Thursday, November 11, 2010

Her freedom story

When we were hiring a maid the last time round, my family was told the woman had abandoned her family and run off to Mumbai without a notice. On hearing that, we were apprehensive if she would be serious towards her commitment with us but we still hired her. Later, I got to know the story behind her running away.

It was 7:30 p.m. when she entered the house that day. I was sitting in grandma's room, working on an assignment. She came into the room and sat down on the floor. I didn't pay attention at first. Her head was down and she was staring at the floor. I didn't notice her till I heard a voice say, "He is such a *" (due to reasons of decency and forgetfulness, I don't remember what she said).

I looked at her then. Her other sentences came between her sobs. It was difficult to understand with the broken Hindi. But with the bits and pieces I could gather, she was cursing her husband. Her daughter had fallen sick. Medical bills were pouring in. The money she earned working at the houses was not enough. And the husband earned a meager sum and idled rest of his time away. But before I could respond, she dialed someone's number and started babbling in Bengali on the phone.

It is then that I noticed a small circle of singed skin near her wrist.

As if she could read what was on my mind, she put down the phone and said, "This is when my husband burnt me with the end of his burning bidi." I have heard of stories of domestic violence before, but to see the scars of the act with my own eyes was unnerving. I was shocked.  I couldn't say anything. I just stared. She went on, "He comes home and beats me. I work all day earning for him, my daughter, my son and he just sits there and orders me to work more."

Her eyes spoke of sexual abuse too, but she didn't know how to voice it to me. And then she finally said, "I am tired of being his slave. I want to run away again." This is why she had run away earlier. She'd wanted freedom. She was tired of living for her husband. I asked her then, "Why did you come back from Mumbai, the last time?" She said, "He got me back."

Hers is just one example among the many lurking behind those closed doors. About 70% of married women in India are victims of physical or sexual abuse, according to a UN Population Fund report. That's a shameful statistic! And I wish I knew the means to change it.

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