19 April 2006

The story of two women.

This is a story about 2 women, from my town—lets call them Su and Sa, both from a lower-income group.

This is the first story. Sa is a hard-working woman in her late forties. She got married around 9 years ago. He told her he had nobody and she says she felt sorry for him. Also, her mother had died and she was staying alone in the house she had built and thought having a man around would be a source of strength for her. Some source of strength!!

Firstly, he said he was very ill and had something wrong with his brain for which he had to go to see a doctor far away from the town, which required a great deal of money, as far as they were concerned. She worked hard and gave him the money. Then there was some business he wanted to do, of planting ginger (or whatever). All of that was financed by her. She bought a TV on loan, got a cable connection, made the house as comfortable as was possible with her work. He was usually too ill to work. It was only after about three or four years that she found out that many of the times that he said he was ill he was just plain drunk!! Then he started beating her up occasionally when he was drunk. Mind you, he and she were around the same size. She could probably have defended herself, but didn’t.

But one day he overstepped himself. He sold gold jewellery that she had carefully collected over the years, while she was out at work and what was even worse, sold the goat that she loved like a child. That was too much for her to take. She decided to take up a job which required her to stay out of the house.

Even so, out of sympathy, on Onam—the biggest festival here in Kerala, India—she went to cook the traditional goodies for him. But he, he was drunk and wanted more money from her to drink. Apparently he slammed her against the house wall, he hit her, verbally abused her. She did defend herself. So she didn’t get more hurt. She ran out of the house. She decided that she had had enough.

But their saga continued. He locked her out of the house. When he found she had a key too, he changed the lock. Recently he set fire to the house while he was drunk. The precious TV, on which she had just finished paying back her loan—burnt too. She went and confronted him. All the neighbours came out to listen. Believe it or not, a neighbour, a politician & woman mind you, spoke on his behalf, telling her she should take care of him as she had been living with him for so long!!!!!!

The story of Su is similar. But she is already a grandmother although only in her late 30s, as she got married at 16 and has two daughters, the elder being married. Her 2nd daughter is studying nursing.

But in this Sa has far more advantages. 1. The house and property are in her name. 2. She is not legally married to this man, luckily for her in this case. So the law is on her side. 3. She has no children. 4. She can easily support herself as she is so hard-working. 5. She is not a meek woman. Also, while she is working to get him out of her life permanently, she has a secure place to sleep and a safe place to keep the rest of her possessions which she moved from the house.

But for Su, as she told me, “Where can I go? The house is not mine. My daughter is still studying. Also my elder daughter is married & lives very near to my house. If I leave my husband will never allow me back. Then where will I go and how will I be able to see my daughter and grandchildren?” Her only insurance is this daughter, who is studying nursing, who she hopes will take her of at least a little.

What then is the meaning of being a woman?


  1. Anonymous7:01 pm

    I think the law has to change, and women have to receive better education. When this happens, they can make better judgements (just like the wiser woman whose property is in her own name) and learn to stand up for themselves.

    Unfortunately, I also believe culture has a big part to play in all of this. Many societies today still side men over women. Change can't come overnight, but it will eventually, through education.

    Thanks for sharing this story. :)

  2. Yes I know Sharlet. But I want to add that literacy in Kerala is higher than anywhere else. One of these women is literate.

  3. Anonymous9:01 pm

    Maybe Su could look in local shelters for abused women. I'm sure they could help her out.

  4. But that's just it. She says if she goes anywhere, her husband will never have her back & that with that she'd lose her daughter too.

  5. Anonymous8:01 am

    She needs to talk to her daughter. Wouldn't the daughter understand and be able to help her out?

  6. It would be very easy for me to go flapping my mouth about this if it were happening in my town or in my home. But because I don't have a clear understanding of what kind of support she'd receive if she left socially and what kind of support is set up for women in abusive marriages, It is a more complex issue and has some deeper questions.

    Can you answer them?

    Are there systems in place for women who need help in this situation?

    The reaction from the neighbor is certainly telling of an underlying mentality or I don't think you would have mentioned it.

    Even here, where there is a lot of support for women in abusive relationships, it is difficult for them to go. Here is an example.

    I live on a street where there is a very friendly woman who I am fond of. Her name is Mary. She has two sons and is pregnant with a daughter. Her boyfriend is addicted to heroine. He lives there with her on and off. Her oldest son is five and her youngest son has just hit the one year mark. During her pregnancy with him he beat her regularly. He continues to beat her now. The police are often at her home. Recently she, at about six months pregnant was seen running her children out and locking them in her car with him screaming after her. She screamed to a neighbor, "Don't just stand there, call the cops." He beats her so badly that sometimes the ambulance comes for her but he always returns home.

    I fear that someday he will kill her. But she never leaves him.

  7. mamaholler there are some institutions in place here, in fact the law has been beefed up recently. Besides, because the first woman was older when she got into this relationship in the first place, she is very independent-minded. Also, after working at several homes where there are lawyers, she has got information and help.
    It is the 2nd woman who seems worse off. I did tell her that there was a shelter here in our town run by the YWCA. But she says more than anything, she would lose her elder daughter and grandchildren if she left home & I think, in her mind, some kind of respectability. Also, in INdia most of the lower-income women almost feel like its the husband's right to occasionally hit his wife. The only way all this will change will be as our women get more empowered. They are slowly on their way. But for the womean in your town--poor thing. she really needs help to get out of this abusive relationship.

  8. Yes, it is very shocking to me. My husband and I live in a state that is has very expensive houseing, so we moved to a part of the state that we could afford to buy a house. It's an urban area and the street that we live on offers a lot of lower income housing as well. There is a big class distinction in the way I grew up, my level of education, my ststem of values and my level of tolerance that I notice. I mention this as an observation only, not as some sort of snobby or classist statement- nor do I think it is fair or right.

    I suspect that Mary grew up with models that created a situation that she is reliving now and she thinks that she deserves no better than she is getting- or that no better really exists. I notice that the company she keeps all seems to be of the same caliber as her boyfriend, though she seems to be an incredibly caring and giving person. Not to mention that I think she's a very good mother (aside from the fact that she's exposing her children to various forms of awful abuse.) She may think that healthy relationships are mythical and lies that exist in fairy tales and what she has is reality. Like you said, the women of the lower classes think it is their husbands right to hit them from time to time- it is no different in this situation.

    It is funny that we should be seperated by such insanely different cultures and still be so much the same.

  9. True! I suppose the life of a woman who has children is in essence the same which ever country we live in because we are more part of nature./?

  10. Well said, in essence, a mother is a little bit like an animal running on instinct to protect her babies. No matter where you live, I suppose that might be the case, of coure, there are always the obvious exceptions to this. But for the most part, throughout nature, I think it stands true.

    I am so glad I found you. I really enjoy your blog and your thoughts. I find them both interesting and enlightening.

  11. It is terrible when a man considers his wife his property to do with however he likes.
    I have seen kids who grew up watching their fathers abuseing their mothers. Some of these kids grow up so angry with their Fathers that they become protective of women while others grow up and treat their wifes the same way as their fathers treated their mothers.
    We need more teaching in schools to help these kids learn how to be better Parents . We need to teach the kids before they grow up so they will know where to go for help, plus how to properly treat others.

  12. I totally agree with you Dot

  13. Mamaholler, thank you so much for your kind words.


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