Breaking point became a turning point for this domestic violence survivor

Shobha Shukla, CNS (Citizen News Service)
The whereabouts of Sheela’s husband are not known since the last 10 years. When he left home in 2007, Sheela was three months pregnant with her fifth child. The last she heard from him was one month after the birth of this child - a daughter. When he heard the news, he sent her INR 1000 through his brother, but did not come home to see her. Since then, there has been complete silence on his part.

“When she was born, there was not a single penny in the house. At that time, my two elder teenage daughters stepped out of the house to help us survive somehow. They would cut and sell grass to get some money. My husband was working but not sending us any money,” recalls Sheela.

Sheela got married in 1983, when she was barely 15 years old, and had passed Class 8. It was a big joint Dalit family in a village of Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh, India. Her father-in-law were 5 brothers and they all lived together. She was saddled with domestic chores from morning till night-- cleaning, cooking, washing clothes, taking care of the livestock. But she went about her work happily. Her husband worked in Chandigarh and would come home periodically. He contributed very little to the family income and spend most of his earnings on liquor. But till her in-laws were alive, Sheela did not have to bother about where the next meal would come from. In 2003, after his mother’s death, her husband left his job and returned to the village.

Pressure creates diamonds. Fire refines gold

His homecoming became Sheela’s nightmare. He would come home drunk and beat her; abuse her physically and verbally. He would spend all his earnings on liquor and would not allow her to talk with anyone or visit anybody. More than anything else, he also forced Sheela to quit her job at Sri Ramanand Saraswati Pustakalaya (SRSP), where she had been working as a cook to supplement the family income. 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.

“At that time SRSP functioned more as a library, rather than an organisation to fight gender inequality. Else I would have filed a complaint against my husband the itself,” rued Sheela.

Sheela would seethe with anger, but, other than drown her humiliation in tears, she could do nothing. She never complained, not even to her parents. Her mother believed that women should always adjust in their husband’s home and learn to tolerate injustices. So she knew that she would not get any moral support from them.

When her breaking point became her turning point

After the death of her father-in-law, Sheela’s aunt-in-law asked her to move out. With no money in her pocket, Sheela was suddenly faced with the stark reality of life. She just had a makeshift hut to live in, with her five children, the youngest being just a year old. Those were difficult days. But Sheela was determined not only to keep her children alive, but to educate them too. She took up all sort of odd jobs to make a living. She worked in the fields as a farm labourer, she cleaned utensils, swept floors, cooked food in houses. Sometimes she would get paid in kind - food grains and rice. But she pulled along. Then, in 2010 she finally got a proper job of a cook in a school situated just opposite SRSP.

Sheela once again reconnected with SRSP. “When Madam Hina (Director of SRSP) saw my plight and came to know that I had worked here earlier she called me back. So now I work here also and get a monthly salary and other benefits. I am actively involved with their activities and am running a self-help group for women under them. I have helped many women survivors of domestic violence through this centre,” shared Sheela.

Sheela is a self-made woman. Her husband's contribution in her life has only been to saddle her with 5 children. The rest was left to her. But she is proud to have steered her life singlehandedly and bring it back on track. She ensured a dowry-less registered marriage for her two elder daughters, through a mass wedding, after they had passed Class 10. Her other two daughters are studying in Classes 8 and 3. She has sent her 17 years old son to Mumbai to learn some trade, as he was interesting in studying after passing Class 10.

Leading by example

Sheela is very clear in her mind that her son will get married only after he starts earning a decent living. He would be married through mass wedding system only and without any dowry. " I neither gave any dowry in my daughters' marriage, nor will I take any in my son's wedding," she claimed proudly.

Fears we do not face become our limits

Her only desire now is to build a house of her own and to save some money for future. She does not want her children to suffer as she did. She wants them to be sensitive to the needs of others and make others happy with their behaviour.

“Adversity has opened my mind. With Madam’s support and encouragement, I could earn for myself and lead an independent life. Earlier I did not have the courage to speak up. Now that fear has gone and I voice my thoughts and opinions without any hesitation. I do what I think is right, and not what others tell me to do. I strongly believe that both husband and wife should contribute equally in running a household, and the woman alone should not bear the brunt of it. There is no place for tolerating injustice in a woman’s life”, asserts Sheela.

All force to you, Sheela!

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
18 September 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:

Published in:
  • CNS (Citizen News Service)