Breaking the shackles of patriarchy

Shobha Shukla, CNS (Citizen News Service)
“Men always suppress women. It is for women to think that if they want to live their lives they have to be strong enough and step out of their homes. They should not be scared of ‘what society would say!’. If we are in the right, we do not have to be afraid of anyone. There is no shame in raising your voice against injustice, no matter what others say. Keep your spirits high.”

These are the wise words of 28 years old Lakshmi, who started working at the age of 10  with her weaver uncle to become a helping hand for the family. Even though she could not study beyond class 3, she was good at embroidering Banarasi sarees- which her uncle would weave- and get paid for this work.

Lakshmi has no recollection of her marriage to one Dinesh Ram (the eldest of 3 brothers), as she was only 5-6 years old then. But she went to her in-laws’ house for the first time at the age of 18. Her father-in-law worked in Kolkata. Being the eldest daughter-in-law, the entire household workload was on her shoulders. She took great care of everyone, including her ailing mother-in-law, even as she had four children in quick succession – three boys and a girl - something which she regrets till today.

Alcohol dissolves marriages, families, careers

Alcoholism was a big problem in her village Jokehara. There were many illegal country liquor shops. Lot many women were facing domestic violence at the hands of their alcoholic husbands who would come home drunk and beat their wives. Lakshmi’s husband too would drink and beat her. Lakshmi was not used to dealing with drunkenness, as nobody drank in her parents’ home. She could not tolerate the daily abuses and beatings she got from her husband when he was under the influence of liquor.

Sometimes all we need is a fresh start

When she came to know that the Library (Sri Ramanand Saraswati Pustakalaya - SRSP) supports women and helps domestic violence sufferers, Lakshmi joined the organization in 2007. She also got the idea of making women’s groups to fight for just causes. (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).

“We women formed groups and started picketing the illegal liquor shops in Jokehara. Madam Hina- Director of SRSP--and other volunteers also joined us. We picketed the illegal liquor shops and destroyed all their liquor. Our movement attracted a lot of attention from media and other social activists. We were successful in our mission and our efforts brought about a very positive change in the lives of the villagers,” shared a triumphant Lakshmi.

Overnight, Lakshmi had become the leader of the village women.

Meanwhile her father-in-law passed away. The whole family's responsibility was on her head. Her husband migrated to Mumbai to make a living and she stayed back to take care of the home. She had no knowledge about farming. But she was a quick learner. Slowly she gained confidence and learnt new ways of farming—so much so that she managed to produce 3-4 quintals of wheat, which was much more than what her father-in-law, a seasoned farmer, could do.

Her husband knows that he cannot cope without her help. She looks after everything - from farming to home to taking care of her children’s education. Her eldest son has passed B.Sc., daughter is studying in Class 9, the second son studied till class 12 and is now working with his father and the youngest son is in class 3.

As her husband’s earnings were proving to be insufficient to run such a big family, Lakshmi wanted to help him.  SRSP  agreed to help her financially to set up a business. “So now I have attached myself with some beauty parlour owners. I take their list of requirements, buy the stuff from the market and deliver it to their shops. This way I am able to earn 3000-4000 Rupees per month. I have been doing this for the past four months. I also make some money by doing some stitching work. I already had a bank account and now I can operate it by myself. My to-do list includes getting a toilet constructed in my house and my daughter to become economically independent," said Lakshmi, whose only regret now is that she is not educated.

SRSP taught Lakshmi how to face the world. Earlier she would feel very scared of the police. But SRSP taught her how to speak with authority and how to conduct herself in front of others. She also gained knowledge about women centric laws, like the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (PWDVA). She now knows that under this law, the wife cannot be thrown out from her husband's house.

Lakshmi has formed many women self-help groups. She has helped around 50 women get their rightful place in society with the help of SRSP and the police. Despite being uneducated, she is fully capable of helping women file a complaint and accompany them to the police station if they have a problem.

Without breaking shackles of patriarchy, there can be no gender justice

Lakshmi is very clear that, “Unless we change our way of thinking, unless we fight out our problems, we will not succeed. The first thing is to break the age old redundant traditions and the so-called cultural norms that act as obstacles in our path to seek justice. Girls are always told to sacrifice their dreams and desires at the altar of service to others. Unless women free themselves from the shackles of patriarchal rules in their own families, there can be no gender justice.”

Lakshmi has been honoured by Oxfam India for raising her voice against domestic violence. Kudos to her indomitable spirit!

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 reviewed the progress made on these SDGs at the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) which just concluded in United Nations earlier this month. 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
31 July 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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