Posted by Nandini Rao

Kusum was about 15 years old when she was married off. She came to live with her in-laws and an abusive, alcoholic husband. She learned to cook, clean, fetch water, wash clothes, earn money as a domestic worker and most important of all, keep her head down and stay out of everyone’s way. Kusum learnt to become invisible.

Kusum had her first child about a year after her marriage and her fourth, eight years later. Having gone to a village school only till class 3, reading and simple money transactions have always been difficult. Kusum is fiercely determined to give her daughters opportunities to study and will not let anyone force them to work or get married before they are ready. In that, she is fighting family and community at the same time. Kusum gives her sons opportunities too, but to her daughters, she offers the world!

Today, Kusum is a single mother and daughter-in-law. Her husband and his aged father recently died within a few months of each other. Her mother-in-law has a mental condition and is now bed-ridden. Kusum is the emotional and economic fulcrum of the family. She single-handedly shoulders the household responsibilities with the money she earns as a domestic worker in our home. Her matrimonial family – where she has spent more than two decades of her life – refuses to acknowledge her dedication, the care she gives and money she spends on her mother-in-law. She soldiers on alone, doing her best and hoping that she and her children will not be thrown out of the small home they live in. She holds on with a quiet determination to the life she has built, refusing to be bullied and badgered by her brother- and sister-in-law.

Kusum taught herself to be self-reliant and self-confident. Over the years, she has learnt to take buses (for someone who is unlettered, this is a big challenge) and, for the first time in her life, to go to the market and pick and choose things from vegetables to groceries. She learnt to make decisions for herself and her children. She overcame domestic violence the day she stood up for herself and refused to be bullied and beaten by her husband anymore.

Most important of all, Kusum has learned to become visible.

About The Author: Nandini Rao is an activist working on issues of women’s rights — and wrongs!

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