By Oxfam India:
I screamed and burst into tears, “You don’t understand my feelings. What kind of solutions are you suggesting?” The counselor on the other side of the table however sat calmly, unfazed by the outburst. “Well, I am in love with him and you tell me to leave him. Will I not be upset?” I demanded to know. But Meena didi (the Social Worker) did not even blink at my tantrums. And I slowly realised that she was only testing me and my determination to sustain the relationship. And then she became my confidante and friend.
It all began when I fell in love with Dasarathi, my classmate in college, and we got married at a temple. I belong to a Scheduled Caste while Dasarathi belongs to a Scheduled Tribe, a social grouping that is considered higher than SCs in Kandhamal.
After we started living together, I realised that he was a very possessive person. He did not like the fact that I was working because to him that meant that I would be interacting with other men. He got so jealous after a point that he wanted me to quit my government job as a teacher. And I did… for him! Though we struggled for money, it was ok with us.
The fairytale went on until one day his estranged family decided to intervene. His brother dropped in one day and took him out for a while. Dasarathi told me he would be back in just a bit, and since his brother had come to their house for the first time, he would be staying for dinner. He left me with instructions that I should start cooking. I got on with the task and cooked an elaborate meal. All done, I waited for them to return. But they never came back home.
After waiting until the next morning, I called him and got to know that his brother had taken him away and had no plans of sending him back. Aghast and alone, I spent days trying to contact him. At times, he would send messages that he will come home soon but never turned up. Then, 26 days later, I went to the Women Support Centre at Phulbani’s Superintendant of Police’s office, run by ISD. I had seen the sign board many times so I knew where the Centre was. What I did not know was that I would need it one day.
The Centre staff listened to my whole story, established the fact that I was never legally married to Dasarathi and that it was unlikely that he would come back. They now needed to work out a strategy and, as a first step, asked me to move in with my parents. I asked them to send a letter to him but the social workers told me to be patient. And that a letter may be perceived mistakenly as a divorce notice. They wanted to meet him and talk to him.
I faced problems from other quarters too. My parents refused to take me back but agreed to let me live with my grandmother. I was now jobless too, and so I joined the training centre at Ahimsa NGO, working as a counselor. I also shifted to the government run shelter home attached to the NGO.
My husband would repeatedly call me and say a lot of sweet nothings. He would come to visit and bring gifts. But, there never was a word of commitment from him on when he would get back together with me.
When the Support Centre finally sent him a notice, his elder brother appeared and argued on his behalf. I argued that my husband was not a child and that he should come and settle matters. Yet, nothing happened. There was even a time when he got drunk and came to Ahimsa to argue with me. When our Director intervened, he beat the Director up and had to be arrested. It was a very frustrating time for me. But the Support Centre did not let me give up.
I had left my job for him. I had to even terminate a pregnancy because he did not want children yet. And his disappearance is what I got as a reward. But Ahimsa taught me confidence. So while I wanted that he be punished, I did not want to leave him either because I loved him so much.
The Support Centre then arranged for another meeting where Dasarathi finally showed up, apologised and agreed for a court marriage. The counseling team facilitated an agreement for a court marriage. It was then that I, because of the support from the social workers, decided that I did not want to marry him. He had no respect for me, why should I then do this was my question. His face was a sight to behold when I said that. While initially reluctant, I finally agreed to the marriage. The main issue for him was that his elder brother was ostracizing him as I belonged to a lower caste according to them. And that because of this, he might never find a suitable bride. That was the peg his brother used for an emotional blackmail.
With Dasharathi agreeing to a court marriage, and his family coming around, I in a way proved that I can fight my battles and win them too. “Sabita stands as an icon for fight against caste discrimination and politics in Kandhamal which has been a hotbed for so much contempt and stigma based on caste for so long,” said Meena, the social worker at the Support Centre.
Needless to say, my wedding was a family affair for the WSC team who backed me at each step in my pursuit of happiness.