Suchitra Pal's Story
Suchitra had entered a relationship with a man without the knowledge of her parents, as she knew that they would not approve of him. Meanwhile, exploiting her vulnerability, the man was exerting sustained pressure on her to provide him with money. And Suchitra would oblige by giving him her gold ornaments and money. After a while, he started threatening her and pressurised her to sign on some papers. Later, it became apparent that Suchitra had actually signed on a marriage registration paper. The man now began to blackmail Suchitra regularly for money saying he would tell her parents that they were 'married'. After a while, she had no option but to inform her parents about what had happened.
Suchitra and her parents lodged a case in the High Court. Utterly confused with the court proceedings and the indifferent attitude of the lawyer, coupled with the pressures of conservative family members who had no qualms about blaming Suchitra and her parents for the trouble that had befallen on the family, she and her parents were under immense pressure to settle the matter quietly and on any terms. However, Suchira and her parents refused to succumb to pressure. They decided to approach Swayam.
Swayam provided Suchitra and her mother with regular counselling and a detailed safety plan was worked out with Suchitra, as she and her brother were followed and threatened by the abuser and his allies. Suchitra's case was referred to the State Legal Aid Services Authority and the Chairperson took personal interest in the case. Apart from monitoring the legal proceedings of the case, the chairperson also encouraged and motivated Suchitra to carry on her fight. Due to the pressure created by Swayam and the State Legal Aid Services Authority, a relative of the abuser finally gave a proposal to settle the matter. After a series of discussions, it was decided that the matter would be settled through a legal decree to be effected though the Lok Adalat (People's Court). Finally, after a struggle of more than two years, Suchitra was able to get a decree that nullified the 'so called' marriage. Meanwhile Suchitra decided to pursue a career and mustered the courage to travel on her own without any escort. Suchitra now has an excellent job and is settled and happy.
Anupama Roy's Story
Anupama's was a classic case of domestic violence. Her nightmare began almost immediately after marriage. Her husband was opposed to her pursuing a career and put a stop to it. What began as verbal abuse swiftly escalated into physical torture. By now the couple had two daughters and the father did not spare the children either. He entered into a relationship with the household help and stopped providing his wife with any money to run the home. Anupama registered a complaint with the local police but to no avail. Anupama decided to somehow endure the horrible conditions of her life until her children were settled.
Anupama availed of Swayam's legal advice and decided to file a divorce suit in Family Court where she would be able to fight her own case. Anupama played an active role in her legal affairs. She worked with Swayam's legal consultant to strategise and prepare for the court date. She successfully negated her husband's appeal for a lawyer and secured favourable orders of injunction and attachment of her husband's salary from the judge, who took special interest in her case as she was fighting on her own.
Going by the wishes of her younger daughter, Anupama didn't divorce her husband, but filed an appeal to the judge to grant her lump sum alimony through the bank where her husband worked in a managerial capacity, which the Court granted her. This was a big victory for Anupama and today she inspires a lot of women to find the courage to fight their legal cases on their own. She has also instilled faith in the hearts of the caseworkers that it is possible to win a legal battle without a lawyer representing the case. Anupama now is an active and informed participant in Swayam's legal information awareness campaigns and participates regularly in Swayam's group activities.
Rekha Das's Story
When we were children, my family was constantly on the move. My father was in the army and each new posting meant a new home. I didn’t mind: I loved nature; loved watching the rain; playing with puppies – and each place was a world to discover. Since I was a girl, nobody thought it important that I should attend school regularly. So while a strict eye was kept on my brother’s education, I happily skipped classes. I was good at sports and even had a chance to represent my school, but my parents didn’t think it was right for a girl to be participating in games so I had to stop.
Getting married was the last thing on my mind, but my parents insisted. I was married off to a computer mechanic. The troubles began almost immediately. I was hardly allowed any contact with my parents. My husband was away the whole day, returning from work at midnight. My mother-in-law complained endlessly that my dowry was a pittance and my husband joined in with his demands for expensive items. When after six months of marriage I had not conceived my mother-in-law declared I me infertile and my husband said that he would get a new wife. In desperation I started taping their ceaseless torture and sent the cassette to my parents. My father came to confront my mother-in-law but nothing was resolved.
In the meanwhile I got pregnant but things did not improve. In fact, my husband by now had started gambling and drinking. We had frequent arguments during which he would beat me, even kick me out of the house. We saw a counselor, but nothing really worked. I could not sleep at nights for fear of what he would do to me.
I miscarried after which I was very weak, but nobody in the house was bothered. Then one morning when I was alone at home, I fainted. I lay unconscious for a long time till a neighbor alerted my father and he took me to hospital. Nobody came to inquire about me from my husband’s family and gradually I stopped waiting for them. My father was wonderful through it all and when I decided to file a suit against my husband he supported me through this difficult process.
It was my father who saw the information about SWAYAM in the papers and took me to their office. At the time, I would hardly speak: the feeling of being a failure, of guilt, of fear – made me intensely depressed and lacking in self-confidence. But at Swayam, I found there were women I could talk to – about anything. They didn’t try to tell me what I should do, but asked me instead what I wanted to do. On the legal front, Swayam took up my case that was really not moving at all and my husband began paying the court-ordered maintenance amount to me.
But perhaps most importantly, Swayam gave me the space to heal. I started writing poems for Prayas, started taking part in the Swayam theater group. I moved beyond all the destructive feelings that were storming inside me and became calm, strong and self-reliant.
I got a sewing diploma and began to work in a boutique. After a couple of years I moved to a confectionary where I now work as the store manager and also pitch in when the chef does not turn up!! At the same time, I have a small tailoring business which I run during season time. I have also negotiated a one time lumpsum financial settlement from my husband and divorced him. I live with my parents but now I am free and this is what I treasure the most.
I was the eldest of six siblings. My father was a rickshaw-puller, my mother a domestic help. Money was scarce, but my parents encouraged us to study and my mother would collect old books for us from her places of work.
When I was 15 a local tailor started pressurizing me to marry him. Wherever I went he was there: declaring his love one instant, threatening me the next. His constant stalking made me edgy and nervous. My grades went down and eventually I dropped out. At that point my parents too began to support his suit. Especially since he fooled them into believing he was well off. I was made to sign a paper one day – little did I know that I was signing a marriage certificate. Without my realizing it, I was married.
The nightmare began from day one. We lived in a tiny shack with his mother (the large house he had had shown my parents when wooing me turned out to be just another myth). I was a slave to my mother-in-law. My husband was insanely jealous, suspecting me of infidelity with any male in the vicinity. Soon he was translating his suspicions into violence: beating me up at the slightest opportunity. I returned to my parents’ but he persuaded me to go back with promises. I got pregnant but when the time for delivery approached my husband was not bothered. It was my mother who took me to hospital and I gave birth to a daughter. This only angered him further and he refused to even visit us.
After a fortnight he came to see me at my mother’s and, despite my frail condition, raped me over and over and over again. This done, he disappeared. He reappeared 3-4 months later and demanded his daughter; so we moved back with him. This pattern continued for a while. I would go back in the desperate hope that he would reform and we could have a normal family life; and then he would start beating and raping me and I would return to my parents.
At this point I started a small business of machine knitting woolen garments because I could no longer rely on my husband to feed our daughter. He was a violent unpredictable presence in our life who came and went, his visits punctuated by the most terrible violence inflicted on me. Gradually he lost all control: attempting to abduct my daughter; beating up my brother; lacerating my mother’s arms.
Right till the end I tried to make it work. Even when he filed false charges against me with the police, accusing me of prostitution, I pleaded with the police to call him in so that we could settle the matter. But nothing happened.
In the meanwhile, I had come to learn about Swayam. I visited them wanting work – any work. With their support I enrolled in a nursing course. They helped me with my daughter’s education and I lived at my mother’s. Now I’m qualified and have a proper job. I pay my rent and for my daughter’s schooling.
At Swayam I get to speak with other women; we talk about our concerns, our futures. This gives us strength; we are proud to be independent but we know that we are not alone. I am part of Swayam’s Theatre Group. Through our performances we try to tell society about the things affecting women – most especially about violence. I am no longer scared about myself but, knowing intimately what can be inflicted on women, I worry about my daughter. Men – society as a whole – have to realize what women suffer and change the way they treat us.