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“Ab ham jalkar nahin marengi,
Jeene ka adhikar lekar rahengi”


MOST of the demonstrations against torture of women for dowry that have been held in Delhi so far, have been staged only after a woman has been murdered or drivento suicide. These protest actions hav eplayed a very important role in mobilizing public opinion against the atrocitiesperpetrated on women by their husbands’ families. However, those who actively participate in these protests often end up feeling demoralized because of thelingering sense that the protest has cometoo late, that there was need for intervention while the woman was still alive. Protesting families and organizationsare soon caught up in the endless web oflaw courts and police, which usually letthe murderers go scot free, leading to ther demoralization and a growing feeling that nothing really changes.

In almost all dowry murder cases, thefinal act of violence is preceded i bymonths or years of harassment andtorture. When these women wereabused, beaten and repeatedly thrown outof the house, they usually went back totheir parents homes. But only too often, parents persuaded such harassed daughters to keep on trying to “adjust”,and sent them back time and again totheir husbands’ homes.

Since in our society a woman in anycase is conditioned to think that her dutylies in suffering, sacrifice and endurance,and that no life is possible outside marriage, she needs special supportand encouragement if she is to step out ofa brutal marriage, and live in a hostile society as a divorcee.

Why is it that parents keep surrendering to ever-increasing dowry demands, keep sending back their brutallybattered daughter to the husband’s homeeven after it has become a virtual torture chamber? Why is it that their “love andconcern” for a daughter’s welfare expresses itself in such cruel disregard ofher dignity and her life? Is it that they feelthe investment of dowry made to get the burden of a daughter off their hands willbe wasted if she returns to them, as adivorcee ? One such terrifying case wasthat of 20 year old Poonam, who,  according

Demonstration outside the house of Mr M.P. Batra in Ashok Vihar
to to newspaper reports, left her husbandseveral times but was each time told byher parents that a married woman’s placeis with her husband, until she burnt todeath in that “married woman’s place.”After their daughter is dead, one has heardsuch parents lamenting the large sums ofmoney they bad handed over to her in-laws. When such families stage protestdemonstrations, one can only wonder whether they are protesting against thecruelty meted out to the woman, which they had advised her to endure, or lamentingthe bad investment made by them in the form of dowry.

It is true that the husband and in-lawsshould be exposed and ostracized for torturing a woman to death. But what about the woman’s own parents and relatives who repeatedly handed her back to be beaten, tortured, humiliated ? Arethey any less morally responsible for her death ? And for every one woman whose attempts to “adjust” lead to her death, arethere not many more who drag on amiserable life, who continue to“successfully adjust” to physical and mental torture, handing down a legacy of self-abasement to their daughters ?

If action is vitally necessary not just after a woman’s death but during her life time, then a crucial component of such action is a supportive family which can give a woman courage to resist, can offer her a dignified life as an alternative to the life of degradation in her husband’s home.Recently, Manushi was involved in two such struggles waged by women with the active support of their families. The first case was that of Radha* who came to us acouple of months ago. She is a typist in aprivate firm. She had been married eight years ago, and now has one small son. Her marriage turned out to be a brutal experience. Her husband used to regularly drink, abuse and beat her and her child. Since he spent most of his earnings on drink, she had to financially support the family and buy the household goods. Two years ago, when her younger sister got married, Radha’s husband felt that she had been given a larger dowry than had Radha. He started demanding that he be compensated for this “loss” and hisviolence increased. Finally, the last time, he threw her out, she did not go back, ashe had expected she would. Her family welcomed her home, and gave her fullsupport. However, her husband had not allowed her to take her own or the child’s clothes and other personal necessities. She does not earn much nor are her parents well off so she found it difficult suddenly to purchase a new all the things required for daily living. She pleaded with her husband to let her take her few personal belongings, at least a few saris, but he refused, thinking that if he harassed her in this way, she would meekly return to him. In desperation she came to Manushi. At very short notice, we decided to accompany her to her house and bring outher things. Though she is legally entitled to bring anything from the house as she is the legally wedded wife, she feared that he would turn violent if she went alone orwith family members. Her husband hadalready removed Radha’s jewellery and thefew valuables which she had purchased with her own savings to his parents’ house. However, we brought away her andthe child’s clothes as well as all the utensils and household goods which belonged to her.

One of the girls who accompanied usfor this action, had told us that her aunt(mother’s sister) had been similarlyharassed and thrown out of the house byher husband. She managed to persuadeher aunt, Sudarshan also to join us inhelping Radha bring away her belongings.Participation in this action perhaps proveda turning point in Sudarshan’s thinking. She began to feel it is possible to act ratherthan suffer in silence. She then came anddiscussed her case with us.

Sudarshan is an MA B.Ed. and teaches in a government school. She was married at an early age to a man who proved to be physically unfit for marriage, so a divorce took place within a few months. Some years later, she was married on January 20, 1980,to M.P. Batra, a junior lecturer in government polytechnic, G. T. Karnal Road. Her family alleges that he pretended he had a civil engineering degree where as he was actually only a matriculate diploma holder and that he also concealed the fact that he had been married twice before, had tortured and thrown out both wives, and also, had two children by his first wife.

Sudarshan told us that within a weekof marriage, Batra started showing his truecolours. He took away the whole of Sudarshan’s salary, so that she was forced to take money from her parents for bus fare and other personal expenditure. Soon, he began to demand money on various pretexts. Sudarshan alleges that she was forced to withdraw large sums of money, until all the money she had saved up was exhausted and altogether she gave him about Rs 16,000. Batra then demanded that she give him all her jewellery, and that she bring more money from her parents. When she resisted in the mildest possible manner, he became infuriated. He abused her, beat her and threw her out of the house, saying she would be allowed to come back only if she brought her jewellery and more money. Sudarshan returned only after Batra’s mother and brother gave her an assurance that she would not in future be beaten or harassed for money. However, she says, Batra’s behaviour only deteriorated. He claimed that all the moneyshe had earned since she took up a job in1968 was his “legitimate dowry” and she should therefore give him an account of every paisa spent during that period, andhand over the remaining amount to him.He kept a check on every sari belongingto Sudarshan, insisting that every decision must be referred to him—whether it waswhich sari she was to wear or the smallest expenditure to be incurred by her. Sudarshan silently bore all the maltreatment and never dared open her mouth to answer back. However, since sherefused to allow her family to be blackmailed for money, Batra’s violence increased. She alleges that on one occasionhe tried to strangle her and only the presence of the servant saved her life. Hewas so violent even in bed that she feared serious injury to her person. When hethrew her out the second time, she left anddid not return, because by this time, his violence was so extreme that she feared for her life. Ever since, she has beenstaying with her elder sister.

However, she says that Batra has not ceased to harass her. He came to her sister’s house, and ran amok, breaking things in the house, and threatening bothher and the members of her family. The family, including the small children, hasstaunchly stood by Sudarshan all these years, encouraged her and refused to beintimidated into complying with Batra’s demands. They relate how Batra continued employing his tactics — he would hangabout outside Sudarshan’s school, make obscene phone calls, threatening to attackand defame her. All attempts to reach acompromise failed because Batra would not listen to reason. Indu says he had tried to force ner to give him a written statement that she had left the house “of her own free will, and taking all her goods with her”,but later, when she suggested divorce by mutual consent, he demanded Rs 10,000 as advance money for him to “consider”the suggestion. On the other hand, he laiddown certain conditions to which Sudarshan would have to agree if she wanted to return to him. These condition swere: she should hand over her entire salary to him and request him for money whenever she needed it; he would make all the purchases and she should not make any purchase without his permission; if anyone, even members of her family, wanted to meet her or talk to her, they would have first to take his permission; she should give him an account of the salary earned by her during the two yearsthat she had stayed away from him aftermarriage, and hand over to him all thismoney as well as all her jewellery. ThoughSudarshan did not succumb to thisblackmail, she was living in a state of fearand depression. She had given up nearlyall social interaction and did not have theenergy to make new friends.

When she discussed the case with us,we felt we should make an attempt to talkto Batra and see if he was amenable to anamicable settlement. So Madhu fromManushi accompanied Sudarshan to hisoffice, hoping to talk things overpeacefully. However, before they couldspeak a word, and explain why they hadcome, Batra, in the presence of hiscolleagues, began to shout at them, usingthe filthiest of abuses, and even attemptedto manhandle Madhu, threatening to “fixher up.” Since a dialogue was impossible,they were forced to come away.

After this experience, all of us icludingSudarshan, felt that the only means nowopen to us was to put social pressure onBatra, to demand that he stop harassingand blackmailing her. On the morning ofSunday, September 19, a large group ofwomen and a few men went to Batra’shouse, E-I61 Ashok Vihar Phase I. To oursurprise, as soon as we started shoutingslogans, Batra came out of the gate andstood there, smiling nonchalantly. Whenthe demonstrators shouted: “Teenbivjyon ko mar bhagaya, shadi ko vyaparbanaya” and “M,P. Batra, sharm karo,chullu bhar pani mein doob maro” (Hehas beaten and driven out three wives, hehas made marriage into a commercial trade”and “M.P. Batra, shame on you, go anddrown yourself in a drop of water”), hereplied: “Yes, I have married three timesand I am ready to marry a fourth time. Youcan say what you like but I am going tomarry seven times.”

Smiling shamelessly at the

Significantly, though Batra’s mother,brothers and sisters-in-law were all athome, not one of them came out. They allsat inside, keeping the doors and windowsiclosed. The neighbours came out to seewhat was happening but not one of themspoke a word in favour of Batra. They allsaid they knew he was a rogue. Many of ofthem expressed support and joined thedemonstration.

Meanwhile, Batra continued toshamelessly assert his intention of marrying seven times, denied that he had taken a single paisa in dowry, and evendared to accuse Sudarshan of being a bad charactered woman, who had taken and gold. He alsoabused andthreatened some of the demonstrators. Wehad taken along some black paint to writeslogans on the walls of the house, sincewe had not expected Batra to emerge fromit. However, angered by his shamelesslying, especially by his using the familar weapon of calling Sudarshan a “loosewoman”, some of the demonstrating women took the brush from the person who was painting the wall, and blackened Batra’s face with it.

Sudarshan then very bravely narrated the entire history of her sufferings at thehands of Mr Batra. As her sister commented later, this was perhaps the first time Batra heard his wife speak at any length since she had always been too terrorized to open her mouth in front of him, and even after leaving him, had been too afraid and ashamed to narrate the story at length to anyone outside her family. Wehad been worried lest she be unable to speak on this occasion as well, but she spoke with courage and firmness, callingon the neighbours to support her and see that justice is done. At this, Batra openly threatened to kill both Sudarshan and Madhu. A slogan was raised: “Bhavishyaka hatyara aaj dekh lo” (“Come and havea look at a future murderer”).

Just as we were preparing to leave and march round the colony, Harivansh, Batra’s son by his first wife, suddenly came from outside, and leapt on some of the women, beating and scratching them. He picked up bricks, stones and brought a cricket bat to attack us. The neighbours managed to restrain him and the demonstrators remained peaceful, raisingthe slogan: “Hamla chahey jaisa hoga, hath hamara nahin uthega” (“No matter what kind of attack is launched against us, we will not raise our hand in violence”)-Batra continued to assert his innocence, loudly calling on god to protect him and punish Sudarshan and all of us for our wickedness. For this hypocrisy, anappropriate slogan was: “Hath mein haipuja ki thali, muh mein maa bahen ki gali”(“He has a thali for worship in his hand but filthy abuses in his mouth”).

After about two hours we sang somesongs and left, warning Batra that unless he stopped harassing and threatening Sudarshan we would be compelled to take further action. While distributing leaflets in the colony, we found that Batra is not orious there but people are in a quandary as to how to deal with him. Many of them expressed strong approval of our action.

We then went to the police station, where Sudarshan lodged a first information report against Harivansh’s physical attackand Batra’s threat to kill her. Since then, there have been phone calls at Manushi and at Madhu’s house, again threatening to kill Madhu.

Sudarshan’s participation in this action was possible only because of her family’s role in encouraging her, helping her, and being willing to share the social exposure and risks involved. They never allowed her to feel that if she protested or resisted, she might be left alone, homeless or unprotected. Her sister and two nieces joined the demonstration and one niece worked actively to mobilize support before the demonstration. In this, Sudarshan’s family was unlike many families who are  so  afraid  that  they  will  be  disgraced  by  having  a

Batra’s face being blackened when he mailigned his wife and declared his intentionto marry seven times
divorced woman on their hands that they send the woman to her doom.

So far, one of the reasons why women hesitate to leave their homes even when they are being tortured beyond the limits of human endurance is that they feel there is now here they can go for refuge, since society will no! allow them to live are spected dignified life once they step out of marriage. We need to work for a change in social attitudes sc that men and families who demand dowry and harass women are socially disgraced, while women who struggle to live a life of dignity receive social support and endorsement in their fight against injustice. That is why the main slogan of the demonstration was : “Ab ham jalkar nahin marengi, jeene ka adhikar lekar rahengi” (“We will no longer burn todeath, we will not rest till we win the right tolive with dignity”).

Designed by: Madhu Purnima Kishwar and Maintained by: Ravinder
Copyright © 2006, Manushi Trust, All Rights Reserved.