How Three Wives Went From Victims to Leaders
According to the National Crime Record Bureau, India recorded 337,922 crimes against women in 2014, a 9% increase from the previous year. Other data from India suggests that one in three women are victims of domestic violence. Victims face both physical and psychological abuse from husbands, in-laws, and other relatives. Abusers often seek opportunities to obtain additional payments to the dowry, a legally prohibited but culturally entrenched Indian tradition.
The fight for gender equality is entrenched in the struggle to support victims of violence. Here are three stories of women who fought for justice and found relief with VFF’s help.
Sunita lives in Kanekal, a village in the Anantapur district in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.
“I married in 2007, when I was only 16 years,” she recalls. “A few months after the wedding, my husband began drinking and making demands to my parents for more money.”
Her husband controlled the money for the household, so food and medical needs took a back seat.
“The day I gave birth to my oldest daughter he said if I did not bring more money from my parents, he would force me to be a prostitute,” she says. “I was upset and I confronted him. Then he tied me down and cut my arm with a razor. He hit me with a stick and I was knocked out.”
Her family agreed to allow her to live with them, but “I felt it was my duty to go back to it and try to make the marriage work,” she admits.
After the birth of her second daughter, the situation worsened. “One day I came home and said he would sell her. I fought him. He took three liters of kerosene and he sprayed me and our daughters. We screamed because we were so afraid! Luckily the neighbors heard us and intervened.”
His neighbors called Sunita’s parents to take her and the children home. “I knew nothing more about my husband until one day he came to me for a divorce,” she says.
Sunita now works as a caretaker at the VFF Center for Intellectual Disability in Kanekal.
“My oldest daughter is enrolled in a boarding school to study and my youngest daughter lives in town with my family. I suffered a lot, but I am proud to make a living for myself and to give my daughters the opportunity to study,” she says.
Anjinamna is 19 years old and studied until eighth grade.
“Last year, I married, not knowing that my husband was suffering from a psychiatric illness,” she says. “He never approached me. One day he came home drunk, tied my hands and legs with a sari, and covered my mouth so I could not scream. He accused me of tricks; said the men were looking at me.”
Another time, Anjinama asked for food and her husband threw rice at her head. He told her that she could not go home to her family; he did not want the neighbors talking about them.
“His honor was more important than my well being,” she admits. Desperate, Anjinama attempted suicide by drinking nail polish. She was taken to the hospital and spent two months recovering at home.
“I decided to return with my husband, but soon, he began to abuse me,” she recalls. “I attempted suicide again, but my brother saw me and took me home.”
VFF learned about Anjinamna’s difficult path to recovery and offered to support her.
“Currently, I work in the Foundation’s workshops in Gandlapenta village, where I learn to sew and embroider,” she says. “Before, I was a burden on my family, and now I help support the household budget with my income. I was able to divorce my husband. I have been free of him for seven months.”
Gangaratna is the oldest of the three women. She is from Kotacheru in Anantapur. She has no family.
“I think I am about 42 years old,” she says. “The first years of marriage were fine, but when I was pregnant with my daughter, he began drinking and beating me. He forced me to take my daughter to the fields and I had to leave her in a crib in the sun.”
Gangaratna belongs to a sangham or women’s group. Through the collective savings of the women’s group, she was given a loan of 5,000 rupees (approximately $70 USD). Gangaratna kept the money locked in the closet with dreams of starting her business.
“My husband hit me until I gave it; he went and spent it in two days,” she recalls. “He burned all my clothes in kerosene and broke my utensils. I saw everything from outside as my home was destroyed. My brothers, who lived nearby, came for me and took me home. Then he came to my brother’s house and tried to kill me, throwing a large stone at me.”
It was the neighbors who called VFF and explained what had happened.
“They suggested going to the shelter at VFF in Bathalapalli, but I was worried about not being able to repay the loan money. So the worker called the leader of the sangham and all the women said they would forgive the money and save my life.”
In the shelter, Gargaratna finally feels safe and has a fresh start on life. Her daughter has begun attending school for the first time.
Eventually the husband began looking for her and, in a moment of despair, he tried to poison himself. He said he did not want to live without his wife and daughter.
“In the end, I agreed to see him and the Foundation mediated between us,” she says. “They spoke separately with my husband and told him if he ever hit me, I would divorce. I came home and since then, things are going well.”
Gargaratna says her husband no longer drinks and they both work in the field.
“With what we earn, we can send my daughter to school,” she says. “With the support of the Foundation, I have a better life.