Saturday, May 31, 2008

Abused women in India

One of our volunteers and mom of a couple of our kids at KM has been constantly abused---physically, sexually, and emotionally---by her husband for the past ten years. The most recent occurrence was yesterday. In the morning, at their home in a slum area, he started an argument with her. This led to him grabbing her by the throat, throwing her against a wall in their house, beating her legs and body with a stick until she got huge bruises, throwing a rock on her back, and then holding a knife to her.

She bravely wrestled the knife from him and then ran to her sister-in-law's house for protection. He then proceeded to throw her prized possessions---her saris---into the gutter.

The beatings have gotten progressively worse over time, and we and Auntie (she works for Auntie as her housekeeper) encouraged Mary (name changed to protect her identity) to really do something this time. She has wanted to leave him for some time now, but society's pressures encouraged her to stay. They have tried counseling, but that only encouraged her to try to be the "good wife," and the counseling, offered only once a month, addressed just basic issues in a marriage and not his violent rages. This time, we got the police involved. A women's police department exists here, and their primary function is to help women who are victims of domestic violence.

Filing the formal complaint was the typical Indian process that took over four hours, but in the end Mary got a case number, which means that she can now officially take him to court and file for divorce (unfortunately, divorce here can take years, but it is possible). If he is seen loitering around her place of employment, the neighborhood police can now arrest him and throw him in jail, not just an overnight holding area. He can get out on bail but it will be conditional bail, and if he approaches her again, his bail will be rescinded.

Tomorrow the police are going to her house where it happened to talk to the neighbors, collect evidence, then try to arrest him.

It's a long road for Mary, especially in India. We congratulate her courage in doing what's right for her safety and the safety of her kids. She is an example for the countless Indian women (and women everywhere) who are abused by their spouses. She has the guts and the self-respect to want out of a horrible situation, even though such action goes completely against her culture's ways of thinking. The typical reaction here is, "oh, this is common among 'their people'." Pointing out that it's still not right, no matter how common, often bring an uncomfortable silence to the conversation. As a divorcee, Mary will be shunned by her community and viewed as "dirty." He, on the other hand, will be free to marry again, as many times as he wants, in fact. Such is how it is here. But she’s got guts to do this, and enough self-respect to refuse to be abused by him anymore. So we and Auntie are doing whatever we can to help her.

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