“Earlier my husband would taunt me for not conceiving and said that I was barren. Then he became angry when I gave birth to a daughter. He warned me that if I ever produced a girl again, he would kill me. My in-laws would instigate him and he would thrash me. Father and son both used very abusive language and had no respect for women. The whole family is evil. When the roots are weak, how can the tree be healthy?” said Devanta.
26 years old Devanta Yadav comes from a poor family of Siwan village in Azamgarh district of Uttar Pradesh, India. She hails from OBC (Other Backward Class). At the age of 16 years, she was married to one Dashrath Yadav of village Balipur. Her husband works in Mumbai. Barring his pestering her to bring a motorcycle in dowry, life seemed okay till two years after her marriage. But soon after she became pregnant with her first child, her husband started hurling abuses and physically torturing her. The birth of a daughter further irked him and her in-laws.
When the roots are weak, how can the tree be healthy?
Slowly, Devanta began to see an even darker side of her husband and her father-in-law. Her husband was in physical relationships with many women. He was even convicted and jailed for the rape and murder of his friend’s daughter in Mumbai. He also molested his elder brother’s daughter. But if Devanta objected, he would thrash her. He never gave any money for his children’s and wife’s upkeep.
Devanta’s father-in-law had his own designs and wanted to have a physical relationship with her. He had earlier tried to molest his elder daughter-in-law also and that is why she had left the house. He even promised to transfer all his property in Devanta’s name, if she acceded to his overtures. Even though Devanta refused pointblank, she had to tread a difficult walk - suffer his advances while protecting her dignity-- as she was dependent on him to fend for her children.
Recalled Devanta while speaking with CNS (Citizen News Service), “I went to Mumbai only once, when my daughter was 2 years old. There I realised that my husband was engaged in some illegal activities, as the police would come to his premises often. I was so scared that I came back after a few days. Meanwhile I had conceived for a second time. I decided to have my delivery in my parental home. This time it was a boy. When I returned to my in-laws’ place with my 6 months’ old son, I came to know that my husband had been jailed in the rape and murder case.”
Only the weak exploit others
But her father-in-law did not seem perturbed at his son’s imprisonment. Instead he said to Devanta ‘Why are you worried? You eat well and live well in this house and I will put your two children in school.’ Despite his wicked intentions and the indignities she had suffered, she requested him to get his son out of prison. Somehow he collected INR 2 lakhs and, with his elder son’s help, got him out on bail after 4 years of imprisonment.
Devanta was at her parents’ home when her husband was released and came home from Mumbai. On his telephonic request, her father sent her to her in-laws’ house. But when Devanta reached there, her husband abused her. He told her that he did not want to have any contact with her and that she was free to leave his house.
Devanta does not remember having a single peaceful day in that house. Her husband always spoke with her in abusive language. Her kids were mortally scared of their father because of his violent nature. There were times when, for days together, there was nothing to eat in the house. The menfolk would eat outside and nobody cared if there was food in the house for her and her children, as if they did not exist at all. Yet she hoped against hope that someday her husband would turn a new leaf.
One day she caught him in a compromising position with his niece. When she raised a hue and cry, he threw her out of the house. She spent 3 nights in the cowshed with her children. When she complained to her father-in-law about this illicit relationship, he blatantly remarked ‘Why don’t you sleep with me?’
That moment proved to be a decisive one for Devanta. She realised that there was no place for her in that house. It was raining heavily. Leaving her children behind, she immediately left for her parents’ house. Later, she somehow managed to fetch them too, with her brothers’ help. Since then she has been living in her parents’ home.
Eight long years of domestic violence had made a wreck of Devanta. She was physically, emotionally, mentally and economically devastated. She was finding it difficult to bring up her two children, as her poor parents could barely afford two square meals a day for them. Fortunately, her brother’s friend told her about 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).
Deviant approached them in June 2015 and, with their help, filed a Domestic Incident Report (DIR) against her husband. SRSP also helped her to hone her sewing skills to earn a living by stitching clothes. Hina Desai, Director of SRSP, gave her INR 3000, with which she bought a goat to rear.
Devanta is working very hard to educate her children so that they can earn a decent living and live their lives with dignity. Her biggest fear is that her husband might sell the land in which her children have a rightful share. Although she is fighting a legal battle to get her legitimate share of the property, she is not able to pursue her case properly due to shortage of money.
Her association with SRSP has brought about a tremendous change in Devanta’s personality. "I feel very empowered now. Their moral support has restored my self-confidence. I am now determined to do something in life. I come to the centre every day and take part in its activities. I am emboldened enough to help other distressed women too”, she said.
Despite all odds, Devanta is facing her challenges headlong. All force to you Devanta!
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. The governments are reviewing the progress made on these SDGs at the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) being held during 10-19 July in United Nations. If we are to deliver on these promises of sustainable development and gender justice, lot more action is needed on the ground, and lot many of the likes of Devanta need to reclaim their power back.
The upcoming 3rd Asia Pacific Feminist Forum (APFF 2017) to be held in Chiang Mai, Thailand, would hopefully provide a platform to mobilize 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 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)