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We Could Clearly Hear The Woman’s Cries But Everyone Behaved As If It Was All Normal

Our 'strong laws' for protection of women are often only on paper; they continue to suffer in silence. Whether educated or non-educated, they are regularly killed, tortured.

Our ‘strong laws’ for protection of women are often only on paper; they continue to suffer in silence. Whether educated or non-educated, they are regularly killed, tortured.

I want to share one incident which has raised many questions in my mind, and I hope that the wisdom and experience of the readers will help me find practical answers to these questions.

A couple of months ago I was on a work-related trip. Keeping the pandemic in mind, I eagerly accepted the invitation of an old college friend to be her guest instead of booking a hotel for my week-long stay. The arrangement worked well for both of us. The house was completely at my disposal in the daytime as my friend and her husband, both IT professionals, worked long hours.

One day, a woman’s cries woke me up from an afternoon slumber. It was mixed with the incessant bawls, kitten-like mews, of a newborn. Maybe it’s the child, I thought. But the cries grew shriller and so did the child’s wail. By now I was up from the bed. I switched off the fan and pressed my ear to the window.

This residential complex was like those space-saving multi-story housing societies where you can practically count the number of toilet flushes your neighbor makes. So, it was not difficult for me to roughly place the source of this commotion in the adjacent building. Maybe the second or third floor. Despite the clarity of sounds, I could still not understand much because of the language barrier. The woman was shouting in her mother tongue. There was a pattern. Mother’s and child’s cries, pause, background voices, cries, pause.

Pain has no language. It didn’t take me long to get the full picture. She screamed again, this time more pitifully.

I changed into joggers and rushed outside. There were at least a dozen people present right under the building. Strangely, all of them looked as if they just happened to be there. One man was walking the dog but also looking up at the building. A group of four-five elderly men were sitting on the culvert. The security guards and housekeeping staff were also busy in their duties as if it was all normal.

I was not sure what to do. Whether I should call the police, confront the husband, or offer refuge to that poor woman? Honestly, many apprehensions stopped me from acting on advice that we normally come across on those sensitizing advertisements on domestic abuse. Still, I went up the building.

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‘It doesn’t work like this in the real world’

I was not sure of the exact house, so I checked all the apartments on the second and third floor, to look for some tell-tale signs of abuse. But all of them looked so pious from outside. Neat rangolis at the doorstep and holy images of deities painted on the doors. I found a security guard near the elevator and asked him, ‘Who is this woman shouting?’ I had to repeat the question many times as he had a problem in understanding Hindi and I couldn’t speak his language. Finally, he said, ‘She, not well, here.’ He tapped his head to show me. Or was he uncomfortable with my inquiry?

Later in the evening, I shared the incident with my hosts. They knew of this woman and filled in the details. Boy’s family was pressurizing her for more dowry after the baby was born.

‘Why hasn’t she sought the help of her parents? She should leave this rascal and go to them.’

‘It doesn’t work like this in the real world,’ my host laughed ironically, ‘It’s a strong community. They have their rules. Even the parents are familiar with this.’

Her cries pierced the night again. I closed the window.

The next day when it happened again, I went to the house and pressed the bell. My friend had shown me the house earlier. An old woman opened the door. She was visibly unhappy to see me. I introduced myself and politely told her that I was concerned for the child. Is the baby all right?

The door was slammed on my face.

My friend’s husband avoided me at the dinner table. Later my friend said that they got a call from the woman’s family. They were annoyed that an outsider was disturbing their culture. Many more things were said, like my western dress-up and also spreading Corona by moving this freely.

What is wrong here?

I was appalled by the fact that domestic abuse was so normalized in this community that it almost became a ‘virtue’ and subsequent cultural identity. Reminds me of H.G.Well’s famous story, The Country of the Blind, in which an individual cannot stand up against the collective blindness of a community who think it is the only reality.

Was the victim okay with that? No, I don’t think so. If this were so, she wouldn’t have cried that pitifully.

Why was she silent about it then?

Wrong question. We already know the answer.

We have a system of free legal aid, all-women police stations, strong laws, Writs, dedicated Women and Child ministry, and agencies. Despite that, women continue to suffer in silence, be it educated or non-educated, they are killed, tortured. It means either there is something wrong with the system or we are just not using it properly.

No real, practical help is ever available

In my opinion, a woman in such a situation, even if she wants to, remains silent because of two reasons – Lack of support system and Finances.

The primary years of women after marriage goes into raising their children, so even if they are employed, the money is not enough to save it for the future. A policy change where a percentage of the husband’s salary is mandatorily deducted and put into a fixed deposit in the wife’s name will be a more constructive solution so that she can hire a good lawyer, or make arrangements for lodgings if there is a crisis.

Women should be equipped with more practical solutions instead of theoretical from their school and university level itself, be it through legal awareness on family laws or engaging them on extra-curricular programs with NGOs.

Knowing your rights is not enough of a safeguard. More important is to know how to use your rights. A simple thing like filing an RTI enquiry, FIR, PIL becomes taxing despite having a flood of information on the internet.

There is so much debate going on about the Uniform Civil Code. We need to change our perspective here. Before we get this for the nation, we should first have a uniform civil code within a family.

Image source: a still from short film Pressure Cooker/ Pocket Films on YouTube

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About the Author

Vartika Sharma Lekhak

Vartika Sharma Lekhak is a writer based in India. She is the author of the short-story collection – Bra Strap and two anthologies – When Women read more...

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