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Minutes Spent With An Indian Woman, A Victorious Mother And A Domestic Help

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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.

women

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.

You must be to comment.
  1. Raj

    A very strong-willed individual indeed!

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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