'Never say die' says domestic violence survivor

Shobha Shukla, CNS (Citizen News Service)
"It is because of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, (PWDVA) that today I am living in my house with my children, and my husband has been ousted from it and lives elsewhere in Latghat”, says Sonmati with a twinkle in her 60 years old eyes. Although the scars of 20 long years of suffering are writ all over her body, her spirit is indefatigable.

Scars you cannot see are the hardest to heal

Hailing from a marginalised community of rural Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh, India, Sonmati was married at the age of 20 (or so she thinks). She suffered intense domestic violence in her in-laws’ house. Her mother-in-law and sisters-in-law would abuse her verbally and her husband would thrash and starve her. “Sometimes I would not get any food to eat for days together. I would tie a rope around my stomach to ease the hunger pangs”, she recalls.

Marital rape: A reality but on the blindspot

And yet Sonmati bore him 6 children - three sons and three daughters - two of who died later (one married son died in an accident and a daughter died in childbirth). Her husband would force her to have sex with him. But while he was good at producing children, he took no responsibility of taking care of them. So much so, that during the birth of her two daughters, all the expenses were borne by her older sons. “I felt embarrassed to see that my son, who earned INR only 60-70 a day, brought fruits, milk, and almonds for his lactating mother. He toiled for his father’s sins. After that incident, my heart broke completely,” rues Sonmati. Later on it was only her sons who took care of the wedding expenses of their two sisters.

The most decisive actions of our life, are most often unconsidered actions

It was only when Sonmati started working as a daily wage earner that she and her children could get two square meals a day. Her husband was happy selling ‘baati and chokha’ (Baati is a dough ball made up of whole wheat flour and stuffed with roasted chickpea flour and then baked over a cowdung fire; chokha is a vegetable preparation of roasted and mashed eggplant, tomato, and potato) and frittering away all his earnings on alcohol.

Bodily autonomy and sexual rights: a distant hope?

“It seemed as if I was there to just satisfy his carnal pleasures. Once when I refused to have sex with him, he beat me so much that I started bleeding profusely,” remembers Sonmati.

When Sonmati came to know about Sri Ramanand Saraswati Pustakalaya (SRSP), she went and stayed there for fifteen days. 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.

She shared her plight with Hina Desai (affectionately called Madam), Director SRSP, who helped Sonmati file a DIR (Direct Information Report). But her son did not let her proceed with the case as he did not want to make a public affair of it. She now regrets that had she then gone ahead with the case, she would have got a share in her husband’s money. But she withdrew on her son’s request. Desai allowed her to go back on assurance from her son that that he would not let her live with his father. That was the time when Sonmati parted ways with her husband and has since been living separately along with her children. She did go to him once on his request when he suffered a paralytic attack. But after tending and caring for him, she returned to her home.

“Madam has always helped me. She helped me in my two cases - one case of my own and the other one of my younger son who had eloped with a girl of a nearby village. The entire village was on the side of the girl’s parents and against me. But Madam stood by me and helped me get them married in court. She even allowed my daughter-in-law to stay in the library of SRSP for 6 months. With Madam’s blessings, I have been helping other women through SRSP. I had to help one of my own daughters too, as her husband was harassing her. But with Madam’s counselling, their differences were sorted out and now my daughter is very happy in her home. Recently a village boy raped my granddaughter. My daughter found the boy and locked him in the house. when I came to know of it I first rang up SRSP. When no one picked up the phone I called up the Superintendent of Police (SP), Azamgarh. The police arrived in 20 minutes and the boy is in prison now.”

Relationships breathe life when mutual respect throbs between them

Her association with SRSP gave her a lot of confidence. Besides giving moral support, SRSP gave Sonmati some monetary help to start a business, but unfortunately, she had to spend all that money on her eye operation. Today, she lives in the village holding her head high and free of fear.

“Men and women should both respect each other. We can get respect only when we give respect. Perhaps education can bring about a change in our thinking. I just want to say that be courageous. Do not lose heart in adverse situations, rather try to come out of them”, advises Sonmati!

Hers is indeed a tale of inspiration.

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
15 January 2018
(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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