Roshni’s Tryst with Economic Independence and Alienation

By Anvita Pant

It doesn’t come as a surprise that in many cases of (emotional) violence against women, it is women who perpetrate it. Patriarchy and sexism are so entrenched in the structure of our society that many of those who are oppressed also come to internalize it. Women start believing that their status is lower than that of men in the society. Sometimes it is women who will more staunchly defend this oppressive status quo, a phenomenon that psychologists now keenly study in the context of minorities.

When Roshni was just a teenager, she fled from her parents and sought shelter with her aunt. She has not divulged the circumstances that required her to flee from her parents. Her aunt’s home was safe for a while and she began to work as a domestic worker. However, when she came of age, her aunt wanted to sell her in marriage to a much older man in return for money. Once again, fueled by the instinct to survive, she hurriedly married into a family she had become acquainted with. She knew Leela, the matriarch of the family, who had been kind to her. In return Roshni helped Leela with the multitude of duties that she had to fulfill in order to run her house. This included taking care of Leela’s paralyzed, bed ridden husband. Thus, when the option of marrying Leela’s son, Sameer, came up alongside the threats by her aunt, Roshni took her chances.

But her life took a turn after her marriage. Sameer would recklessly spend all his money on alcohol and completely disregarded his marital duty to provide for Roshni. Sameer and Roshni had a son together and she thought that this would bring about a change in his behavior. People sober up and get their act together after having children- or so commonsensical knowledge dictates. But in reality this rarely happens. People, not equipped to handle their own problems, feel even more trapped and burdened with an added responsibility of providing for a child. The situation became even direr for Sameer as there was another mouth to feed. But Sameer’s alcoholism meant that he only cared about drinking. After he lost his job, he was constantly drifting from one job to another- never really being able to provide a steady income. Moreover, he didn’t even concern himself with the problems Roshni and their son were facing because of this.

In dire straits, Roshni had to take the entire responsibility. She started going to Azad Foundation and getting trained to become a driver. Initially it was Leela, her mother in law, who provided the money for her to do training. When her training ended, Leela was quick to find employment as a driver. This empowerment meant that she would now be able to provide for herself and her child. But slowly Leela’s attitude toward Roshni changed. She started believing that Roshni is becoming too independent and willful. Part of the problem was also that Leela believed that Roshni was corrupting her daughter, Roshni’s sister-in-law.

This brought verbal and physical onslaught on Roshni. Her life was made miserable. Roshni would be threatened against going for her job. One day, Leela and Sameer tore the uniform Roshni was wearing because they wanted to deter her from going for her job through any means necessary. Economic freedom was a threat to the power they had over Roshni.

Roshni was left with no support in her life. She was left to fend for her child, against the wishes of her alcoholic husband and her mother-in-law. Leela wanted Roshni to help more in household work, but this was virtually impossible given that Roshni’s job was very taxing. On some days she would need to complete 16 hour shifts before she could return home. While Sameer had acquiesced into taking care of the child at home, between his bouts of drinking, Leela couldn’t see her son having to do menial household chores while Roshni was gallivanting outside. This role reversal was an insult to a man, and Leela’s with her conservative values and internalized patriarchy could not bear to see her son be demeaned like that.

The violence and abuse grew so such a level that Roshni couldn’t cope anymore. When she approached Shakti Shalini, she was secretly living at her friend’s house. Here too, she was found and was harassed by Leela and Sameer. She was willing to reconcile with Sameer but Leela and the rest of the family were a major source of anxiety for her. She was at her wits end because she was unable to do her job as well as be present with her child and take care of him. As she was living alone, she had to singlehandedly pay rent. She also had to provide for her child and juggle her intensive job simultaneously. Any human, let alone Roshni, would not have been able to handle such a multiplicity of roles at the same time. This was one of the driving factors for her to seek conciliation with Sameer. However, Leela was now determined not to yield to Roshni’s demands. Leela wanted to keep her grandchild, Roshni’s son. When they all lived together, was Leela who took care of the child when Roshni was out trying to earn a living. Leela had become attached to him and was adamant not to let go, especially as it meant that Roshni would get to have him, a symbolic victory that Leela was not willing to grant her.

In this condition, Roshni approached Shakti Shalini. A series of counseling sessions were conducted with her and Sameer. Roshni wanted Sameer to provide 5,000rs per month for her and their son. Sameer agreed to this demand in formal counseling but did not follow through. Thereafter, Roshni decided she wants to explore her legal options. A legal counseling was scheduled at Shakti Shalini for her but she did not appear for it. Through follow-ups we discovered that she and her husband continue chose to start living together again though the marriage loops in continuous cycles of peace and pain. Roshni is still the only income earner and financial supporter of the family while Sameer’s alcoholism continues. They separate frequently and repeatedly come together again. Roshni’s story draws attention to crucial questions regarding the nature of “choice” and “resistance” or, for that matter, the definition of conclusions and resolutions; questions that remain unanswered and seek explorations!

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