products from matchboxes to luxury cars.”
A few weeks after Shalini’s marriage Madhu knew something wasn’t right with that girl. The cheerful, bright girl had become sullen and quiet. All seemed well in her in-laws family, they doted upon her, she went to parties and vacations with her businessman husband, received gifts from them often and yet something was amiss.
Madhu presumed it must be the pressure to conceive soon after the marriage. A couple of times she indirectly enquired from Shalini but she hinted that her husband did not want a child soon. Shalini had come to stay with them for a couple of days preceding a cousin’s wedding, when Madhu broached the topic again.
Soon Shailini was in sobs, after much coaxing she told her mother that her husband was ill-treating her sexually, asking her to do things she did not want to, forced himself on her and if she didn’t comply hit her too.
Madhu didn’t know what to do; she had not uttered the words sex or rape in her house, even in the closed confines of her bedroom, even to her husband of 25 years. How could she tell him what was their daughter undergoing.
After she sent Shalini back promising her to speak to her father who was then expected to speak to his son-in-law about it, she garnered all courage and told Sudhakar. The moment she uttered “D” word, all hell broke loose. He started blaming her for not raising their daughter right, for not teaching her properly about her marital duties towards her husband.
He told her clearly, “Look Madhu, good families do not talk about sex and you are saying our daughter is being raped by her husband. Husbands never rape, it is their right on a wife’s body. Forget about this and tell Shalini also to never speak about it to anyone. Things will get better once they have a child.”
A week later Shalini committed suicide. Madhu’s world shattered. Shalini’s in-laws painted the whole picture of a depressed girl who finally killed herself and her own father complied with it in the name of family honour. Nobody wanted to talk about the marks of restraints on her wrists or the cigarette burns on her private parts.
This time Madhu realised she had nothing more to lose, her daughter was already gone. She alone pursued a complaint of sexual and domestic violence and insisted on a detailed post-mortem. Sudhakar tried to coax her, threaten her and scare her that he would leave her if she insisted, but this time it was a different situation for Madhu- she was not a demure wife trying to keep peace and be a good wife but a mother wanting justice for her daughter who was pushed to suicide by persistent abuse.
Madhu found Shalini’s diary that she had left behind in her cupboard during her last visit, it had detailed descriptions of all the torture this girl had suffered, two days after her death she received a pen-drive of nude pictures and videos that her husband had forcefully made of Shalini. They did not realise that what they were sending to deter her proved to be incriminating evidence of sexual violence inflicted upon her daughter.
After six long and lonely years of living at NGOs and fighting a lone legal battle, finally Madhu got justice for Shalini. Today a news channel wanted both Shalini’s parents on their primetime show. Sudhakar refused as expected, but Madhu went.
As the anchor asked her to speak about her case, she said, “We live in a society that puts moral blinkers on our minds. Don’t we all know how easily available is pornography and the like here. I am not much educated but my learned husband had once told me sex appeal or sex is used to sell everything from matchboxes to luxury cars in this country and yet we do not talk about sex. We have the highest number of sexual crimes but we do not utter the word rape in our living rooms. This hypocrisy killed my daughter.”
She looked straight into the camera, as she knew Sudhakar would be watching and so would be all the hypocrites but more importantly many mothers and daughters, who might learn from her story and do better for themselves and the next generation of girls. Her voice now was her vendetta.
Pooja Sharma Rao wins a Rs 250 Amazon voucher, as well as a chance to be picked one among the top winners at the end of 2017. Congratulations!
Image source: flickr, for representational purposes only.