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A chance encounter with a destitute woman makes the author question – what happens to their children? How can they find some safety and security?
I clearly remember it was an October morning of 2016, I was up early. A new chapter, motherhood, had begun, a blessed mother of a six month old baby, and we were visiting my in-laws, staying at a guesthouse near their place in the village. My husband and I were getting ready. I had finished packing up stuff, got my little toddler ready, now it was my turn.
Anklets have been an all-time favourite, and now I had an excuse, as wearing certain ornaments had become mandatory post marriage! I picked them up one by one listened to the pleasant tinkling sound each one made. My husband asked, curious, what I was up to, and I told him that I wanted to wear the pair of anklets that had the sweetest sound. I asked him to help me sort through them, was not satisfied with the one he picked out. Soon he went off to get ready himself, leaving me to my pleasant business.
While I was busy sorting out bangles, payal, bichua etc. (ornaments worn by married women) my little baby went for a stroll with his nanny. I was still not able to make up my mind and couldn’t decide on the bangles.
While my mind was busy with these sweet nothings, I heard the shrill voice of a woman. Just outside my room in the guesthouse was an illegal bus stop as well as a rickshaw stand. Noise pollution was a regular phenomenon so much so that even my little toddler was getting used to it!
Initially I thought that it might be the everyday haggling that took place amongst the passengers, rickshaw pullers and the bus conductors. But then I was in for a surprise! The ear-splitting voice increased and now it was one of seeking help!
I looked out of my window could barely see a lanky, malnourished woman with a kid. I ran downstairs and saw the woman coming inside the government guest house premises. She was followed by a man who was chasing her with a stick, and I could see tufts of the woman’s hair and torn clothes in his other fist. The woman’s clothes were in tatters, and she was weakly attempting to cover herself with whatever little was left on her body.
At first I was taken aback, and then it took me few seconds to understand what was happening. The woman ran out of the guest house premises, and I frantically ran out behind her, looking for her.
Outside the guest house, near the bus stop, she sat in the extreme corner, once again bearing the volley of abuse in the form of stones and sticks from two men. My blood boiled with rage and I ran towards her, shouting at the abusers. They warned me in return, nevertheless they were caught unawares and taken a bit aback. I warned them to stay away from the victim.
Soon I was joined by the victim’s son who was barely 6-7 years old. He stood behind me, though worried and scared for his mother, yet immensely confident! The guards joined me, and I saw my husband running towards us.
On seeing all of this the perpetrators of violence ran away and the woman’s life was saved. This happened due to timely intervention, but at the same time I wondered why everyone around the bus stop turned a blind eye to what was happening. I was saddened by the public apathy that could have cost a woman’s life to violence.
I took the lady inside, asked her if that man was her husband, and why he was beating her up? She told me that he was not her husband. He had kept her with him and would regularly take money from her; if she refused he would harass her.
That day once again he had demanded the little amount of money that she had saved from rag picking. When she refused to part with what was rightfully hers, the man beat her up and tore away her clothes, despite the brave fight that the woman had put up.
By this time almost all the karmcharis/attendants of the guest house had gathered. I gave the distraught lady some food and clothes, and then decided to call a local NGO for help. I ran upstairs to my room to pick up my phone, but by the time I came down, the lady had vanished from the scene. We then had to leave for my in laws place for the naming ceremony of my little toddler, so there wasn’t much I could do.
While waiting on the platform for our scheduled train, once again I saw many shabbily dressed women, some begging, some sick from prolonged illness, and some sleeping on the railway platforms; many were destitute women. Clearly these destitute women are the ones who are turned away from their own families due to sickness, mental illness, or when they become widows making them all the more vulnerable to violence, rape, assault, sexual harassment. These are those women who witness the worst forms of violation of their human rights almost on a daily basis.
Women form one of the most vulnerable sections within the Indian society so I sometimes shudder to think that within this vulnerable group lies another, further marginalized group of those women who are living on the fringes of society and economy, and are being forced to live a life worse than that of animals.
While looking out of the train window I kept wondering about the lady, the brave fight she had put up, how raising an alarm saved her. Her son’s innocent face kept flashing in front of my eyes, and I wondered: what future lay ahead of this little child?
That day I felt a little satisfied that I didn’t turn a blind eye to the violence and exploitation that was happening; in my heart of hearts I was feeling fortunate to have saved a life. Yet questions about the safety, security, and vulnerability of destitute women, and most importantly their rehabilitation still lurked in my mind and remained unanswered!
Images source: the author
Header image source: pixabay
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