By Avantika Debnath:
It had been more than an hour that we were sitting at the local police station. Dad, mom, and me. It was quite an embarrassment for an average middle-class man in India to visit the police station. My parents didn’t even allow me to lodge a G.D when I lost my cell phone in college because they didn’t want their daughter to visit the police station. But as they say, Kay Sera Sera. Whatever will be, will be. Whatever you do, you will meet with your destiny. And most often you will meet it on the road you took to avoid it.
Finally, there was an inspector to attend us.
“What’s the matter?” he asked, obliging us.
“I have to lodge an F.I.R.,” I said.
“My in-laws and husband.”
“Physical violence, dowry, and forcefully keeping my belongings,” I replied.
The officer handed me a white sheet. “Write the details of the torture,” he said.
An A4 size paper was not enough to list down what all I had gone through for 11 months.
“Just one paragraph?” he commented in surprise. “This is not sufficient madam, write some more, write the details,” he guided, putting a matchstick into his ear.
I had just written a few more details and the space of the sheet was already over.
“Can I get another sheet?” I asked the officer.
He looked at me disgustingly, while digging his ear with the match stick. He then brought the matchstick in front of his eyes, and minutely examined what exactly the matchstick brought out from his ears. Not satisfied with the outcome, he put the matchstick back into his ears and started digging again.
“Sir, can I get another sheet of paper?” I asked again.
“Arey madam, government paper it is indeed, but it is not free paper. You have to write briefly. You don’t have to explain everything. This is, after all, an F.I.R, madam, this is not a history paper.”
“It’s okay, I will get you a paper from the nearby photocopy shop,” dad said and went out of the police station leaving mom accompanying me.
The inspector took the paper from my hand and started reading it, he got stuck on some word, and kept the paper in front of me, pointing at the word, ‘simultaneously.’ “What is this word, madam?” he asked.
“Si-mul-tane-ously,” I said slowly, breaking the word into fragments, and pronouncing it clearly. “O re baba! Such a heavy word!” he raised his eyebrows. “So, what does it mean?”
“At the same time,” I provided.
“Oh! I see. Why don’t you write, ‘at the same time’ instead of that sy-mul…” he tried, but he couldn’t pronounce. “Actually madam, no one is that educated here, people will not understand what happened with you,” he added.
Dad brought few sheets of paper from the photocopy shop. I wrote the details avoiding any tough vocabulary and gave it back to the officer. He read it carefully. He looked at me, not satisfied with the F.I.R.
“Madam, don’t mind, but your husband…” He stopped for a while, a little hesitated, he looked at dad. Dad didn’t take long to understand what the police office was coming at. He gestured my mom to come and sit near me and walked away.
“Madam…didn’t your husband ever abuse you physically?” he asked in whispers.
“He did, and I mentioned when,” I replied, pointing at the paragraph where I wrote that information.
“No madam. No, that abuse. I mean to say, did he ever try to… to rape…”
“No!” I replied before he could complete his fifth question.
“Never? I mean not even once… You see husbands like these, often…” he extended the topic, which I was not at all feeling comfortable with.
“No, he didn’t, never, not once, ever,” I replied, destroying all chances of further communication on that topic.
“Well madam, you see, if you would have written that he raped you, or forced you in ways you were not comfortable with… you see…as they call it these days.. unnatural…” he made the point clear, though not pronouncing the word, “your story would have fled well,” he said.
“Story? It’s no story, sir. Whatever is written in these papers are, but the utmost truth. I have lived those pages for eleven months. I have not made up a single sentence, and I don’t think I need to. I have already dealt with more than enough for the legal system to get those beasts behind the bars.”
“Okay madam, as you wish. But I must tell you, you have no idea what stories girls make when they lodge an F.I.R for domestic violence. They bring all unique stories. Those stories will get you into shivers. Those stories have it all, drama, spice, sex. That is why the media finds them interesting and gets involved. Only then these incidents are given the deserved attention. No one cares about a woman suffering a miscarriage or few lacs of currency. This happens in India every other day. If you don’t have an interesting story, you better make it up. And then be rest assured of your husband and his clan suffering the same hell you lived,” he provided.
“I don’t have to make a word up. I have survived many of their atrocities. The proofs are there on my body. I have lost my child dealing with their malice. What story do you want me to write? And as far as the matter of the money and other valuables are concerned I have proofs of transactions.”
“Okay madam. I will take this F.I.R. But don’t blame me, if they find some loophole in the law, and get away with it.”
He warned me one last time and continued with other formalities. What I didn’t comprehend at that moment was it was nothing more than a formality. My story didn’t have sexual violence or any dramatic account to attract anyone’s attention. The F.I.R was just a piece of paper to be added in piles of government files sitting idle and gathering dust. It was only time that gradually revealed to me that the 498 A was that section of the Indian Penal Code which mostly came to the aid of those women who had a well-designed lucrative plot. For the deglamorized facts of reality, like mine, 498 A, was a mere eyewash. It was not my rescue, it was just another evil that I was destined to fight later.
The above is an edited excerpt from the novel, ‘The Bridal Pyre – Nainam Dahati Pawakah’, by Avantika Debnath. The book is available on Amazon, Flipkart and Infibeam.