By Nisha Kutty:
Little did Chhaya Sarkar know that her life would undergo earth shattering change in a matter of two years, when in 2008, she ran away from her own house in a small village in West Bengal, as an attempt to escape the usual wrath of her drunk husband. Married off at the age of 14 (or so, she remembers), Chhaya did not realize the importance of education, a good life or money until her husband, who was 15 years older, began manhandling her every night as a part of his drunken thrill.
On the course of an informal interview with her, Chhaya told me about her life and the long journey she had undertaken in the effort to seek normalcy.
When asked about her terrible experience as a married woman, she started at the beginning – explaining to me, how things were different when she was younger and how her parents chose to get her married in the hope of a better life than they could provide for her. Little did that change the fact that for the next 20 years to come, Chhaya had to undergo several forms of domestic oppression to counter the ways of her husband. Her husband, who loved playing cards, bet his own life and his family’s in the hope to win some money. This becomes the knell call for Chhaya.
She tells me about the innumerable nights when she had to cook for her children and hide the bowl of food in her neighbour’s kitchen, just so her husband does not throw it away in a fit of drunk anger. Her husband would also mix kerosene with the leftover food kept away for herself and her children, after he finished eating. For fear of losing her children to his anger, she would sleep on her neighbour’s terrace for nights in a row.
After the birth of her second child, Chhaya told me, how she was asked to get a hysterectomy done secretly, lest her drunken husband forces her to have more children. For doing this, she was rejected by her in-laws and her husband for three years, during which, she began working as a helper at a construction site. She recalls how this liberty to earn her own living shaped up her latter days. She not only paid for her children’s school education but also got her daughter married off. Her children, who have witnessed their father’s atrocities, recall the hardships faced by their mother during their childhood years.
Today, Chhaya sits face to face with me, and tells me her story with a hint of fear and hidden excitement. She does not want anyone to pry into her life – she refuses to let me take a picture of her. She acts shy and tells me, “Why would anyone want to know my story?”
Maybe, this is a story often heard and retold. Maybe, this is the usual story of all those hundreds of women in our villages, who suffocate their way through life; to whom marriage only brought misery.
From years and years of tyranny, early childbirth and household oppression, Chhaya has come a long way. Today, years later, she is happily working for a family in Hyderabad – a welcome escape, far from the clutches of her husband. She has not only been able to save money but also set up a small house for herself in her hometown. Today, it is she who told the panchayat to put water lines around her neighbourhood, therefore, bringing water lines to an entire part of a village. She takes care of a 3 year old child in a foreign city and gets to go home twice a year. She also sends medicines to her now crippled husband, who completely relies on his once tortured wife for his existence.
I heard Chhaya’s story and could not help but wonder whether retribution is in fact existent in our world. Chhaya gleefully remarks about how it is karma which brought her back to her feet, made all the puzzles of her life fall into place and made her husband come back to her over and over again, for mere existence.
Perhaps yes. It may be karma. It may be sheer hard work. But, either way, it is a story constantly being echoed across our socio-political realm of life , where such tales happen every day. I hope that through my words Chhaya’s story gains recognition and more and more women like her would gain strength and the courage to fight back like she did.