Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Breaking the Cycle of Silence
Manu comes from a Rajput family. At the age of 14 she was married off. Despite her young age, things were good in the beginning. For the next decade Manu was a happily married mother of four. Unexpectedly, her mother-in-law (saas) died. From then on Manu’s life became a nightmare.
Manu’s father-in-law consoled her as she grieved for her saas. Do not cry. I will take care of you. I am your father and husband now. Manu was shocked. Husband? She remembers his reasoning all too well. He said now that his wife was dead I needed to fulfill that role also. Disgusted, she went to her husband for consolation and support. Instead, he sided with his father. You can be a wife to both of us, there’s nothing wrong with that. Manu protested and refused to have physical relations with her father-in-law. Her husband ran a liquor brewery at home, and as is the case with many brewers, he too was an alcoholic. He beat Manu often and offered his wife for prostitution to men interested in purchasing his liquor. She refused their advances and continued to be a victim of physical and verbal abuse. Manu filed many reports with the police, but when they came to investigate, her husband and father-in-law met them at the door and bribed them into inaction. With a chicken and a bottle of liquor in hand, the police left satisfied and Manu’s injustice continued.
There’s only so much a woman can take. For Manu, that limit was the day she saw her husband sexually exploiting their pre-teen daughter. That very night, she snuck out of the house with her four children. It was a 15 km walk to the nearest road. The bus conductor was kind, she remembers. He didn’t charge her a paisa and dropped her in front of her parents’ home. Masoomji was in touch with Manu’s mother. Through Masoomji, Manu found Taraji.
Afraid for her daughter, Manu stayed in the women’s shelter for four years. During this time, her husband was jailed. The father-in-law was spared, because there was no evidence of his verbal disclosures.
I sat with Manu in the veranda, picking stems off spinach leaves. There were hundreds of stems, and the long process allowed her to talk as I listened. During this mindless activity, she told me how Taraji gifted her a new life. Yet, even this new life was not without problems. Manu stays with her mother now, along with her sister’s family. However, they all treat her like an outsider. Mammi made halwa and offered it to Didi [older sister] and her kids. My children were not given any. Tell me, won’t I feel hurt?
In such cases, families find it difficult to support their daughters. They expect her to endure, to stay obedient, to be a part of her new family without complaining. Those that endure pass on this trait to their daughters who in turn pass it on to their daughters. This cycle of silence continues until someone breaks it. Manu broke this cycle for herself and her daughter. She broke this cycle for the women who heard her story and spoke out against the injustice in their lives. If she can break this cycle, so can we.