Padma* reckons she is about 22 years old. Having married before she turned 18, she has 2 small children. Her family had moved in as ‘watchmen’ to the housing complex I live in. The first time I met her, I noticed a lot of curiosity in her, which she did not care to hide. She asked me why I did not have children despite being married. She could visibly see that I was a lot older than her, and I was pretty much at home most of the day.
She questioned the lack of ‘mangalsutra‘ and when I explained why I did not have one, she eventually conceded that she wore one because the world around her expected her to.
I hired her as house help and we would at times talk about a few things in common during the course of her work. Then, one night I saw her crying. Her baby daughter was crying on her lap. On asking her, I got to know that her husband had hit her with a stick because she did not know how to operate a phone. She was hurt on the arm, which was slightly swollen.
She then went on to explain that this was not the first time this had happened. She had been hit several times earlier including once when she was pregnant. When asked, she appeared reluctant to file a complaint.
My husband & I called her husband, who was also a night watchman in the colony. At first he did not come, later he refused to answer anything we asked. He was unapologetic and believed it was his right to beat his wife. He told us that it was none of our business. We told Padma that it was essential that she file a complaint for her own safety.
She agreed and we called the police. Apparently, she had been to the police in the past with her mother, where the couple was ‘counseled’ and sent back home.
The nearest police station sent in two patrol officers who asked us, “Should we just scare him or should we take him to the station?” We asked them to follow the procedure.
A series of questions, a demand for apology and one quick slap later, they realized that Nagesh, (Padma’s husband) still did not care. They told us that they would take him to the station. We followed along with Padma, her one-year-old child and her sister. The first sub inspector we met conducted an ‘enquiry’. After questioning Padma about why he beat her, he followed it up with more questions.
“Does he drink? Does he not work? Does he not bring home any money?”
“He does not drink. He works and brings money home.”
“Is it a love marriage?”
“That is the problem.”
The other officer had similar insights.
“Why did he hit you?”
“I could not turn off the phone.”
Nagesh – “She does not listen to me. She asks me to serve my own food”
SI – “You must serve your husband well. This is a family matter. Let us not take it too far.”
Another officer also went on to explain to me about how my marriage was different from Padma’s and I should not measure them according to the same yardstick. Everyone had one standard question though – “which community do you belong to?” and one common suggestion – “let us counsel and send them back.“
Each time I intervened to tell them that it was a case of domestic violence, they slapped the man in an attempt to pacify me. None of them ever once took the effort to explain the difference between the civil law relating to protection of a woman from domestic violence and the criminal law where criminal action against the accused is undertaken (I understood these later from the internet).
We reminded them that the couple had been ‘counseled’ once before by the police, which led to nothing. So, they agreed to take a complaint. I wrote a letter on Padma’s dictation, which included how she was repeatedly at the receiving end of violence.
The sub inspector read through the complaint and asked us to skip the part that said she was hit by a stick.
“This could become a criminal case.”
“But, that is exactly what he did.”
After a sign of incredible doubt, he took the sheet of paper and asked us to come back the next morning for the complaint.
Padma came at 9 AM and told me that she did not want to go ahead with the complaint. They had a family gathering back in her village and it was essential that her husband be there. When we went to the police station, yet another sub inspector told us how he believed the real problem between the couple was that the husband wanted to stay in his village, but the wife wanted to move to the city. I once again repeated, that this was a case of domestic violence.
She withdrew her complaint and we came back home to continue with a normal day. Her husband had not come back until late in the evening though he was let go of in the morning hours. Apparently, he roamed the city, ate with friends and came back late.
That very evening our house owners, asked Padma and her husband to leave the house because “they brought police into the compound.” We gave her money for a mobile phone, and gave her all contact numbers including the number of the women’s cell.
They left and I heard nothing from her for 2 whole months. I asked her sister about her, who regularly gave me inconsistent stories. A month ago, she came back with her husband and children. She wanted her job back. I gave it to her.
Whenever her husband sees me in the colony, he refuses to see me in the eye. He refused to send his son to school and was insistent that the children be sent back to their village.
She scrounged for money and managed to put her son into a low-income private school. She cooks, cleans, takes care of the children, works 3 houses and drops off & picks up her son from school.
Apparently, her husband is now a driver. He drives cabs from time to time and probably could eventually be listed in Ola or Uber. I do not know whose safety we should be concerned about – Padma, her kids or the unassuming woman who might sit in this man’s cab.
His background check would give him a clean chit.
*Name changed to protect privacy.
Featured Image Credit: Findia Project