When the going gets tough, the tough get going

Shobha Shukla, CNS (Citizen News Service)
"I suffered for 10 long years. and then one fine day I decided I would not tolerate any more violence. I thought to myself that in a few years’ time my son would get married and will have kids. And I would continue getting thrashed in front of my daughter-in-law and grandchildren. No, I would not suffer anymore," so said Lila who comes from a Dalit community  of Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh, India.

Lila had to leave her studies after class 5. She remembers clearly, “I had to leave my studies just for the sake of 5 Rupees-the school fees which I could not pay. The teacher hit me with a stick for not bringing the school fees. I got very scared and stopped going to school from the next day.”

Life after marriage

A mother of 4 children (3 boys now aged 19, 17 and 12 years and a girl now 10 years old), Lila was married at the young age of 15 years. Her husband Ram Chauk worked as a labourer and gradually rose to become a mason. This upward mobility in his profession triggered the alcoholic in him. As Ram Chauk’s earnings increased, his drinking also increased, and so did the wife-beating. He squandered all his income on alcohol and did not give any money for the upkeep of his wife and children. If Lila asked her husband to spend part of his earnings on his children, he would thrash her and threaten to throw her out of the house. But her parents-in-law were good to her: “They would scold my husband whenever he raised his hands on me. But he would not listen to them too.”

After the death of her in-laws, Lila was left alone to deal with her husband’s alcoholism and violent behaviour. One of her family’s kin - a young lad named Raju - suggested that she should contact Hina Desai, the Director of Sri Ramanand Saraswati Pustakalaya (SRSP). 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.

When the going gets tough, the tough gets going

The night of 29 May 2011 proved to be a turning point in Lila’s life. Ram Chauk,  in an inebriated state, threatened to kill Lila. This proved to be the last straw. Next morning Lila went to the women support centre of SRSP.  She recalls, “Without a morsel in my stomach, I came with Raju to SRSP and narrated my tearful tale to Madam Hina. I was totally broken in body and spirit. I had nowhere to go, not even to my parent’s house, as they were long dead. But Madam consoled me and asked me to have courage.”

Lila’s husband was called to the centre in the evening. A drunken Ram Chauk came there with his elder brother (who held a gun) and two other men and insisted to take Lila back with him. He misbehaved with her even in the SRSP office and refused to mend his ways. So the police was called. Ram Chauk was taken to the police station and released the next day. An application from Lila was submitted to the police station. Both she and her husband were called to the police station. Ram Chauk refused to go, saying he was nobody’s servant. But Lila went and put up her case fearlessly.

By now Lila was sure that, “Under no condition will I allow myself to be humiliated anymore. The only way to compromise was for him to take proper care of my children - else I would fend for them myself. When the police put him in jail, people said ‘What type of a woman are you to send your own husband to jail?’ Even my own brother accused me of having a loose moral character because of which my husband beats me. But I was firm.”

Some villagers advised Ram Chauk to say sorry and bring Lila back, else Madam (Director of SRSP) would make life hell for him. So, perhaps out of fear, Ram Chauk came to the centre on June 1, 2011 and begged forgiveness. Lila refused to go with him. Next day he came again and gave in writing that he will neither beat nor abuse her. So a compromise was reached. In the evening, the Director herself dropped Lila home, asking her to stay there for 2 days and see how things turn out.

Gradually, Ram Chauk mended his ways, more so out of fear of the law. He drank less and gave his earnings to his wife.

SRSP not only restored Lila’s dignity but also awakened the activist in her. She now helps other women who have been in similar or worse situations, so much so that Lila is now respected as a leader not only in her villages but in other nearby villages too.

“Nothing scares me now. I am not scared to go to the police. I helped one girl, who was being ill-treated. She has a 4 years old son and her father-in-law had threatened to get her killed. I brought her to SRSP and helped her lodge an FIR (First Information Report) against her husband and in-laws. When the police reached their house, they were scared out of their wits’ end. They now behave very cordially with her and she is living happily in her family”, shared Lila.

Unfortunately, Lila’s husband was implicated, probably falsely, in a murder case and is currently in jail. This threw Lila’s life out of gear once again. SRSP gave Lila INR 5000 and helped her open a vegetable shop. For the last 7-8 months, she has been selling vegetables and working on farms to make a living.

Courage is the ability to continue in spite of fear

Lila is proud that, “Today I am no longer the timid Lila of yesteryears. I am proud to be a liberated woman. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, is a very good law for women. But I would request that if a woman in distress calls up the police station, the police should arrive immediately without delay.”

Lila wants her children to study and stand firmly on their own feet and insists that, “Girls should not be married off early and they should be educated. Illiteracy perpetrates domestic violence, as women are forced to bear with it, not knowing how and where to seek help. Women must give voice to the atrocities they suffer. It is only with courage that we can solve the problems of life. It was only courage that made me find a way out of my dismal situation and the support of SRSP filled me with renewed energy and vigour,”,she said.

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
27 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: www.citizen-news.org)

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