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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.
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.
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.
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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Vartika Sharma Lekhak is a published author based in India who enjoys writing on social issues, travel tales and short stories. She is an alumnus of JNU and currently studying law at Symbiosis Law School, read more...
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I huffed, puffed and panted up the hill, taking many rest breaks along the way. My calf muscles pained, my heart protested, and my breathing became heavy at one stage.
“Let’s turn back,” my husband remarked. We stood at the foot of Shravanbelagola – one of the most revered Jain pilgrimage centres. “We will not climb the hill,” he continued.
My husband and I were vacationing in Karnataka. It was the month of May, and even at the early hour of 8 am in the morning, the sun scorched our backs. After visiting Bangalore and Mysore, we had made a planned stop at this holy site in the Southern part of the state en route to Hosur. Even while planning our vacation, my husband was very excited at the prospect of visiting this place and the 18 m high statue of Lord Gometeshwara, considered one of the world’s tallest free-standing monolithic statues.
What we hadn’t bargained for was there would be 1001 granite steps that needed to be climbed to have a close-up view of this colossal magic three thousand feet above sea level on a hilltop. It would be an understatement to term it as an arduous climb.
Why is the Social Media trend of young mothers of boys captioning their parenting video “Dear future Daughter-in-Law, you are welcome” deeply problematic and disturbing to me as a young mother of a girl?
I have recently come across a trend on social media started by young mothers of boys who share videos where they teach their sons to be sensitive and understanding and also make them actively participate in household chores.
However, the problematic part of this trend is that such reels or videos are almost always captioned, “To my future daughter-in-law, you are welcome.” I know your intentions are positive, but I would like to point out how you are failing the very purpose you wanted to accomplish by captioning the videos like this.
I know you are hurt—perhaps by a domestic household that lacks empathy, by a partner who either is emotionally unavailable, is a man-child adding to your burden of parenting instead of sharing it, or who is simply backed by overprotective and abusive in-laws who do not understand the tiring journey of a working woman left without any rest as doing the household chores timely is her responsibility only.
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