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“Shushh child. Don’t call it rape, in marriage there is no rape. A husband cannot rob his wife’s izzat. There is no law that punishes a husband for demanding what is rightfully theirs." She had said enough.
“Ramia, O Ramia! Come here…your Pitaji is back, make some tea.”
Ramia looked at the picture in the textbook, her attention fully focused on two men in the picture. She recalled today’s History class, the look of pride on the teacher’s face when she explained the significance of the context of the picture.
“Ramialllll!” She heard her mother’s rising voice.
Hurriedly she tucked the book under the bed and ran outside to mother.
A smile broke on her chapped lips at the sight of the familiar form of her Pitaji reclined on the charpoy in the inner courtyard. Amma was sitting on haunches beside the charpoy and her back swaying with the movement of the cane-fan in her hand. Even from the distance, she could sense the cheerfulness in his voice.
Their talks stopped abruptly as Ramia sat down next to them. Pitaji patted her small head lovingly and took out a beaded anklet from the jute bag.
“Why this wastage now,” Amma scowled.
Chuckling with delight Ramia ran inside with the red and silver string in her hand.
For some moments Pitaji watched his daughter’s fading form and then grimaced, “We don’t have much time. They want to make all arrangements within fifteen days.”
“Fifteen days!” Amma lowered the fan, “This is marriage not a cattle fair.”
“I know, I know, but you see, there are no demands, except of course the usual items one has to give. God is merciful.”
“Amma do you know who is he?” Ramia asked her mother who was sweeping the courtyard.
“I will teach you tomorrow how to prepare pickles,” mother answered absentmindedly.
“Amma! Listen na! See, this man. Do you know who is he?” She opened the textbook and waved the picture at her mother.
Amma was lost in her own train of thought. She groaned loudly, “Oh so little time and so much to do.”
But this was not going to deter Ramia who was adamant to make her point.
“Do you see here, this picture? Do you know how important it is?” She puffed up her chest like a proud solider and thrust the book under her ignorant mother’s nose once again, “Here, see this, this round man and this topi-wala. He is holding the most precious thing of our country – Our Constitution.”
For a moment Amma stared at the picture and then dismissed it with a grunt.
Ramia continued, “They are very important men. Much much important than that stupid Kishore for him you are fretting so much.”
“Chal hatt” Amma threw the book away. “Shameless girl, he is soon going to be your husband. Don’t call him by name.”
Kishore, Ramia’s soon-to-be-husband, was the youngest child of Lala Jagmohan, who was working in a big factory in Meerut, a prospering city in western Uttar Pradesh. For a village man with a humble background, it was a great achievement to find such a son-in-law. On top of that, there was no dowry demand, at least openly, so small things didn’t matter.
And what was poor Kishore’s fault if his first wife died. She died, as Ramia discovered later, in a premature delivery – both mother and the infant.
This light scolding was not going to dampen Ramia’s excitement. She continued, “Oh Amma, you will remain stupid and innocent if you won’t know this book. Do you know this book says that we all are equal and we all are free. Then why are you so scared of that silly Kishore,” she teased the poor woman again. “Our teacher madam has asked us to write a letter to Ambedkarji for the school magazine about what One thing we want to be added to this rule book. And the best letter is going to get a big big prize.”
Amma pulled Ramia by the braids and chided, “Girl, stop your childish play. Leave this book. You better learn kitchen things. That will earn you fame, not these silly pictures.”
“What do you think I write in the letter?” Ramia escaped the grip and climbed the mango tree in the courtyard, “What if I write for a law that children be allowed to pluck fruits from any tree they want?” Mischievously she aimed one raw mango at mother’s head but it missed. “How about a law about shifting the school timings to the afternoon so that I can take a long nap? Or, how about a law to lock Kishore in animal zoo?”
Ramia became Ramvati after marriage. After a month of ceremony at in-laws place, she moved in with her husband Kishore who worked in a factory in the city.
Like any other woman, Ramvati was also thrilled to have a place of her own. The eight by twelve square feet room was bigger than any palace for her. She dusted each and every corner of that room, cleared the cobwebs and mopped the electric fan. Then she wrapped eight bricks each with the remaining sheets of the paper and mounted the gas-stove on them, two-bricks at each corner.
Then it was placed in one corner of the room, neatly covered in an old bed-sheet so that it could be used as a settee. The single iron-plywood folding bed with a thin cotton mattress was pushed to the opposite end.
For six nights in a week, Kishore returned home an hour before midnight. Ramvati would be ready with a big mug of hot tea and by the time he was finished with it, she would have readied the bath. Then in a blue checkered lungi and white vest, he would sit on the makeshift settee to drink country liquor and munch masala peanuts. By the end of the last peg, chapattis with curry and onion would be served. He would eat food in silence, his nods and eyes conveying the demands. With a loud burp, smelling of onion and liquor, he would get up and lie down on the folding bed and hum tunelessly some latest song.
Barring five days in a month, she would come and lie down next to him on the soft mattress. Kishore was a man of little words and she was a fast learner. The very first day, when she had failed to serve onion with food, he banged thaali, the steel plate, on the wall. Next time when she was little late in getting the chapatti, he banged it on her. After that she made sure not to disobey or displease him in any sense but still minor slips happened, and some days when he returned in a rough mood, he would pin her down on the bed more ruthlessly.
For the first time it happened, she was in a state of shock. But then everything was new to her from the beginning. It had hurt her bad, plus that stinking breath. Can she protest, does she have right to say No if she doesn’t want to. Will he agree if she says no? She soon got the answer.
One day he returned very late, almost the break of the dawn. He was in an ugly mood. Factory Babu had caught him napping. To drown the humiliation, he gulped two bottles of liquor.
As she stooped to put chapatti on his plate, he grabbed her hand and nodded towards the mat. Instinctively her free hand moved to shield her six-month swollen belly and jerked her hand free.
It made him angry, but more than that it excited him. A scream escaped from her lips and she ran towards the door. But her five feet body was no match against him. He grabbed her hair-bun, which had come loose, and pushed her against the wall. The humiliation at the factory danced in his narrowing eyes and he banged her head against the wall. She was as helpless as a sacrificial animal as he pinned her on the mat.
When she opened her eyes, she was in the hospital. Amma was sitting beside her holding her hand.
“Don’t worry Gudiya, you will get fine. Soon Devi will bless you with another baby.”
She looked at her astonished. Why was she in hospital, and why Amma was here and where was Kishore? She ran a hand over the belly, which was now flat. She tried getting up but the pain in her lower body pulled her down like a dead weight.
“Don’t get up. You need complete bed rest. You are badly hurt by the fall on the stairs beti. Damadji is so worried for you.”
Ramvati looked at her mother. Could she trust her and tell her the truth, tell her that she no longer wants to live with that beast. But she knew instead Amma will blame her for failing to be a skilled wife. Another thought crossed her mind. Why doesn’t she run away from the hospital to some place where nobody knows her? But what was the guarantee that in that place she will not find people like Kishore. Didn’t Amma tell her often how Hyenas are everywhere to pounce on a lonely woman, but she never warned her that Hyneas are inside the home too.
“Amma take me with you. I miss you and Baba so much.”
With a gentle hand, Amma massaged her daughter’s back, who broke into fresh sobs at mother’s touch. “I will take you home once you give me the good news next time daughter, but now Damaadji needs you most. See how heartbroken he is because of the accident.” Amma pointed towards Kishore sitting outside in lobby with his head held in hands. The sight repulsed Ramvati further. She argued with Amma, trying to make her see the reason. When nothing worked, she told her about Kishore.
“Are you out of your mind!” Amma screamed. “When did you become so selfish? Who will marry your sisters if you leave your husband?”
She continued her monologue, “Are you yourself a doctor that you concluded that the abortion happened because of your husband? It is god’s wish, remember. May be god gave the baby salvation from the bad karma in previous birth.”
“But Amma he rapes me every night….,” Ramvati was weeping like a three-year old.”
“Shushh child. Don’t call it rape, in marriage there is no rape. A husband cannot rob his wife’s izzat. There is no law that punishes a husband for demanding what is rightfully theirs.’ She had said enough.
Ramvati stared at mother, “Do you remember that picture? Teacher Ma’am had asked us to write what one thing we want to be added to that Constitution. Now I know what I am going to write in that letter.”
Amma looked at her incredulously. Has she gone mad?
“I will write, Dear Ambedkar ji. You gave everyone freedom, made everyone equal, but why did you leave a wife behind? Why is she just like property for her husband? Having no right to say – NO. Whether he builds a fence or razes it with a bulldozer, he can do whatever he wants because he owns her. Even a piece of land has more protection than me. But not a single law to protect me, a wife, from a husband. How can your precious book justify this rape just because he is a husband?”
Author’s Note: This short story is written in response to this picture prompt of Ambedkar. It highlights the dichotomy in the concept of freedom when we celebrate Azaadi ka Amrit Mahotsav and still fight for criminalization of marital rape.
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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