Her husband's suspicious nature ruined her life

Shobha Shukla, CNS (Citizen News Service)
Ratnavali’s story bears testimony to the fact that 'doubt is a disease that infects the mind, creating a mistrust of people’s motives and one’s own perceptions.' Her husband’s suspicious nature made her suffer untold miseries for more than 25 years. Ratnavali Vishwakarma, daughter of late Dr Siddhgopal (then a government doctor), hails from Pailani,  Banda, in Uttar Pradesh, India. She got married in 1982 to a teacher in the same village when was just 18 years of age and had passed Class X. Her father-in-law had been in the army and her husband was the youngest of three brothers - all of who were in the teaching profession. Siddhgopal thought that he was marrying his daughter in an educated family. Little did he realise what lay in store for her.

Ratnavali was happy in her new home till 2-3 years after marriage. But slowly her husband’s over suspicious nature ruined her life. There were also rumours that he had illicit relations with his elder brother’s wife. He started thrashing Ratnavali at the slightest pretext. He would crib that she had not brought enough dowry. He would not give her any money. Even the money given by her father went into his pocket.

He was suspicious to the point of being insane. Ratnavali was virtually kept under house arrest. Her husband would disconnect the house phone before leaving for work and reconnect it when he returned, to prevent his wife’s imaginary lovers from calling her. After coming back from his school, he would take a torch and search every nook and corner, looking for some fictitious man hiding in the house. When Ratnavali was at her parents’ house he would call her under fictitious names, just to catch her unawares and pin her down on charges of immoral behaviour. At night, he would lock the room from inside and keep the keys under his pillow. So, she was not free to use the toilet without his permission. Even when she would go to the toilet he would stand guard outside. Crossing all limits of decency (rather of indecency), he dug a hole in the room itself and asked her to use it as a lavatory.

He did not allow her to appear for the Basic Training Certificate (BTC is an eligibility test for a primary school teacher) examination, as he believed that all working women are of loose morals. According to him women and money were not to be trusted, as both can slip away any time. Ratnavali would  cry and tolerate his atrocities in the hope that one day everything would be okay.
Meanwhile she became the mother of 3 children. But her harassment increased by the day. She would sometimes share her problems with her parents, but initially they did not take her seriously.

“Once my father came to my village and asked a few villagers if his daughter was actually immoral. All of them spoke in my favour and told him to take me away from my in-law’s family. When my husband heard all this he started abusing my father. Then the village council (Panchayat) was held and a compromise was reached. But no sooner had my father left than my husband started beating me. He broke my finger (she showed the broken finger) and pushed me out of the house. Where could I go? I just sat outside the closed doors”, remembers Ratnavali.

When her breaking point later turned out to be her making point!

This proved to be the last straw for Ratnavali. She managed to phone her father who came with police force to rescue her. At the police station, after hearing her story and seeing the wounds on her legs (inflicted by her husband), the police inspector had tears in his eyes. He told her husband “I would have thrashed you black and blue. But you are a teacher and I respect teaching profession. So, I will give you two hours’ time to think over your misdeeds.” Her kids also told the police that their father thrashed their mother. The police then wrote a report, stating that she was not taking away any money/goods from the house; took everyone’s signatures and sent her with her father, advising him to file a court case against her husband.

Ratnavali came to live with her parents, but her children remained with her husband. At that time her eldest son was in class 12, the middle one in class 8 and the youngest in class 5. She filed a case under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code, to seek maintenance.

Then, in 2006 she came in contact with Vanangana (a rural community based women's rights collective working in Banda and Chitrakoot districts of Uttar Pradesh, India) and told them that she wanted to go back to her in-laws’ house (perhaps because of her children). But her husband refused to keep her. Ratnavali was given legal advice regarding her problem. She asked for some time to think over the future course of action. Her father’s death in 2009 came as a great setback. But Vanangana helped her regain her self-confidence, and with their help she finally filed a case under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA) in 2010.

In 2014, the Banda district court sanctioned a one-time compensation of INR 4,80,000 plus a monthly allowance of INR 5000 for her. But her husband appealed in Allahabad High Court. On the judge’s request, she mutually agreed for a one-time compensation of INR 6 lakhs. She has since received that money in three instalments.

Living through the hard times made her stronger

Ratnavali has no financial problems now and is at peace with herself. She takes part in Vanangana’s meetings/programmes and has been helping other women in distress. She does feel lonely at times, as her children are not with her. They do love her and want her to come back. But Ratnavali is waiting for her husband’s retirement and also for him to give to her children their share of property. She still fears that if he finds the children in his opposite camp, he might give everything to her sister-in-law’s children. But despite everything, she always tells her children to respect their father and not speak ill of him, even though he ruined her life.

Ratnavali is grateful that, “My brother’s wife, my cousin and Vanangana have helped me a lot. Vanangana gave me moral, emotional and economic support. All these people have been a great blessing in my life.” She feels indebted to Vanangana and Oxfam India for supporting her to put her life back on track.

Having lived through a stormy life, she shares her message for other girls and women: “Girls should not be married till they are educated and start working. Come what may, they should not quit their job. They should be self-sufficient. Also, women must raise their voices against injustice, and not take things lying low, as I did.”

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.

Let's hope that the 3rd Asia Pacific Feminist Forum (APFF 2017) in Chiang Mai, Thailand, would provide a platform to galvanize stronger action for dismantling economic, social and political systems that produce obscene levels of inequality and fuel violations of women’s human rights.

Shobha Shukla, Citizen News Service - CNS
4 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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