Dowry and domestic violence: Partners in crime

Shobha Shukla, CNS (Citizen News Service)
Domestic violence and dowry harassment is still very rampant in India despite two very women favourable laws: The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, and Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005. Weak legal institutions on inheritance place women in disadvantage, making them financially dependent upon their husbands and in-laws, who then make atrocious demands of dowry. This also makes a woman vulnerable to a range of exploitations.

Rukhsana’s story bears testimony to a marriage doomed because of dowry. Coming from a poor and rural Muslim family of  Chitrakoot, Uttar Pradesh, India, Rukhsana never saw the inside of a school and entered into marriage at the tender age of 15 years. Despite spending beyond their means on the wedding, her poor parents failed to satisfy the greed of the bridegroom and his family. Post marriage, their demands increased and so did Rukhsana’s harassment in her in-laws’ house.

Dowry and domestic violence: partners in crime

“My in-laws would always crib that they got nothing in my marriage. All of them- my husband and his parents, sisters, brothers - would abuse me verbally and physically. My husband would drag me on the streets while beating me. I never got two square meals a day, nor any medical treatment when I fell ill. And to top it all, my husband would force me to have sex with him. I produced two children while enduring all this physical and mental torture,” said a tearful Rukhsana.

She suffered this inhuman behaviour for over 5 years. During this time, she kept on getting tossed like a ball between her parents’ and in-laws’ house. She would get injured after every beating, and then sent to her parents. They would somehow get her treated, after which her in-laws would come and beg for forgiveness and take her back, only to thrash her again. This was a repetitive cycle, and every time they came up with new demands of dowry. Yet, Rukhsana’s parents always asked her to adjust in her new home, as that is what women were supposed to do. Perhaps they had no means to support her, so did not want her to leave her husband’s home permanently.

Rukhsana’s husband is a tailor in Mumbai and makes a decent living. But he never took her there even once. 5 years ago, he threw her out of the house telling her to return only with a motorcycle and INR 50,000. So, Rukhsana came to her parents’ house along with her two children - a two and a half years old girl and a boy elder to her. She managed to survive by doing household chores in her relatives’ houses.

We rise by lifting others...

At this point of time, Rukhsana came in contact with Vanangana (a rural community based women's rights collective working in Banda and Chitrakoot districts of Uttar Pradesh, India). At their intervention, a compromise was reached wherein Rukhsana’s in-laws made a written promise to treat her properly and take care of her. So she went back with them to give them a second chance. But, recalls Rukhsana, “I was beaten again. I was not given any food to eat. He would go out and eat but would not let me cook anything in the house. My children were sick but he had left no money in the house for their food or treatment. I borrowed money from neighbours to keep going.”

Eventually she once again returned to her parents with her two children, and, with Vanangana’s help, filed a case of domestic violence against her in-laws.

Then came another blow. Her husband kidnapped her son while he was playing outside the house where Rukhsana was putting up. The police refused to write a report of abduction and asked her to file a court case. But Rukhsana had no money to pursue a legal case. She did convene a village panchayat (council) but her in-laws forced the child (under the threat of beating him up) to say that he did not want to live with his mother. So, the panchayat decided against her.

Rukhsana opened a general goods shop, with the money (INR 10000) Vanangana had given her, only to close it down as she could not run it profitably. Now she works as a labourer on farms and construction sites, to eke out an existence. None of her four brothers are ready to take care of her. She is staying with a distant relative and does not have a home of her own. She tried to get a house allotted in her name under the Pradhan Mantri Avaas Yoyana (PMAY), without any success.

Rukhsana is dejected because, “The law has not given me any relief till now. The court case has been dragging on for 5 years and I do not know when it will be decided. My in-laws have stopped coming to the court hearings, and the hearings are getting postponed. I am not a quitter and am still hoping for a favourable judgement from the court. If I get some maintenance it will make life easier for me.”

Tough times do not last, tough people do!

Vanangana helped Rukhsana get back her hold on life. It gave her moral and financial support. Earlier she would be scared to even open her mouth. But today there is a new vigour and energy in her. Even though she is not strong financially, at least there is no physical, emotional and verbal torture. She is gathering courage to herself fight the legal battle. She feels indebted to Vanangana and Oxfam India for supporting her to put her life back on track. No less important is the fact that she is also helping other women in distress to reach Vanangana.

“If I were educated, I would not have had to suffer all this. I will educate my daughter so that she can stand on her own feet. I will marry her only after she is economically independent. The law is there, but court proceedings are very cumbersome and time consuming. Justice delayed is equivalent to justice denied. Early court decisions, timely provisions of compensation and strict sentences for the accused will go a long way in helping women like me, and in acting as deterrents for perpetrators of such atrocities,” feels Rukhsana.

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
25 December 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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