I had mentioned that lack of parental support led to the death of a certain Mrs. Rao in my first post written for women's web regarding violence against women. True in most cases women are neither equipped nor encouraged to stand up for themselves against unacceptable behavior from their men folk/in laws or anyone who violates their right to dignity and self respect. But there are a few exceptions and this post is dedicated to those women who were victims of domestic violence but found means to survive against all odds. In two of the three cases mentioned they had the support of their parents and the main purpose of this post is to reflect on the possible role that parents and family could play in helping the victimized women to deal with violence against them.
Priti (name changed) was just twenty years old when she was married off with a lot of fanfare. She was the first born to her parents who wanted the very best for her. Theirs was a business community and girls were rarely encouraged to study. But her father was proud of his daughter’s academic excellence and he encouraged her to study. She passed her undergrad course in Philosophy Honors with a high 1st division and married a man of her parent’s choice soon afterwards. The groom was a charming good looking young man with a promising future. At least that was what they thought.
Unfortunately their assessment was wrong. Their son in law had a weakness for women and squandered his hard earned money on them. He was neck deep in debt. His parents blamed her for being unable to control his philandering habits and ridiculed her for her less than ordinary looks. According to them she had to be grateful to him for fathering her child – a daughter on top of it. Another man would not have given her a second glance and would have thrown her out for bearing him a daughter. She was totally at their mercy for spending money.
Priti’s parents then decided that it was time for them to pitch in. They encouraged her to pursue her studies and she went on to do her Masters. They financed her education and took care of her personal expenses too. Her in laws could only laugh behind her back and taunt her for not being worthy of the husband’s affection. She also answered the National Eligibility Test for lectureship and passed the difficult exam in a single attempt. She had a second issue – a son this time – but her husband did not mend his ways. She then joined as lecturer in a town about 100 kilometers from her husband’s place and moved out for good. By now her husband had married a divorcee and stopped coming home altogether. She has not yet divorced him but has severed all contacts with him and his family. Her parent’s continue to support her morally if not financially. Recently she booked a 2 bed room flat for herself and enrolled her children in reputed local schools. Her husband’s second wife, a bank employee with an independent income is facing the same problem as her and keeps seeking her advice on how she ought to deal with the situation. I think it was very nice and thoughtful of her parents to encourage her to have an independent income and a social standing for herself. They could have offered her a home and shelter but that would not have given her the confidence to face the future.
Lakshmi (not her real name)was a house maid and put up with her short tempered mistress only for the sake of the out house that they allowed her to occupy in lieu of a salary. She took a occasional slap in her stride and did not give a second thought to the abusive language and swear words directed at her. Her husband who was a construction worker often suggested that they move out rather than tolerate the inhuman behavior of their master and mistress. Lakshmi would ask him to be patient since it was not possible to rent a house with unlimited supply of electricity and water on his salary.
It was around 12 in the afternoon when Lakshmi had finished sweeping and was swabbing the drawing room when her mistress called out to her. She wanted her to fetch something from the fridge and Lakshmi took some time to respond since she had to wash her hand and wipe it clean before opening the fridge. Without a second thought the mistress took out the burning hot iron ladle used for seasoning and shoved it into her stomach and pulled it across the back leaving the skin scalded and burnt. It was then that Lakshmi thought that enough was enough. She went into the store room picked up the broom and began hitting her mistress with it treating her to the very swear words that were hurled at her on several earlier occasions. She pulled the mistress by the hair and dragged her to the court yard calling out to neighbors and threatening to call the cops. Neighbors intervened, the mistress almost fell at her feet and the master, who had come home for lunch, pleaded that his wife be spared. Lakshmi left her job at their place and moved to another area of our town. She was not keen on going to the police because she was sure that they would harass her and spare her mistress.
The third case is about Rashmi (name changed) who was a bright student trapped in an unhappy marriage. Her husband was short fused and her mother in law did everything possible to set him against her. She would be regularly beaten up for no reason and her mother in law would tell neighbors who intervened that Rashmi deserved to be beaten since she back answered him. Dowry menace also could not be ruled out but it was done in a very covert manner so nothing could be proved. It was then that Rashmi’s father registered her name for service in his company against the ward’s quota he was entitled to. He told her that the 8 hors that she would spend at the office and the time spent in commuting to work would be a welcome relief from the stifling environment at home. And of course, the money that came in and the quarter and medical facility that the company offered would be added benefits. He could have given his service to his son but he felt that she needed it more.
Rashmi was lucky that she got a call within a month and got the job of an office assistant soon afterwards. Her husband deliberately opted for a transfer to Madhya Pradesh but she refused to accompany him citing her job as the reason. She was not going to give it up at any cost. If her in laws had a problem with her job she would apply for a quarter and move out with her children. Her husband realized that she meant what she said and let her continue. He has however moved out and her mother in law blames her for it. According to her, he was ‘fed up’ with her superior airs and no husband could bear to live with a wife whom he could not ‘control’. Rashmi does not bother. She does her share of house work, gets the children ready for school and leaves home by 8 in the morning. She is not worried about the physical strain. She is happy to have a life of her own – a world where she can meet like minded people and establish an identity for herself. Her husband continues to make life hell for her when he visits them but she counters his behavior by ignoring his outbursts and that annoys him more.
For all the stories of bride burning and cruelty to women, we do have a few that would inspire women who are victimized and encourage families to support their daughter/sister intead of treating her as alien property. A change in the mind set would go a long way in curtailing violence against women.