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Domestic violence is a common enough occurrence all over the world and especially in India. The story of Jayalakshmi, a domestic violence survivor.
Jayalakshmi is a domestic violence survivor, and her story is that of lakhs of other Indian women. That is why it needs to be told.
Minutes after I had put up a status message on Facebook saying that I was planning to pen first-hand accounts of domestic violence survivors, I was flooded with messages.
Among those who responded was my friend, Nargis Yousuf *, from Bangalore. Er, was she a victim?
No. But she had an account of someone. “Would you need the domestic violence survivor to narrate it herself? As in, meet her?” she asked. I thought otherwise. “But she won’t be able to speak to you here (on Facebook),” Nargis added. So, was this person seeking anonymity? “No, it is just that she can’t be on a comp,” she stated. The woman in question was illiterate. She was Nargis’ domestic help. My friend felt her maid had a story in her – one that needed to be told to the world.
So, here it is.
There are stories of rags to riches. Then there are others where misfortune drives people to abject penury. When children are born into such families, they need to start eking out a living the same way all as unfortunate as them do – at the bottom of the food chain. And if the child is a girl, starting off as a domestic help is one of the ways out.
There are stories of rags to riches. Then there are others where misfortune drives people to abject penury.
So it had been for the domestic violence survivor, Jayalakshmi *.
Her father, once upon a time, owned a number of theatres in Andhra Pradesh. He was semi-literate, and he paid a price for that – quite dearly. He was duped by friends and partners and lost all he had, except his family. Hounded by debtors and driven by hunger, the man, his wife and three daughters fled to neighbouring Karnataka.
There was little, however, that her father could do to pull the family out of the woods. He could not get over the sense of betrayal or loss of fortune. Before the family could realise, he had gone mad. The woman and her three little daughters were now left to fend for themselves. The mother started out as a domestic help in Bangalore. Jayalakshmi was barely eight at the time.
In another eight years, she would be married off, and would tread her mother’s path, by washing utensils and sweeping the houses of the better off. Her problems were only beginning.
Only a few months had passed, when the man of her life started accusing her of infidelity. He probably had a guilt complex chewing him from the inside – he was himself wont to be sleeping around. The accusations didn’t come alone, they were accompanied by violence. Brutal.
Sixteen years and three sons later, nothing much has changed for Jayalakshmi on the domestic front. No, let’s be straight on this – the man hasn’t changed. He remains sadistic, drinks himself violent, and steals from her meagre earnings. He is a satyr, and has no end to sexual urges. He needs to watch porn on their television even while the children are asleep in the shack they share in the Shampur area. Protests are met with, needless to say, brutally.
Jayalakshmi doesn’t lose focus. She works in six homes from six in the morning till seven in the evening, and her life revolves around her three sons. The eldest is 14, the little one ten. She manages five grand a month, of which 1,400 goes towards house rent. She still manages to send the children to school, and feed them as well. The husband lives off her, and gambles away.
She hasn’t lost her sense of self-respect either. Men lust after her, incessantly asking her for sexual favours. Jayalakshmi wards them off, with dignity.
The women of the households where she works identify with her to varying extents. They donate the rice she desperately needs – times of inflation or otherwise. When she got her bonus for the month of Ramzan, the first thing Jayalakshmi did was run to the school to pay the fees. Every time that she gets a hundred rupee note, Nargis can virtually see her calculating what amount will need to go where. The beast meanwhile, continues to live off her, stealing the money she sets aside for a rainy day in garbage bins. She has reasons to fear the man – he and a few friends of his had once allegedly murdered a woman in the area.
The first thing one loses in times of adversity, probably, is humour; Jayalakshmi hasn’t, despite being a domestic violence survivor.
Jayalakshmi’s mother died of cancer a few years back. Both the younger sisters are married, and the husbands thankfully provide for them. Her father’s condition grew worse over the years, and then one day he simply walked out of the house, never to return. That was five years ago.
The first thing one loses in times of adversity, probably, is humour; Jayalakshmi hasn’t despite being a domestic violence survivor. She is incisively witty, and that possibly is one of the reasons why she gets along with Nargis.
Wisdom does not come from education; Jayalakshmi is a living example of the contention. When Nargis’ own uncle had to be sent to an institution for the mentally ill, words of wisdom came from her help: “Don’t use harsh words against them. They don’t do these things on purpose.” Our maid would have known; as a child she had seen her father transform into a sorry creature who would even gnaw away at the walls in dismay.
My piece was to have been about a domestic violence survivor. Could I call Jayalakshmi that? Nargis has an answer (quoted verbatim): “in spite of such a husband and a lecherous society, in spite of financial restraints, when a woman has come to this point where her kids are into schooling and she is not into debts, and shows signs of progress and keeps her spirits high. That’s a survivor.”
So there we are.
There is probably nothing outstanding about Jayalakshmi. Her story could also be that of lakhs of such women out there. That’s why this story needs to be told.
Image source: pixabay
* Names changed on request.
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Shows like Indian Matchmaking only further the argument that women must adhere to social norms without being allowed to follow their hearts.
When Netflix announced that Indian Matchmaking (2020-present) would be renewed for a second season, many of us hoped for the makers of the show to take all the criticism they faced seriously. That is definitely not the case because the show still continues to celebrate regressive patriarchal values.
Here are a few of the gendered notions that the show propagates.
A mediocre man can give himself a 9.5/10 and call himself ‘the world’s most eligible bachelor’, but an independent and successful woman must be happy with receiving just 60-70% of what she feels she deserves.
At one point, she confesses to her mother that the beatings are no longer physical, they have started affecting her mentally as well, and she wants to break free of this cycle of abuse.
Trigger Warning: This deals with domestic violence and may be triggering for survivors.
I recently watched Darlings on Netflix. It’s a quirky, dark satire featuring the dynamite duo of Alia Bhatt and Shefali Shah. The movie depicts domestic violence and the psychology of abuse.
Even though the subject matter is dark, there are light moments and humour, which make it immensely watchable. It stands out for its powerhouse performances and unique storyline.