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    From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 9, Issue 43, Dated 27 Oct 2012
    CULTURE & SOCIETY  
    PERSONAL HISTORIES
    Anju Gupta

    A series on true experiences

    DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

    ‘She was an unpaid servant, the receiver of taunts and jibes’

    By Anju Gupta

    Illustration: Sudeep Chaudhuri


    I HAD heard a lot about Dolly from the family grapevine before I actually met her. All good things. She was the ideal bahu, an excellent cook, educated to just the right degree — enough to read and write but not enough to give her businessman husband a complex. We finally met at a family wedding. From the very first day, she slipped effortlessly and cheerfully into the role of the chief organiser/worker/co-host. Apart from her indefatigable energy, what struck me was the fact that this was a girl from the hinterlands of Uttar Pradesh holding her own at a relative’s very cosmopolitan wedding. Spunky was my verdict. The image I carried with me for the many years we didn’t meet was of a smiling face with a determined tilt to it. I kept hearing about the birth of her son, the marriage of her husband’s younger brother and so on.

    Ten years passed before we met again. Her smile and warmth was the same, but she seemed changed. Always thin, she was now gaunt. The shine in her eyes had dulled. She seemed to be doing everything expected of her as a matter of duty and not with joy. Was this the same person I had called spunky? It seemed a lifetime ago. I wanted to ask her if everything was all right, but the dos and don’ts of social etiquette prevented me.

    We never met again. In the 23rd year of her marriage, the phone in our house rang. “There is something I have to tell you. Dolly is no more.” “How? When did..?” I was interrupted. “She committed suicide.” My hands were clammy. My heart was thumping loudly. I set the phone down.

    Days went by. My mind knew no peace. There were too many questions. I returned to the family grapevine for answers. What I found was a rot that we, ensconced in our ivory towers, had forgotten. A rot that was still deeply entrenched in the social morass of the Indian middle-class.

    What made an educated woman, married for 23 years, take her life? The main answer is the TINA factor: there is no alternative. She had been the perfect punching bag of the family for too long. She had been led to a stage where she was no longer “Dolly, our daughter-in-law”. She was the unpaid servant; the receiver of jibes and taunts. And she still continued to take it, year after year, because ‘family’ had to be honoured.

    A family where a father-in-law acted out his celluloid ambitions of being the autocratic patriarch; a mother-inlaw who embodied the stereotype and never breached the boundary, never became a fellow woman; a husband who spent time between work and friends; a brother-in-law who married a girl whose family was rich enough to send a regular supply of laddoos and kaju ki katlis. Dolly’s father wasn’t alive, her mother not rich enough to send goodies. She was, in every way, the second-class citizen.

    Did Dolly turn to anyone for help? What would my advice have been? Would I have given her any advice at all or just sympathetically looked into her eyes, squeezed her hands, shed a few tears, come back home, counted my blessings and gone on with the business of living? Such sympathy has the same basis as when we go to pay our condolences. The underlying thought is, “Thank God, it’s not happening to me.”

    What transpires in the heart and mind in those last few minutes when the person is teetering between sanity and an insane desire to be free? What tilts the scales? There are no easy answers. But what is certain is that what we call ‘suicide’ is actually murder. Murder of a person’s dreams, hopes, love, life and laughter. Murder of their courage and spunk. Trial by jury, anyone?

    Anju Gupta is 49. She is a freelance columnist based in Delhi


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    From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 9, Issue 43, Dated 27 Oct 2012
 
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