She never says a word. Not about how many scars are etched in her body and forever etched in her mind from the endless violence she endures daily within her own home. She never says how he beats her black and blue after she works ten hours a day. She never says that he does not spare her or even their three year old child in his uncontrollable rage.
Why does a husband do that to his woman and child? What is going through his mind when he begins his unprovoked assault? Perhaps it’s just because he can. Power. Insecurity. Two deep seated evils of man. Not just here in India, but sadly wherever domestic violence occurs.
“He does not like it if I come home late from work. He thinks I talk and flirt with other men. He does not like it if I take pride in my appearance. So sometimes he burns my nice clothes. . It’s almost like there is a djinn (evil spirit) inside his head”, she says in a low voice, her eyes filling up with tears of anger and hurt.
“He does not care for our child when I am away earning money for us. And he is angry. So very very angry. But I don’t understand why? He wants to leave us and go to the village because he does not like the city. But I do not want to go. What will my child learn there? What will I do? This is my home”. She is scared but now defiant as her responsibility towards her child imbues her with more strength and confidence.
“So nearly a thousand people arrive in Delhi every day from the village to find work and make money for their family and he is earning decently and he cannot stand it here?”, I ask incredulous.
“Yes. He will take everything that we own and not leave me with a home, any possessions and does not give me a rupee for me or my child”. She explains, as though this is normal. I wonder in her world is it? Did she ever imagine that her child marriage (she was married off when she was fourteen) which started off happily would end in this?
It is like being by yourself literally while physically another person is still there to take away your dignity, freedom at his whim, I think to myself.
“The neighbours ask why he is going as we have a decent income and home. They would laugh if I told them”, she confides.
I remember something someone once told me – nobody in India will celebrate another’s happiness. But when something bad or even sinister is happening they are the first to be interested and come and mock you.
Widely marketed globally as a culture that is one of celebration, India makes a big play of observing its collective rituals, with colour, and vigour, festivals aplenty, days of devotion. Everything it seems but someone’s else’s happiness and success. Can this be true? Is the rest of India like this or is this just the bane of rural India in its accepted patriachical ways? I am not sure how to make sense of this. Well I guess I have the luxury of thinking and writing about my disgust, as opposed to the person that actually has to go through the ordeal and does not have time to think or react. She has no choice but to endure it…until it is finally over. And by ‘it’, of course, is meant the violence. So she endures until the rage is over and he has done as much damage as he can do short of sending her to hospital.
I write this about someone who works in my house, cares for my child and my family needs as if we were her own. She is only twenty years old with patience and an aura about her that I often envy. She cannot read or write and has a child of her own. When she smiles the room lights up.
I am wracked with anger for her as she quietly tells me what she has been going through. All the while ashamed, I feel sharp pangs of guilt and frustration in equal measure that I am unable to do more to support her. Interfere and I could make it even worse for her. What can I do?
I have a feeling her unhappy story is not hers alone. Many women (though this is also true for those at the higher end of the social ladder), who live in Delhi’s vast and populous slum settlements have stories to tell of evilness in their homes. The story very rarely changes.
No legislation that India has passed will help them it seems. There is no recourse, they believe, for women in their position. Family can sometimes only do so much . The neighbours and police will not support them .Who will they turn to in their time of need? To what end does domestic violence continue in India? – A place which can sometimes seem as if it does not have value for life and where, despite efforts to change the status quo, the odds are firmly stacked against women and young girls.
The middle classes will of course protest that things are changing in India. They are maybe right.
Or maybe they can see and feel the impacts of these changes because they can read, write and have some awareness of their rights and where to go for help. Plus of course, money talks.
But what about those that have no one but themselves?
They just have to fend for themselves.