Process of taking back power is empowerment

Shobha Shukla, CNS (Citizen News Service)
Rajmila Yadav (39 years) is currently living in her parents' house with her 14 years old daughter and 12 years old son. She hails from a Other Backward Class (OBC) in rural Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh, India.

In 1997, Rajmila had just completed her Class 12 and was in no mood to get married at such an early age of 19 years. But her parents thought otherwise. Fortunately, her in-laws (who lived just 3 km away from her parental home) allowed her to complete her studies. Her husband was then doing M.Sc. from Meerut University. So, after spending just 5 days in her in-laws’ home, Rajmila returned to her parents to complete her graduation.

She finally went to live in her husband's house in 2000 and thereafter completed her post-graduation. Life went on well for the next 5 years. But gradually property-related arguments (between her husband and his elder brother’s family) started and affected the peace of her marital life.

“My husband’s brother and his wife would instigate my husband against me and he would beat me. Thus, began a never-ending phase of domestic violence - verbal as well as physical. Most of the fights centred around financial problems. My husband was jobless and I had no say in family matters,” said Rajmila.

After the death of Rajmila’s father-in-law in 2009, property disputes flared up more. Every time, her husband would tell the authorities that he would give Rajmila and his children their share and then promptly go back on his words. “My husband is a spineless fellow and does not have the guts to take a stand. He is totally in the grip of his brother’s family and always speaks from their side and does not care about the welfare of his own children,” she lamented.

Fall seven times, stand up eight!

Rajmila endured mental and physical torture for many years. She was at her wit’s end. There was no one with whom she could share her problems. She did not know whom to approach or where to go. Her children were very young, and even though her parents gave her financial support, they did not want her to take the drastic step of walking out on her husband.

It was just by chance that she came in contact with 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.

Rajmila had actually gone looking for a job in Navodaya Vidyalaya where her daughter was studying. They directed her to Hina Desai, Director of SRSP. Thus began her association with SRSP in 2014. On hearing her story, Desai agreed to accommodate her. For the whole of June 2014, Rajmila stayed with her children in SRSP’s short-stay home for women. Nobody knew about her whereabouts. Her parents thought she was with her husband, and her husband thought she was with her parents.

After getting a job with SRSP (to work on an Oxfam India supported project) in July 2014, she went to her in-laws’ place, but they did not let her enter and assaulted her. She stood her ground that she had every right to live in that house. To allay his misgivings, she showed her husband SRSP-the place where she was working. Things seemed okay for a while, and they started visiting each other, even as Rajmila stayed put at SRSP.

But whenever Rajmila would go to live with her husband, the fights would begin again. In July 2016, Rajmila filed a Domestic Incident Report (DIR). But despite repeated reminders, her husband did not come, even when called by the police and District Protection Officer. On 10th December 2016, when she was at home, her husband thrashed her brutally on some pretext. She ran out of the house, called an ambulance and reached a hospital for treatment. Then Desai helped her file a Non-Cognizable Report (NCR). But Rajmila did not pursue the case, fearing that it might land her husband in jail. But since then she has stopped going to his house and is living with her parents. She is determined to support her children for the next seven years or so, till that they get well educated and start working. “My fight is for my children’s rightful dues” asserts Rajmila.

She is lighting up life’s dark alleys for others in pain

Starting as a community mobiliser (and holding community meetings in the field), with SRSP, Rajmila is now working as a counsellor since October 2016. She also goes regularly to the support centre for women in the office of Superintendent of Police to help survivors of domestic violence. With support from SRSP, she helps women write and submit applications, and follow up with the police. The police acts promptly on applications sent by SRSP. She also encourages women to open bank accounts in their names. Till date she has helped over 20 women to settle their domestic violence and property related issues.

“It was SRSP alone who stood by me in my time of need. Everyone else, including my parents, asked me to adjust and tolerate injustices, and not leave my in-laws house. If I had not come to this organization, I would not be the fearless person that I am today. I am also indebted to Madam (Hina Desai) for empowering me and letting me live my life once again. As long as I live, I will support women in crisis to raise their voice and seek justice, and not remain quiet,” says Rajmila.

Rajmila strongly feels that, “Domestic violence will continue until women are treated equal to men, and not as second grade citizens. As long as women tolerate injustices, they will remain weak and get suppressed. Women should be economically empowered, and not hesitate from taking legal help to fight all types of gender violence. It is important to sensitise men also on gender equality.”

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
11 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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