On a warm summer day in 2019, we met Brinda for the first time. We had been working with Brinda’s son for a while, she wanted to meet with us to speak about her situation at home and see if we could help in anyway. As our interaction continued over the next few meetings, we saw the bruising from the physical violence. We had also heard from her son about the violence he was witnessing at home. Slowly, Brinda began to share with us the details and intensity of the violence she was facing at the hands of her husband.
Brinda worked as a domestic help in different houses to help support the family. Her husband spent most of his and her earnings on alcohol. When we spoke to him about what was happening at home, he nonchalantly replied that it was normal and happened in every household, almost as if it were his right to abuse his wife physically and sexually.
As the months passed by, Brinda continued to express her wish for the violence to stop but did not want to go to the police or even leave her husband. Distress calls to us at odd hours of the night began to increase. She realised that calling us during the incident often ensured it would stop, at least at that moment.
We continued to work with her, talking to her about the different options she has and encouraging her to seek a more permanent solution. To be a separated mother with three young children would mean facing not only the stigma of her society of being a divorced woman but also her children growing up without a father.
Right before the pandemic, she was injured to the point of her requiring stitches. This made her consider her legal options, but while she was still thinking about it, the country went into a lockdown. Her husband was fearful of her registering an FIR or filling for divorce, which resulted in a few months of peaceful life.
This peace did not last for long, a few months into the lockdown, he once again went back to his violent ways. After another distressful incident, we discussed the various options that Brinda had, she decided to go ahead with filling a protection order in court.
Every day after that call has been a brave step for her. We introduced her to a lawyer, who helped her file a case to seek for a protection order. The petition ensures that Brinda will be protected from further violence at the hands of her husband and is not forced to move out of the house, while also receiving monetary contributions from her husband to run the house and take care of the children. Appearing in court, albeit virtually, for each hearing and making sure every incident of violence is reported to the police, has been a new experience for her. She still struggles with reporting violations of the protection order, but knowing she has a lawyer and support from us, has helped her be more aware of her rights, she is now confident is reaching out to the police when she needs. With a little encouragement and assurance that she is not alone in this fight, she strives to ensure she has a better life for herself and her children.
Every day we come across many women like Brinda, fighting to live a life free of abuse and violence. The journey for each of them is different. Knowing they have legal options and have rights, helps them make an informed decision. They show immense courage and determination in coming forward and speaking out. But for many women, speaking up isn’t always an option due to lack of support as well as fear of retaliation. Many women continue to suffer in silence; for them courage comes in the small steps they take every day to survive.
In communities, Mahila Panchayats and community-based women’s organisation may provide space for listening and acknowledging the harm that women face. We hope that one day all women will have the needed support and safety to be able to speak up and live freely.