By Oxfam India:
When I got married to Kishor Singh in 2008, I was a student in standard 10. Initially I opposed the idea of marriage as I wanted to study further, but I had to give in when my parents told me that a match as good as this would be difficult to come by. Kishor’s late father had been in the army, his elder brother was in the police and the family owned large tracts of land and a provision store. The initial months of my married life went by smoothly and I was also permitted to appear for my class 10 board exams. After that, my mother-in-law Prerna, and my husband, began taunting me for not getting enough dowry. The physical assault started soon after. When I was pregnant, they warned me against giving birth to a daughter. And nine months after my daughter Tanvi was born, Kishor forcibly gave her away to his elder brother who was posted as a constable in Bageshwar. It felt as though someone had pulled my heart out of my body.
When I conceived again, I was tricked into undergoing a sex determination test. They told me it was a test to investigate if the baby was alright. Upon discovering that the foetus was female, I was forced to undergo an abortion. I was completely broken by the time I got pregnant again in 2012. I refused to go for any further medical tests and that infuriated my husband. So, on a cold January morning, as I sat hunched over a stove in the kitchen, he came in from behind, splayed my back with kerosene oil, threw in a lighted match and ran away. I was stunned and I ran to the bathroom to douse off the flames. A neighbour took me to the nearby government hospital. The skin on my back had peeled off, I had lost my hair and my forehead, neck and ears had been singed as well. My right hand was fused to my body. Yet, knowing that my poor parents would be unable to keep me, I lied at the hospital claiming that I had accidently poured the oil over myself.
During the next four months while I was at the hospital, my husband visited intermittently. After that I went to my parents’ place where I gave birth to my second daughter Sunita. Tired of waiting for Kishor to come back and determined to take matters into my hand, I then complained to the Naib Tehsildar. This forced Kishor to a compromise and he promised to take my daughter and me back, and also to pay for our medical treatment. Sunita had suffered mild deformity in my womb because of the fire. However, once I returned to his village, he told her that he had found work in Baroda and left, while my mother-in-law locked the house on the pretext that she wanted to go and live with her daughter. I was told to stay with the cattle.
Dejected, I returned to my parents. A few months later, I came in touch with Arpan through a lawyer who was part of the Saajha Manch collective. A Domestic Incident report was immediately filed and sent to the Protection Officer. The organisation also wrote to the DM, the DDO and the CMO about my plight and followed this up by filing an FIR under Section 307 of the IPC against Kishor Singh, his mother and the doctor who had conducted the sex determination test. The issue was also raised in front of the state’s Pre conception and Pre Natal Diagnostic Techniques Committee and a crackdown on illegal sex determination clinics ordered. Kishor Singh was jailed for a month. The CMO ordered that my treatment should be free of cost. I was examined by specialists and underwent surgery in May 2013. In the same month, the civil court, acting on a petition that I had filed under Sections 18, 19, 20 and 22 of The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 ordered Kishor Singh to provide a home for my daughters and me in his village of Badabe Dhari, Rs 6,000 for maintenance, Rs 2,000 for each daughter and Rs 5 lakh as compensation for the physical and mental abuse I had suffered.
In August 2013, I finally returned to my married home with Sunita. While my physical wounds began to heal slowly, counsellors from Arpan repeatedly visited, prevailing upon neighbours to provide psychological support to me. Some scars however refuse to fade—such as my fear of the kitchen where I was set on fire. I now cook in the open and often have nightmares about that day. I am acutely conscious of my looks and avoid singing and dancing at festivals and marriages. Kishor Singh is away at Baroda where he works as a driver, but sends me money. I could have taken the easy way out and ended my life. But then, who would have mothered my daughters? To them, I am the most beautiful woman, and that is all that matters.