Adversity brought out the fighter in her

Shobha Shukla, CNS (Citizen News Service)
"He would come home drunk and kick the food I served him. I would pick up the morsels from the ground and eat them, not letting them go waste. That would infuriate him still more. I would be thrashed every day and even get thrown out of the house at night, along with my 4 children. I spent many a cold, shivering nights, sitting outside the house, wrapping my sari around my children to keep them warm. Sometimes I would not eat for 2-3 days and just cry. And to top it all, I could still not refuse him sex, else more beatings would ensue. On days when he had no money to buy liquor, he would be in a terrible mood and create a ruckus unless I arranged to get liquor for him", recalls Usha (40 years), who suffered these  indignities and inhuman behaviour at her husband’s hands for 10 long years.

Daughter of a railway personnel in a village of Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh, India, Usha was married at the age of 18 years to one Ramachal Gaud. Her father was very impressed by Ramachal’s good looks and charming personality. Little did he realise that he was marrying off his daughter to an alcoholic.

In her early days of married life, Usha’s husband would come home drunk every night and fight with all the family members. He would not give any money in the house but spend whatever he earned in buying liquor. Even his parents got sick of him, and after 5 years of his marriage, asked him to leave the house and live elsewhere. They thought that this would make him responsible towards his wife and children. But he did not improve. Eventually Usha had to step out of the house to work and earn for her family.

Never let a stumble be the end of your journey

Despite all her problems, thoughts of leaving her husband never came to Usha’s mind. She was ready to go to any length to adjust with her circumstances and make her marriage work. She is grateful to her parents, and to her in-laws for always standing by her. Barring her husband, all others in her in-laws’ family have been very supportive. They respect her as they know that she wants to keep the family intact.

Usha did all sorts of odd jobs to bring up her children. She washed utensils in people’s homes and worked in the fields. Sometimes she would also do small chores at Sri Ramanand Saraswati Pustakalaya (SRSP), as it was situated close to her house, to earn an extra buck. 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 motivated women to stand up against domestic violence.

The stronger the wind the stronger the trees

But when the going got too tough, “I left the house with my kids and took refuge in SRSP for 10 days. They called my husband and his family and we reached a compromise. SRSP counselled my husband to treat me properly. Since then he has mellowed a little. My association with SRSP has put some scare in him. He still drinks and fights with me, but the beatings have stopped. I too have honed the fighter in me. I no longer cringe or cry in front of him but face his verbal onslaughts with courage. I have told him that I too have a right over this house and will never leave it.”

When Usha filed a Domestic Incident Report (DIR) under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, the judge asked her if she would fight the case. Usha knew that her husband had no money to fight the case. So, she withdrew and agreed for a compromise. To everyone’s surprise, she did not ask for any compensation. She told the judge that she did not want any money but wanted the right to live peacefully in her husband’s house.

The intervention of SRSP proved a game-changer for Usha. It helped restore her self-confidence and made her stand on her own feet with dignity. The organization trained her in stitching, pickle-making and cooking, and has since employed her as a cook in its kitchen. It also helped her open a small shop to sell chicken. She also rears goats for commercial purposes. Even though Usha had never done this kind of work in her parent’s house, she took it all in her stride, worked hard and moved ahead.

Life’s best lessons are often learned at hardest times

“We live in a patriarchal society, which believes that men are above board. As girls, we are tutored that the wife must respect her husband and not answer him back, come what may. Earlier I too believed in this. But SRSP changed my thinking. Women should have a right over property. Not giving a woman her due rights is a sort of violence too. Women have to become strong and take over power. If women are educated they will have a better understanding of the existing laws, they will have better job opportunities and will not have to suffer as I did, due to my illiteracy. I am determined to give my sons and daughter an education and I will not marry them off till they are financially independent,” said a confident Usha.

Usha concedes that her present is much better than her yesterday. Her income has gradually increased over the years with the support of well-wishers. She is now able to earn a decent living and take good care of her children. Her active participation in SRSP’s work has honed her leadership qualities. Even her children take part in awareness campaigns, waging a war against domestic and gender violence. Today, Usha is a role model for the village women, who look up to her as their leader. She has not only restored her own dignity but has also brought a positive change in the lives of many other women survivors of domestic violence. Our salutes to this woman of substance!

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.

Shobha Shukla, Citizen News Service - CNS
8 January 2018
(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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