Real heroism lies in caring for the wife, not in beating her

Shobha Shukla, CNS (Citizen News Service)
"Do not remain a mute spectator to injustice and violence, but raise your voice against it. Unless you raise your voice, nobody can help you", believes Suman Sharma. Suman, who hails from Balrampur village in Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh, India, got married in 2003  when she was 19 years old and had just passed Class 10 exam. Her husband, the eldest of 3 brothers and 3 sisters, worked far away in Mumbai, and Suman was left alone to face the onslaughts of her in-laws’ family.

Her in-laws would taunt her for not bringing enough dowry. They knew that she came from a poor family, yet pestered her to bring a television and a motorcycle. Her father-in-law behaved strangely with her. He would often enter her room unannounced and eye her lasciviously. He would threaten to throw her out and remarry his son. Her mother-in-law too would threaten to kill her. Her husband gave all his earnings to his parents, so she was totally dependent on them. If she asked them for anything their standard reply was- ‘Did you bring any dowry from your house that you expect us to provide for you?’

Suman's husband would come home once in 6-7 months. Then her in-laws would not let her meet him, lest she complain to him about their behaviour. So, presumably he had no inkling of how she was being treated by his family. Instead of caring for her, he would beat her at his parents’ instigation. When she asked him to take her to Mumbai with him, he said that he had married her to take care of his parents. “He never thought that I too am a human being and have feelings. It was a no-win situation for me,” she says.

Her in-laws also pestered her for not having any children. “But how could I conceive when I was not even allowed to meet my husband or have any sexual relationship with him?” wondered Suman.

House where a woman is unsafe is not home

Suman suffered like this for 9 long years, in the hope that things would gradually improve and that her husband would reform himself. She was also afraid as to what would society say if she moved out.  So, she kept on tolerating their inhuman behaviour out of respect, and also out of fear. But all her efforts were in vain. Her father too asked her to be patient, as her husband and in-laws would behave very politely in front of him. It was only after they once misbehaved with him on the issue of dowry that her father realised the hardships she was facing in that family.

The constant bickerings and beatings made her physically weak and mentally stressed. She would often fall sick. She felt helpless as there was no one to support her, so much so that she wanted to commit suicide or run away. Then one day she thought, “What is the point of my education, if I am not able to fight the atrocities committed against me? Education does not mean one must suffer and adjust all the time.”

No matter how far you have gone on a wrong road, turn around!

Her mother’s friends told her about Sri Ramanand Saraswati Pustakalaya (SRSP), which helped women in distress. SRSP works to combat caste and gender biases of rural India. The support provided by Oxfam India has helped them in advancing the fight against gender discrimination and motivating women to stand up against domestic violence.

Suman came to this centre with her mother in 2012. They sent for her in-laws. Initially they refused, but when threatened with dire action they came. Her husband too had to come after 1-2 months. A case was filed against them under Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (PWDVA). They were also counselled to mend their ways, else serious action would be taken.

The law against domestic violence has helped Suman. It was only because of fear of this law that her in-laws agreed for a settlement and their behaviour changed for the better. Suman had just wanted her husband to behave decently with her, take care of her and let her live in his house with dignity.

When Suman filed the case, she did not have a child, which, she thinks, was a blessing in disguise, “Because if I had one, I would not have been able to muster courage to take this bold step.”

Strong women stand up for themselves and others!

Suman is indebted to Hina Desai, Director of SRSP, and her entire team, for showing her the right path at a time when she had lost all hope: “They gave me the courage to overcome my problems. They counselled my husband and in-laws, because of which there has been a tremendous improvement in their behaviour,” she says.

Suman takes part in SRSP’s awareness programmes, encouraging women to stand up against domestic violence. She also advises women to get connected with self-help groups and, through them, to some means of livelihood. With the organization's support, she has been helping other women, including some of her own relatives - her husband’s elder brother’s daughter-in-law, and her husband’s two sisters - who were facing similar problems of domestic violence. She also spreads the message of family planning – ‘One should not have more than two children-- whether it is a boy or girl, should not make any difference’.

Suman now leads a life that she always aspired for. SRSP gave her some financial support and helped her learn stitching. She now makes some money through tailoring and wants to expand her business. Her husband has since left his job in Mumbai and now works in Azamgarh. He takes good care of her and their 4 year old son.

Suman holds women themselves responsible for their oppression and victimisation. “Unless they come out of the four walls of their house and raise their voices against injustices, things will not improve. Parents, who do not educate their daughters and marry them young, are also to blame. Educated and employed women face lesser problems in life as compared to illiterate ones. Girls are suppressed from their childhood, so they are not able to develop the competence to take decisions by themselves. They are taught to be dependent on menfolk - father, brother, husband - which is wrong. Men also need to understand that there is no heroism in beating the wife. Real masculinity is reflected in loving and caring for her,” says Suman.

Keep the promise

Let us not forget that governments of over 190 countries, including India, have promised to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, one of which is to achieve gender equality and end all forms of discrimination and violence against all women and girls. If we are to deliver on these promises of sustainable development and gender justice, lot more action is needed on the ground.

Shobha Shukla, Citizen News Service - CNS
2 October 2017
(Shobha Shukla is the Managing Editor of CNS (Citizen News Service) and has written extensively on health and gender justice over decades. Follow her on Twitter @Shobha1Shukla or visit CNS: www.citizen-news.org)

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