All the same
Today I am 30 years old. A lot has changed in these 30 years, in my life, as well as for women in our society. But even today, almost every day in the newspapers, we come across disturbing reports of violence against women - husband killed the wife, daughter-in-law burnt to death, daughter killed for marrying outside the caste, where women just find themselves helpless.
It always gets me thinking. How did my mother do all that years ago? Where did she find the courage? How did she fight for herself and for me?
Even today, I remember those things as if they happened yesterday. As Maa could only express her grief to me, she would tell me everything to lighten her mood... sometimes even incidents that happened long before I was born. It almost seems as if I was there with her in every moment of sorrow.
Chilli and spices
My father used to like eating red chili chutney, especially made on the grinding stone. That day too, Papa asked my mother to grind some garlic and chilli for the chutney.
In the meantime, my grandmother called my mother, 'Bring me water, you can grind the chutney later'.
'Let me wash my hands, otherwise the chili will burn your mouth', my mother replied.
That was enough to get my grandmother furious. She would often complain to Papa about Maa. That day she got another opportunity. ‘See, I can't even expect a glass of water from your wife.’ And without any further thought, my father slapped my mother.
My mother had been beaten up by my father countless times. Once in anger, my father even rubbed red chili chutney on her mouth.What I never understood was why mother never said anything. Perhaps she just got used to it.
Just one boy
My grandmother would often coax my father to desert my mother. Papa would always say: 'Amma let her eat, she is pregnant and is going to give birth. Maybe she’ll give birth to a son. Her mother and her two sisters all gave birth to a son their first time. She will also do the same.'
This was when my mother was carrying me in her womb. And even though my father wanted a son, it never stopped him from hitting her.
When it was time for the delivery, Maa pleaded with my grandmother to let her go to a hospital. 'Don't act like a queen, we too had children, we didn't need a hospital', my grandmother rebuked her.
After seven hours of labour, Maa gave birth to me. Dadi and Papa were very upset. He even started banging his head on the wall. Giving birth to a girl was considered bad then. Perhaps even today, in many families.
Papa was angry for a few days. Then one day, he went to my grandmother and said, 'She couldn’t even give birth to a son. Amma, just send this woman away. I would divorce her, I can’t see the face of both mother and daughter.'
Then he came to my mother and said, 'Look Payal, I have always wished for a son from you, now you either give this girl to someone or I am leaving you. Decide what you have to do.'
Don't know from where my mother got the courage.
She said in a loud voice. 'I have kept her in my womb for nine months. Not you. You go and die or leap from the roof, I will neither give away the baby nor will I go out of this house'.
As he heard my mother, Papa pulled her hair and brought her to the courtyard. I was in my mother’s hands too, but my father did not care. In this chaos, I fell out of my mother's hand and my head got hurt. My mother couldn’t take it anymore.
Broken but not weak
She pushed my father and said, ‘Today I have only pushed you, tomorrow I can cut your hand too, if you say anything to my daughter. I will scratch your eyes out. Hit me as much as you want, but don’t you dare touch my daughter'.
Angered even more by this, Papa drove me and my mother out of the house. Maa was broken. Broken, but not weak. She went straight to the Sarpanch at 2:30 am and narrated the entire incident to him and sarpanchji's wife took care of me and my mother all night.
The matter got prolonged and the sarpanch called my father for the decision. 'See Sunil, if you hit the baby girl or Payal or even try to divorce her, it would be illegal. And if this reaches the collector, the news will spread through the town pretty quickly and you and your mother will go straight to prison’, the sarpanch threatened my father.
Papa had no option but to take Maa and me home with him. Years passed and I began to understand everything and was now old enough to go to school. Papa had made it clear to mother that I won’t be going to school. This is when my mother and my life turned a new leaf and my mother's rebellion started.
All my responsibility was now in the hands of my mother only. I was enrolled at the school. The sarpanch’s wife was very good-natured and she inspired my mother very much.
Papa and Dadi did not even give me and mother enough food. Maa used to get a roti and half a bowl of lentil, which she would mix with water and give to me.
Weaving your dreams
Gradually, my mother started sewing. Whenever I asked my mother to buy me something, she would say, ‘We have the needle and thread right? Just a few more days, then I will bring you anything you ask for.’
Gradually, Maa had become adept at hemming saris and sewing blouses. She started getting more work. I also used to study very hard and my mother's injuries only motivated me to work harder.
Papa had completely rejected both of us. I never heard him talking to my mother. I only saw beatings and scoldings.
There was one night when I was probably in Class Eleven or Twelve. Papa brought home a new wife. This upset my mother very much. On the same day, she injured her hand as the needle of the machine pierced it.
Papa came in and said to Maa, 'Here, take your freedom'. He was talking about divorce papers. I only understood the word divorce. Papa divorced Maa and gave both of us a month's time to leave the house.
The path was very difficult. But mummy's sui-dhaga - needle and thread - was with her. To be honest, that needle and thread made our dreams come true. I passed class XII with 98 percent .
After that, I graduated from IGNOU. Meanwhile, I started teaching in a primary school. Our financial situation was still poor and Maa contracted TB.
I gradually started taking Economics classes from 6 to 10 in the evening. Our life began to move forward. Maa is absolutely fine today. I am a professor of economics at the university today. My salary is 85000. But my mother’s sui-dhaga and her skills are still with us today.
As I read the newspapers I hope that one day these women too will get my mother’s courage and win at life like Payal did. Nobody needs a man in their life; all they need is courage and emotion.
Dr. Sheela Ranjan shared this story with Love Matters India for the #It’sTimeToAct campaign. The purpose of this campaign is to bring out the stories of the battles fought by women against violence or oppression.
Names have been changed for privacy and photos show models.