Life narrative by Anukriti Jayant
Despite ambitious programmes like ‘Beti Padhao, Beti Bachao’ facilitating educational opportunities, a lot of girls in India are caught in a state where thoughts about financial autonomy are excluded from their immediate realities. Priya, a 24 year old M.Sc. student from Delhi, with a 2-year diploma in ETE and a 1-year diploma in Computer Skills, came to Shakti Shalini shelter home in March 2016. She was beaten brutally, so much that she believed she won’t make it out alive if she didn’t run away. Later, during her counselling sessions, she revealed a history of physical and mental abuse, something she had never reported before. So, this time she thought she had had enough. She took her closest friend in confidence, and left home. The normativity of violence against women that circumscribes not just this case, but the entire society in general, is eerily familiar; so much, that at first glance it doesn’t shock. To grow up as a woman in a regressive society like ours is nothing short of a predetermined contractual existence no one signed up for, but every woman is forced to live through.
Priya came from a typical family where the only way out for a woman opened into another family through marriage, quite often forcibly. But Priya had other dreams. She wanted to study. She wanted to earn her living respectably. And she did not want to get married. But for her regressive family, such a perspective towards life was tantamount to sinning; when she refused to get married, the entire family turned against her. They used to beat her regularly, simultaneously threatening to kill her if she didn’t change. And who knows, they might have. Her mother, with whom she shared a strained relationship, was an influential person in the locality she came from, and was in contact with local goons. It was she who was most instrumental in her daughter’s physical and mental abuse, because Priya was apparently aware of and against her extra-marital affair.
Despite all the trauma, Priya did not lose her stand to be financially independent, for she had already worked as a teacher in the past. With some savings on her part from a previous job, she decided to leave her family in March, 2016. Initially, she contacted an NGO, through which she came in contact with Shakti Shalini. This organisation facilitated a meeting with her family a few days after her arrival. During the interview, the family members promised her that they wouldn’t harass her again and would let her continue her studies, without any pressure to get married- all of this in front of the organisation officials. This changed behaviour gave some assurance to Priya, although she did not agree to return to her home. A week later, in March, 2016, she went for two job interviews accompanied by an organisation official. However, in a change of events, her family once again contacted her on the same day. This time, they threatened to kill her if she did not agree to go back with them. They made every possible attempt to turn her against the organisation. But Priya decided to never return, asking the organisation to help her secure her future. In April, 2016, she came to Shakti Shalini office and continued to take parallel counselling sessions there. In a matter of days, her family once again tried to reassure her with same old statements about not abusing her. Her mother even submitted an affidavit citing the same. All this while, Priya sensed that the officials at the organisation had turned cold towards her, as she overheard one of them talking about her. This broke her further, for she was already traumatized. She finally decided to shift her case permanently to Shakti Shalini, and left the current organisation.
When she first came to the shelter home, she was a quite person, sensitive even, and usually kept to herself, terrified and shaken due to the assaults she had been subjected to; but she felt secure and safe, nonetheless. Slowly, she had started build up her faith again and bond well with the caretakers, though she couldn’t yet open up to other residents. However, what she couldn’t severe was contact with her family. She was still in touch with them. Eventually, they managed to manipulate her emotionally, and convinced her to get back home on 5th April, 2016. But once again, she returned to the shelter home the next day because the family had gone back to its former abusive environment. All this while, her family wasn’t aware of the location of the shelter home. But one day, an acquaintance of hers spotted her at the bank and followed her. Now her family knew where she was living.
On 21st April, 2016, her sister, accompanied by a few other family members, came to Shakti Shalini and met her, this time quite warmly. Priya was happy to meet them. On 25th April, 2017, she informed the officials that she wanted to go with her family. What was most disturbing was that she also said that if ever any harm came to her, she would take complete responsibility of such a situation. On 28th April, 2017, she came back again after having a fallout with her mother. A few of her family members turned violent towards the officials when they had come to forcibly collect her luggage. The situation had turned so out of hand that the police had to intervene, as Shakti Shalini had to approach Delhi Commission for Women. Finally, in May, 2016, she left for home with her father, taking complete responsibility for the act. She had given in- rather, given up.
In a follow up session in February 2017, Priya revealed to the officials that she is now in a better condition, although her family still does not approve of her decision to be financially independent. She is now living with her maternal uncle in Dehradun, who is supportive of her decision to lead an independent life.
Priya’s story is one among many, revolving around a similar pattern about how a woman is often caught up between the emotional-ideological baggage that her family endows her with and her own personal desires.The perpetrators are most of the times those close to her; but despite the violence being present in most visible forms, the victim finds it extremely difficult to break herself out of such a consciousness, rendering most reconciliatory attempts and helping hands devoid of much power.