As important as it is to identify and support viable livelihoods in villages, equally vital it is that issues of gender and sex, gender and patriarchy, and gender and violence are discussed in safe spaces such as SHGs, Clusters and Federations, helping women live lives of equality, dignity and freedom
R AJNI (NAME CHANGED) WAS IN deep distress. Her husband and her in-laws shunned her. She had brought disgrace upon them. Her father and brother rebuked her for her conduct. All the villagers agreed that the jati panchayat had rightly punished Rajni because she had brought such shame to her family.
Rajni’s fault was that she had dared to hold her brother in-law’s hand to stop him beating her and had shouted at him. Her brother-in-law felt humiliated…he could not believe that a woman of his house would resist him. He had only been punishing her for her misconduct.
He took the matter to the jati panchayat. Acknowledging the disrespect and shame that Rajni had brought to him and his family, the jati panchayat ordered Rajni to feed the entire village with traditional murga-roti (chicken and bread). She was also made to publicly apologize to her brother-in-law. Their version, “Chahe kuchh bhi ho jaye, ek aurat apne jeth ka haath kaise pakad sakti hai (Whatever the situation, a woman cannot hold her brother-in-law’s hand). As a para-legal and in order to support women in distress, Reena used to go to the block headquarters, the police station and to other places.
As a para-legal and in order to support women in distress, Reena used to go to the block headquarters, the police station and to other places
Rajni had no choice but to succumb to the verdict. She took a loan from her brothers, to arrange for the feast.
Three months later, a trained para-legal worker, Reena (name changed), came to the same village, Udadna. She was there to conduct training for the village women, mostly around matters of domestic violence. As a paralegal and in order to support women in distress, Reena used to go to the block headquarters, the police station and to other places. Yet, back in her own home, her husband did not want her to go out for work. He doubted her, believing that she had relationships with other men. He used to remain inebriated most of the time and, lately, had started beating and abusing her. When she used to resist, he would call the jati panchayat.
The last time, the leaders of the jati panchayat had listened to both the parties. As expected, Reena was fined Rs 1,000 and was asked to respect her husband and to follow his orders.
Reena did not let the case rest there. She said that she would only pay the amount if her husband stopped abusing her and started working. Surprisingly, her voice was heard. Reena stopped going out for work. Her husband, however, didn’t stop the abuse; he became more violent. And the leaders of the jati panchayat did not intervene on her behalf.
Sumita Kasana works with PRADAN as Executive, Research and Advocacy
Bharti Raghuvanshi works as an Executive with PRADAN and is based in Narayanganj block, Mandla, Madhya Pradesh