Domestic violence failed to bring her to her knees, it brought her to her feet

Shobha Shukla, CNS (Citizen News Service)
"I blame the administration and parents for most cases of gender violence in our society- administration, because there are hardly any schools for girls in remote areas; and parents because they marry off their daughters at a very young age. So girls like me are not only deprived of education but also have no opportunities to work. This, coupled with an early marriage, leaves them helpless in the face of injustices meted to them by a patriarchal society". Words of wisdom indeed from Gayatri Devi, who could study only till Class 5 as there was no girls' school in her village, located in a forest area.

Gayatri hails from a Dalit community in  rural Chitrakoot, Uttar Pradesh, India. She became a daughter-in-law in 2006, when she was just 17 years old. While her in-laws harassed her for bringing no dowry, her husband would abuse her physically. He was an alcoholic, a drug user and suffered from some mental disability too. He would become violent, without any provocation, and start whipping her with a belt. Twice he even tried pouring kerosene oil over her to burn her.

Gayatri bore these indignities for one whole year. And then her brother brought her to her parents’ home. After sometime her in-laws came to fetch her back. Although Gayatri’s father refused to send her, she thought of giving them a second chance, hoping that things would improve. Instead, they became worse.

“My husband would tear my clothes and thrash me. I had no means of even contacting my father”, recalls Gayatri.

On being informed by a neighbour, her father came and brought her back. Meanwhile, her in-laws filed a case at the police station that their daughter-in-law had run away to her parental house taking away all the jewelry. Her husband also filed a petition for restitution of conjugal rights under Section 9 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 - the non-execution of decree, if passed by the wife, automatically entitles the husband to get a divorce.

Violence did not bring me to my knees, it brought me to my feet

Gayatri's case was registered at Vanangana (a rural community based women's rights collective working in Banda and Chitrakoot districts of Uttar Pradesh, India) in April 2008. The organization submitted a reply in the court regarding the case filed by her husband (this case has since ended). A case of domestic violence was also filed in the court under Section 12 - Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (PWDVA). In July 2008, the court ordered her husband to pay her INR 1500 per month as subsistence allowance and to give her equal rights in his property.

Unfortunately, the court orders remain on paper and are yet to be implemented and even after 8 long years Gayatri has not received any allowance till now.

Things went well for Gayatri after coming to her parents’ house, but only for a while. Her married brother and his wife started resenting her stay and said that they would not be able to support her. They even advised her to remarry, which she did not want. So she once again approached Vanangana for help. They advised her that, being an adult, it was she who had to decide what she wanted to do in life. Once she made up her mind that she wanted to stay separately, she moved to Vanangana’s ‘alp-awaas’ (short-stay home) and lived there for one year. This one year proved to be a turning point in Gayatri’s life. Vanangana taught her to face the world with confidence and get back to life. She also got the opportunity to study and to learn stitching.

Rebuilding her life, bit by bit

“Now I am living alone by myself. Vanangana gave me a sewing machine. I earn some money by doing tailoring work and by teaching sewing to other girls. I also work at the Manikpur Welfare Centre. My younger brother has helped me get the job of a warden in the hostel of a girls’ residential school in Manikpur”, said a beamimg Gayatri.

Vanangana has helped restore Gayatri’s self-confidence. Earlier she was very shy and would not speak with anyone, not even in the court. But now she is self-sufficient and free to care for herself, as well as for others at her workplace. This sense of responsibility has brought about a tremendous positive change in her life. She takes part in workshops related to gender justice and sexual and reproductive health rights. She has been helping other girls/ women in distress.

Wind beneath her wings: Education and economic independence

“From my personal experience, I can say that in cases of domestic violence and injustice the woman should take action quickly and boldly. If I had dillydallied in leaving my husband, then perhaps I would have had children, which would have worsened the situation. It is good that I do not have any children, else it would have been difficult for me to leave that house. Very often, a woman, discarded by her husband and in-laws, is not accepted fully in her parents’ home after marriage. So, the most important thing for girls is education and economic independence. Problems are there for all women (even those who are educated); but those who are illiterate, have a tougher time. Ours is a patriarchal society. It is necessary to change men’s attitudes towards women. Only then will we be able to prevent gender violence and discrimination”, said Gayatri. She feels indebted to Vanangana and Oxfam India for supporting her to put her life back on track.

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. The governments are reviewing the progress made on these SDGs at the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) currently taking place in United Nations. 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
30 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:

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