Shashikala – The Unknown Feminist

For the past few minutes the doorbell was incorporated as part of my dream. Finally, after it rang for some time, I realized it is not a dream and I need to get up and open the door.

Shashikala walked in.

“Goodmorning Didi.” She said in her usual chirpy voice.

“Hmm.” I replied coldly. She had not come to work the day before. I was giving her the silence treatment.

“Didi, I will make chicken for you today,” she said trying to lure me with my favourite food.

“No need! There is a lot of leftover from yesterday!” I gave a cold reply again.

“Ok Didi!”

The silent treatment did not seem to be working. She either did not understand I was mad or she did not care. I broke my cold war and blurted out:

“Look at all those dirty dishes! I had guests over yesterday! And you just ditched me! I had told you not to take an off for these two days! Your work is the last priority for you. You took an off to look after your friend!! She does not have anyone? You have to disrupt your work to attend to her?”

“No Didi.  She is not my friend.”

“Oh so what neighbor? Stranger! Even better! You come to work only after you have solved all of humanity’s problems.”

“She is his first wife….”

Shashikala was married off when she was about 18. Her husband was abusive. He used to take all her money for alcohol and beat her up.  In the next five years, she had two sons until one fine day he just left.  After a couple of years he showed up again, asking for his children.  Shashikala refused to give them up. He told her he is doing well in life and would be in a better position to support the kids. She said she does not want to live with him.  A compromise was made. The husband took her elder son. She kept the younger one.

A kind aunt of hers thought that it is time she remarried.  The prospective groom was okay with having her son around. So Shashikala agreed. Once the marriage was solemnized, she was in for another shock. This man was already married, something she had no idea about.  The first wife was still living there.  Shashikala left him and came back with her son.

Now, she lives with her younger son. The elder son (who is with his father) is in a hostel and he visits her sometimes. Both the husbands show up at her house once in a while to create some drama!

Her story came flashing back in my mind.

What happened to her!” I asked her. The anger was now replaced with curiosity.

“He came the night before to eat. He said that she has not been keeping well so there is no one to cook for him. You know he is very selfish Didi. He did not even take her to the doctor. She was in pain. So I went there. Took her to the hospital. Got her the medicines. Cleaned her house. And cooked some food.”

“Why do you care so much about her?”

“Unknowingly I did her wrong Didi! I married her husband and hurt her! This is the least I can do.”

I read a lot of articles online. The latest trend is romanticizing cheating. I have seen a lot of reputed publications publish articles on cheating and how it is all about “being in the moment”, “living your life”,  “love and sex are different things”, “it just happens” and other such excuses. When I express my disgust in the comments some cool people respond,“Why are being so judgmental”, “To each to his own”. It seems we have no idea how to be progressive.

Here is a woman who did not exactly have a smooth life. One bad marriage is enough to break a person. She had two! It could have been convenient for her to bitter. But she chose not to. She had self-respect. She did not take back her first husband when he came back. She left the second husband the moment she found out he is already married.

But these things did not change who she is as a person. It did not change the kindness within her. The kindness that made her feel the physical and emotional pain of another woman.

Yes, good women uplift other women. They hold their head high in times of turmoil. They do not let the unhappiness in their lives change their judgment, and conscience.

Shashikala, you are a feminist to me.  You may not get any recognition.  But you have taught me one thing:

We are who we are. No matter what happens in life, there is no excuse to cause someone pain. There is no reason to not live by our principles.

 

A Letter To My Daughter

Image Source

Dear Arya,

I remember the joy on your face when you found my old laptop at Grandma’s place. You managed to crack the password. You were surprised that the password was not Myarya_21, unlike my other devices. But you know why. It was long before you were born.

Your joy soon turned into a rude shock.  You saw a picture of my wedding. A wedding with a man who was not your father.  It was our joint decision to wait until you turned 18 to talk to you about my previous marriage.  But since you felt betrayed, I think it is important that I tell you my story.

Almost two decades ago, when I was barely 22, Grandma and Grandpa had arranged my marriage to a suitable man. He was charming, intelligent and witty. People who had limited interactions with him thought he was a great guy. Sadly, he had a narcissist and manipulative streak in him.  A secret only his wife knew.

He yelled at me for almost everything that he did not like – whether it was the not so apt salt in the gravy, the newspaper folded the wrong way, or his call being missed.  I would bear the brunt of his poor appraisals and his disagreements with friends. While I struggled to cope up with his temperament, he would shatter my self-esteem by saying that he is doing me a favour. He would call me names and humiliate me.  And one day, he slapped and pushed me for the most trivial argument. When I told him I would report him to the police, he laughed.

‘In this country men get away with burning their wives! You don’t even have a bruise as evidence!’

‘I will break your bones if I see that look on your face again!’

‘No other man would be able to tolerate you with all your flaws!’

I wanted to leave him. People said that my situation was not so bad.  At least he had not hit me black and blue. Aggression is a ‘masculine’ trait. Once I have a child, everything would be okay.

I walked out of the marriage.

I had never thought I’ll remarry. But years later when I met your father, I understood that not all men are bad. He was sensitive and caring. He restored my faith in everything good and beautiful in the universe.  We got married. Then you were born. When I held you, I felt so thankful.

Arya, in a few years you will start dating. You will fall in love. You may get married. As much as I would love to, I cannot protect you from meeting the wrong men. Abuse can be physical, emotional or psychological . You don’t have to ask people if you what you are going through constitutes abuse, or is it enough to end a relationship. What does not feel right for you is not to be endured.

Any time you have doubts, I want you to remember your parents. We did not give birth to you, and love you with every ounce of our soul so that you can grow up to become a doormat. Your mother did not wait to be assaulted brutally to justify her choice. She left at the first instance of abuse. Your father is the perfect example of a gentleman. He has set high standards for you. He is kind and gentle. He has never raised his voice at you or me. Being aggressive is the folly of a coward. Someone who is a slave to his insecurities.

I want you to promise me two things if God forbid, you ever find yourself stuck with someone who does not treat you well: First, that it is not your fault.  The shame belongs to the person who deserves it – the perpetrator. Second, have the courage to get out as soon as you find out.

You may have family, friends and laws for support. But the biggest barrier may be in your mind, which only you can overcome.

We want you to be the heroine of your life, not the victim.

Much love and hopes,

Mom

Author’s Note

This is a fictional piece written for the Blogathon Theme ‘#alettertoher’ organised by Womensweb to spread  awareness on domestic violence.  I would like to read Meena Kandasamy’s new book, ‘When I hit you,’ because it is time to break the shackles of abuse, and pass on the shame to the one who deserve it – the perpetrator.

 

The Intelligent, Young Woman – Wasted In Marriage

I read about Manjula Divak’s suicide the day before yesterday.

Excerpts from the article:

Manjula’s father said, “She was a brilliant girl. She was going to complete her thesis next month, but her husband and parents-in-law wanted her to come back to Bhopal and do household work.”

Mr. Devak told The Hindu that he had already made it clear to the family before the marriage in 2013 that Ms. Manjula would pursue her Ph.D. “They had agreed then but later started torturing her,” he said.

Her husband had allegedly asked Manjula to arrange ₹20 lakh from her father so he could start his own business. “Was my daughter going to wash dishes and sweep the floor after completing her doctorate,” asked the father.

My first reaction was why would such a brilliant woman, a PhD student at IIT Delhi who is capable of being financially independent not opt for divorce but tolerate dowry demands by her husband and in-laws?

Until I read another article which had screenshots of her whatsapp conversation with her sister. It suggested that she did want a divorce. The talk had been initiated with her father-in-law who was supposed to send a ‘rough document’. Her father-in-law had said that if she has to tolerate a couple of beatings to sustain her relationship, then what is the problem?

Manjula had said to her sister that she does not want a second marriage. These people were too horrible.  She is happy alone. Her sister said that not everybody is bad, and that life is too big. Sister had said ‘love you’.

I could not hold back my tears. I was in a similar situation few years back. I could relate to Manjula.

How much pain her parents and sister would be feeling now? And how hopeless she must have felt to take such a step?

Manjula got into an arranged marriage at 24 because the ‘horoscopes had matched’. Her story sounds much too familiar. An academically inclined young girl is married to an unknown man because her family feels this is the best thing for her. The boy wants a qualified girl who should wash the dishes, sweep the floor, whose family should provide him dowry for starting his business.

I hate the idea of arranged marriages, that too at 23-24 when girls have just finished their education. But love marriages prove no different either with spineless husbands siding with their parents.  Unfortunately, most Indian men’s families are like Manjula’s husband’s.  The state of women remains the same.

Manjula was brave enough to consider divorce. But she got scared of her uncertain future. She lost her faith in goodness. She hung herself.

When will things change? What do these men and their families think, that they have hired a life-long slave? The parents of girls in India have pathetically low standards. Their sense of ‘normal’ has been skewed for generations. They feel that all girls have to ‘adjust’. Their daughter is no exception.  And what can be worse than having a 35 year old unmarried daughter?

Let me tell you what can be worse:

A bruised daughter.

A daughter broken in spirits.

A dead daughter.

I agree that marriage is important. Being single for a girl has its own challenges. Whether the woman has been divorced, or remains unmarried, she would probably be seeking companionship. Every new relationship that would not end up in marriage would break her heart, reminding her that she is single while her friends are having babies. But here is the thing:

She would be going ahead in her career, without having to sweep the floor before going to work. She would probably have discovered new interests by now, which she would not have at 21-22 when she was busy studying for exams. She would not be hearing taunts all day about how inadequate she is. There would also be hope of finding a better man. A hope that is lost when she remains married to a loser.

It is still a much more dignified life than a life dedicated to serving an abusive, inconsiderate, man who happens to be your husband and a bunch of entitled, manipulative, greedy in-laws who are the by-products of this disastrous mistake that should not have happened in the first place.

To all the girls reading this and stuck in horrible marriages, I understand that the happy family Hallmark card may be every woman’s dream. But if yours is not, you have to get out, and find your dream elsewhere. It may or may not involve a man immediately. But by leaving cruel people and standing up for yourself you are not just doing a favour to yourself, but a favour to society at large.

The future generations of women would be grateful you did not pass on the legacy of ‘adjustment’.

 

 

 

 

The unwed mother

I watched two episodes recently on a popular Indian television channel which narrates true incidents of crime. One was the case of a young unmarried woman who committed suicide because she thought she was pregnant. Another was that of an unmarried girl who tried to terminate her pregnancy herself in a crude way, and lost her life in the process.

Another episode featured the story of a girl who was unknowingly videotaped in a consensual sexual act by her then boyfriend who later threatened to upload it on the internet once she moved out of the relationship. The girl and her current boyfriend ended up murdering him, and that is how they gained access to the pen drive which had the video. I have seen a similar concept in a Hindi movie where a family goes to great lengths covering up the accidental killing of a boy, protecting the “honour” of their daughter who was videotaped by him while taking a shower.

What is the message that this conveys to our girls? That their “honour” is more important than their life? And what is this “honour” anyway?

Is it a crime to be an unwed mother? Is it shameful? Does the society shame the unwed father?

What kind of a society is this where the woman is shamed no matter what? If she is raped, she should be the one hiding in shame although we acknowledge that she is a victim. If she has a consensual sexual relationship with somebody she likes and gets pregnant, she is still shamed. If the person she trusted breaks her trust and makes a private act public, she is again humiliated. When she is forced upon by her husband in a marital relationship though, she has no rights. Then, she would probably be shamed for not cooperating with him.

In one of the shows I saw, the uncle of the dying girl who was assumed to be pregnant refused to take her to the doctor, saying that if people found out she was an unwed mother, nobody would marry her sister!

If that is the worst that could happen – nobody would marry her or her sister, so be it! Since when did getting married become more important than being alive? Does it make any sense giving birth to daughters and raising them only to consider their lives so cheap?

When are we going to teach the girls that they have the right to their bodies. We should educate them and guide them to make informed choices. Her body is hers and what she does with it is her choice. It is time we stop treating it as the custodian of the family’s or the society’s values. Her sexual choices are an aspect of her personality. They do not define her character. They certainly do not determine anything as far as the family and society is concerned.

I wish every parent would create an environment where they would tell their daughters that no matter what, they would be there for support. If she becomes a victim of misuse of a picture / video she should be told that it was NOT her fault. It was a mistake – the person she trusted turned out to be a wrong. It was a judgment error, but not a crime.

The criminal here is the boy and there are laws in place to take action against him. Whatever humiliation she may face because of it would be temporary but she can recover from it. If an unintended pregnancy occurs, there are options available. We should not just provide education to our daughters, but empower them to face any situation in life with courage.

Picture Imperfect

A flash and a click,
And I felt sick.

My eyes darted around
In search of that terrible sound.

“Sweetheart in another pose please,
And stop being such a tease.”

I looked around at the couple with a smile,
At how love made everything seem worthwhile.

I slowly averted my gaze,
As my memories were ablaze.

When a flash and a click
And my hair I would flick.

A smile and a pout,
My heart clear, with no doubt.

He’d walk over and grin,
And say I was a beautiful sin.

A flash and a click,
It always did the trick.

I’d smile through my tears,
Unaware it would be the reason for my fears.

As I lay fast asleep,
He clicked away like a creep.

A loud thud, and a bang,
Then the door bell rang.

A click click, and a flash,
Into my room I made a dash.

I was plastered on every page,
Of every website I was the rage.

All I wanted was to die,
But I walked with my head held high.

A few months and I was forgotten,
Replaced by news more rotten.

But now a flash and a click,
And I turn into a brick.

Another flash and a click,
And I still can’t stop feeling sick.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

About the author:

Shirisha Pothapragada is an architect by profession. She is also a writer, and poetry is her forte. Shirisha has the unique talent of expressing emotions on social issues while maintaining the dichotomy in her poems.

Marital rape

Marital rape is a serious crime. Yet neither the law, nor the society has tried to address it with complete justice.
Shirisha Pothapragada has written the following poem, capturing the emotions of a woman stuck in an abusive marriage. The ending of the poem to be is the best part, where she finally makes a choice.

_______________________________________________________

I had looked at my wedding ring,
And rejoiced at what the future would bring.
I was terribly unaware,
That I had walked into a nightmare.

It all started with a vicious look;
He had noticed an unbuttoned hook.
In company, he would hold me and smile,
An expert in hiding all his vile.

Once home my first lesson I learnt,
As my body he slowly burnt.
He would lock the room door,
And throw me on the floor.

Into me he’d empty his seed,
And say a baby is what we need.
He would feed me day and night
Till, of my beauty I lost sight.

But I set aside my fears,
And let him wipe my tears.
In his love I started to bloom,
And he then attacked my womb.

I lay crying on the floor,
My heart in an uproar.
He walked upto me and said,
What fun, if just the two of us played!”

And then he would go on and on,
From dusk until dawn.
When I screamed I was sore,
He’d laugh and say there was more.

Sated, he would kick me with his feet,
And I would curl up in defeat.
After an hour of fearful sleep,
I’d look into the mirror and weep.

Was my life the result of my sin?
I’d search for answers from within.
Now that the day had begun,
All the chores had to be done.

He would kiss me on my cheek,
And apologise for acting like a freak.
My consent had been withheld,
This injustice had to be quelled.

I looked again at my wedding ring,
Only words of sorrow it could sing.
I swiftly took it off my finger,
There was no more need to linger.

I walked out penniless and sore,
But at every step I felt my heart soar
..

_____________________________________________________

About the author:

Shirisha Pothapragada is an architect by profession. She is also a writer, and poetry is her forte. Shirisha has the unique talent of expressing emotions on social issues while maintaining the dichotomy in her poems.

What would Suzette Jordan say to me?

This is a fictional article that I wrote for Women’s Web – Muse of the month contest. The cue was “Normal is something I can never take for granted again“. The article was originally published on the following link:

I wrote from the point of view of the late Suzette Jordan, somebody for whom I have immense respect and admiration. Suzette has touched the lives of so many women, and provided them strength when they have nothing to hope for in life. Thanks Suzette Jordan, I pray that you are at peace..

I have attached links to all the articles which I have used in my research.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Dear whoever cares to read this,

I am writing this letter from a beautiful and peaceful place. At one point, it was difficult to keep faith that this divine place existed…

You all knew me as ‘the Park Street rape victim’ until I came forward with revealing my identity to the world, unashamed and bold. I am Suzette Jordan.

I do not want to discuss my ordeals. Most of you may have read about it. My perpetrators have been vindicated. But this story is not about my pain. It is about my survival.

During the process of my own healing, I came to know of a 20-year-old student who has been raped by a gang of men on her way home from college in Kamdhuni village in Barasat on the outskirts of Kolkata. She did not survive the attack.

I had gone to Kamdhuni village to visit the victim’s family, but I could not bring myself to talk to the mother. My feet just froze. And I thought:

I could no longer sit back and watch what was happening, the monstrosity that had been perpetrated.

Normal is something I could never take for granted again!

What is being normal?

Maybe just having the privilege of breathing. Of living. Of life. Which is what matters. Which we take for granted. Which can never come back.

A few days later there was a protest led by women’s rights groups for the victim. I was asked to join. A women’s activist who was helping and healing me, asked:

Do you want to go out every day as a victim or as Suzette?

Are you still a victim or a survivor?

Criminals should hide their identity. Not you.

On the way to the protest, I realized that I had not brought a scarf to hide my face. She told me,

You have forgotten, perhaps that was God’s instruction.

As I walked into that crowd of 300-400 women, many of whom already knew my story, it was electrifying. When we
turned into Park Street and I shouted halla bol, I knew something had clicked.

I thought, if I stop now, think of all other women/girls I will be harming. They must know the truth. They must be aware of all the dangers. They must come out into the open and FIGHT because we are not just victims, we are human beings like everyone else and we hurt too. Nobody deserves to be raped and have their bodies and souls defiled.

I may have suffered a lot. But I still fought for you. I could have hidden myself from the world. But I did not, for I had committed no crime. I held my head high, with dignity and pride until my last breath. I did this, not just for myself but for you.

Just because I had been raped, people felt I had no right to live and I certainly had no right to be happy. I felt as if I was being blamed for being alive. But why shouldn’t I have enjoyed life?

I see that you carry a sense of guilt and shame on your shoulders forever. You are humiliated for just about everything – from being eve-teased to being abused sexually, physically, emotionally. For putting on makeup to wearing a short skirt. From drinking to being friendly with men. For living life on your own terms. For being yourself. Everybody tells you it is your fault.

Don’t let people decide what’s acceptable and ‘normal’ for you. Live with respect and dignity, with your choices. You may say that it is the society that has shamed you, but not succumbing to society is a choice that you could make. Don’t take your life for granted. Don’t take your dignity and self-respect for granted either.

I did not accept the injustice done to me. I raised my voice against it. I did not let society malign my spirit and my soul. You know why this is the state of the women in this country? Because we took it. We remained quiet. For years, for generations. We taught our friends, sisters, daughters also to silently suffer.

I may not be there in person with you anymore. But I created history by living a courageous and unapologetic life, despite what happened to me. I set an example and inspired many women to muster the courage to fight for their self-respect. You could too.

Much love,
Suzette

Illusions of love

Abuse – could be in the form of emotional, physical or sexual, which can scar a person for life. It is not just women, but men who go through abuse as well. At times, people are not even aware that they may be being abused.

How would a person going through abuse seek help, if he/she is not even able to acknowledge it, or once acknowledged, it is considered shameful to talk about it? What does a person going through abuse feel, and why does he/she take it?

Shirisha Pothapragada, has captured the emotions of a woman who is in an abusive relationship, in this touching poem:

____________________________________________________________________

We are staying together he promised,
Even as your hair turns the shade of grey,
Cause you are my diamond, unpolished,
And I will shape you as I may.

I am his jewel, I beamed,
And he will be by me till eternity.
A better person he would make me,
I couldn’t have asked for a better destiny.

I looked on as he stripped me bare
Of all, that was me,
I put on the clothes he bought and the smile he taught
And this, he said, was why he adored me.

He shared with me his darkest fears,
And the pain inflicted by all.
Believing it to be the truth
I promised to catch him if ever he were to fall.

I walked his walk and talked his talk,
As I wouldn’t dare be a disgrace.
Words of love became far and few
Only scars on my skin I could trace.

I crouched in the darkest corner of the room,
As I got the whiff of cigarette and beer,
I felt a shudder run down my spine,
As I saw him appear.

I stood silently as my clothes he ripped apart
And threw me out the door,
This was my punishment I knew,
For he felt I had acted like a whore.

As the night faded, he would come to me,
Whispering words sweet as honey,
He would then carry me in like a baby
Reminding me never to disagree.

As months turned into years
It suddenly dawned on me,
That my life was no paradise
And that I had fooled not just me but everybody.

My worth I let be defined by him.
I was a nobody, he ingrained from the start,
It was not just my heart he broke,
But my soul he had ripped apart.

Finally, Unshackled and free I search for my dignity,
But as I lay alone at night I fall apart at the seam.
And as I succumb to the darkness inside,
I let out a silent scream.

His memories still haunt me,
His words still echo in my brain,
We are staying together he had promised,
You are not getting away from me, never again
.”